Focusing on Strengths - making the most of what we are good at.

In this series of blogs for the ICAEW Comeback Community, I’m going to be talking about positive psychology and how science and a few simple tweaks to the way we view the world, and our contribution to it can make all the difference to our career and personal wellbeing.

What are your key strengths in life and in work? And why can clarifying your strengths be the difference between a good life and living the best possible version of yourself?

It would be easy to think that strengths amount to things like being a good organiser or being good with numbers. But strengths are a much broader concept. In fact, positive psychology has been studying strengths and what they mean for living a full life for many years. Positive psychology is the scientific exploration of what it is to be human and how we can optimise our daily lives so we perform at our best, feel vibrant and enjoy happiness and contentment as much as possible. Positive psychology is much more than positive thinking and seeks to celebrate what we are already capable of and good at, and squeeze more positive opportunities and experiences out of life.

Martin Seligman, arguably the father of positive psychology, has been exploring strengths for over 10 years. Seligman and colleagues developed the ‘values in action’ or VIA, a free online resource that helps you clarify what are called your ‘signature strengths’. There are 24 signature strengths and they include things like spirituality, leadership, fairness, gratitude, forgiveness and social intelligence. Everyone has these strengths, we just express them in different ways and intensities. So, you might be very strong in perseverance and lower in curiosity. There is no ‘ideal’ expression of strengths, we are each different and are encouraged to celebrate the diversity. You may even notice that your strengths profile changes from one year to another as life changes and you have new experiences.

Interestingly, character strengths are universal. A 2006 study found they are universally experienced across 54 nations from places as diverse as Kenya and Greenland! Check out your unique strengths at

So why does this matter to me?

Discovering your signature strengths through self-assessment isn’t merely a fun way to pass 10 minutes. Once you know your strengths you then need to consider how you can use them to help you be the best version of yourself.

Researchers found that using your character strengths enriches your experience of life. Wellbeing, relationships and resilience are all improved through using your unique pattern of strengths.   

You may want to try this positive psychology exercise which has been shown to boost resilience, a key skill which will support your transition back to the workplace. Having taken the online VIA self-assessment, look at your top 5 ‘signature strengths’.

How could you use one of these strengths in a new and different way this week? There are some great ideas from psychologist Ryan Niemiec here:

Come and explore your unique strengths, motivations and goals for coming back to work at the Comeback Community workshop on 15 May.