We’ve all heard the saying ‘play to your strengths’ before. As someone who focused my Masters on this very topic, I can assure you that it’s more than just a catchy phrase; it’s a game-changing strategy that paves the way for us to thrive. However, it’s much easier said than done.

As humans, we’re wired to fixate on our shortcomings, weaknesses, and what’s lacking, rather than celebrating our strengths and successes. This innate negativity bias isn’t necessarily our fault – it’s a survival mechanism passed down from our ancestors who were always on the lookout for threats to their survival. While modern life may not present the same life-threatening dangers, this bias remains, causing us to zero in on what we lack rather than what we possess.

Picture yourself in a team meeting where the conversation shifts to strengths and weaknesses. How many of us instinctively start listing our weaknesses while our strengths take a backseat? This negativity bias not only affects our self-perception but it also influences how we view others. Whether coaching a sports team, reviewing a child’s report card, or providing feedback to a colleague, we often lead with criticism rather than praise. This not only diminishes morale but also weakens our connections with others.

While we’re hard-wired to focus on the negative, we’ve also become fixated on trying to fill our gaps so we’re well-rounded. Instead of energising us, this drains our motivation and reduces our performance. Trying to turn a weakness into a strength is not only time-consuming – think 10,000 hours – it also only yields average results. By focusing on what we excel at, we not only exceed average performance but also unlock our full potential.

Take athletes, for example. They don’t dabble in sports where they’re weak. They double down on their strengths to maximise their chances of success. If they excel at tennis, they focus on tennis. If swimming is their forte, they hone their swimming skills.

In practise, many of us devote about 80% of our time and effort to addressing our weaknesses, leaving only 20% to nurture our strengths and celebrate what’s right about us. So we’re missing a huge opportunity. Playing to strengths isn’t about ignoring our weaknesses; it’s about managing them.

By shifting from an 80/20 focus on weaknesses to emphasising strengths, you will boost your engagement, enhance your performance, improve your wellbeing and move closer towards thriving.

To play to strengths requires a big mindset shift. But it’s well worth it!