What are Strengths?

We join Lopez and Snyder (2007) in defining a strength as “a capacity for feeling, thinking, and behaving in a way that allows optimal functioning in the pursuit of valued outcomes.”

In this way, strengths can include aspects of character, personality, talent, relational aptitude, and academic proficiency.

But strengths are more than just capacities. “Your strengths are,” as Marcus Buckingham (2007) notes, “those activities that make you feel strong.” Your strengths are a strong suggestion of what you are good at, but they are an even stronger indication of what gives you energy and to what you will tend to put forth extra effort. Csikszentmihalyi (1990) describes “flow” as the state in which a person is so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it. You are probably experiencing flow when you are working within your strengths.

We have learned, however, that mere identification of one’s so-called strengths is not sufficient. Assessments can inadvertently deceive us into thinking that what emerged as our “top five” are already strengths. That may or may not be true. It is important that we not be satisfied with being able to name our inclinations, but also to develop them—that is, develop ourselves—to full capacity. That takes time, intentional effort, and probably the support of others.

At the Noel Academy, we focus on two aspects of strength development. Foundational are “strengths of character,” which indicate what kind of person we are. Our character is built on those patterns of thought and behavior which—if healthy—result in a life of fullness, resilience, and happiness, as well as relational and moral well-being. We also focus on “strengths of competence.”