How To Suss Out Your Super Strengths
Written by Dr Josephine Perry
Dr Josephine Perry is a Sport and Exercise Psychologist for London based consultancy Performance in Mind. She works with athletes from complete novices through to World Champions and those who need to perform at a high level under pressure such as stage performers, doctors and those running businesses to teach them strategies to succeed in their goals.
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‘Be kind to yourself’ they say. ‘Treat yourself as you would treat others’ they add. A fantastic proposition but one that our own brains set out to sabotage. On a regular basis. And it sucks.
Our own brains, through evolutionary design, give three times more weight to bad experiences than good. They do this for a good reason, if we are highly attuned to danger we can react quicker to threats and keep away from them. But, as the threats we now deal with are more to our ego and less to our physical survival, this negativity simply causes us stress and misery.
We also have a number of biases which add to this gloom.
Confirmation bias means we search for and remember information which confirms our preconceptions. If our preconceptions about ourselves are negative we end up in a vicious cycle.
And there is an availability heuristic where the more recently an event happened (such as something going badly) the more that influences how we feel right now.
And a third bias, the bias blind spot, means that we automatically believe we are less biased than other people so we find it hard to accept and deal with the fact we have these biases.
Amplifying these biases, researchers have found that for every negative we think about ourselves we need five positives to stay in a good place. This means we need to spend a serious amount of time getting proactively positive.
To get proactively positive we need to look at our strengths. Focusing on our strengths gives us a shot of confidence and a better chance at doing well.
We need to take off our humility, push aside our biases and pull out exactly what we are good at. Just like a store owner regularly runs a stocktake to know what they can sell, we must stocktake our strengths to remind ourselves they exist and to use them more. It helps us focus on what we can do, rather than listening to all those biases of what we can’t.
Now for the bit which will really make you stand out and perform at your best; your super strength. Focusing not just on what you do well but on what you do brilliantly.
Think of yourself as a super hero – while climbing walls like a spider or responding to the bat signal are unlikely to be within your repertoire – you will have a strength that stands out and makes you great.
Dr Katie Ludlam studied super strengths for her PhD and now uses the technique with athletes within the English Institute of Sport.
She found that simply going through the process of identifying and developing super-strengths was beneficial. “Athletes experience positive changes in confidence, engagement, needs satisfaction, coping and performance.” “Regardless of which sport people partake in, they need to know what makes them great,” says Ludlam, “and I think becoming more aware of this and using it as part of their strategy for performance helps the athletes with both their psychology and performance. The process of identifying what you have in your locker and can use to your advantage is applicable at any level of sport. But to do this we must first open our eyes to what we do have, rather than focusing on what we do not.”
Bethan Zeidler currently plays Rugby in the Premiership for Loughborough Lightning. She has a background in high level netball and also spent two years learning to Kayak on the Girls for Gold scheme with GB Canoeing.
Her super strength of ‘calmness’ has helped her perform well in all three sports. “I am a very calm and collected person, I don’t get rattled easily. If someone tries to annoy me it enthuses me. If they try to put me off it helps me to perform better. It means on the start line I never fell nervous and can keep a level head.”
Having this super strength means Zeidler can make good decisions in difficult times. Zeidler identified her strength on the netball court but says she uses it in all areas of her life. It has meant she has become known as the go to person at work when others are panicking. “My super strength has allowed me to be calm and assess the situation and to read situations well as I’m not stressed about everything else going on.”
What Zeidler highlights fantastically is that whether you initially identify your super strength in a sport you do, or at work, or in a hobby it can cut across everything so you multiple its effect. It feels like a magic cape you can wrap around yourself to give you a boost in every part of your life.
Being a team player on the pitch can make you a popular player on the PTA. Determination and ambition to rise through the ranks in your career is exactly the same strength that will get you to the gym on a day when you simply want to collapse onto the sofa and sleep.
So, if like Zeidler you can rummage in your memory, read through your diary or chat to your friends to pull out that winning ticket and identify that thing which makes you special, you’ll have a super strength to cancel out those biases and put you in the right mindset for success.
The answers to these should help you identify your super strength. Once you feel you have found your strength mentally try it on over the next couple of weeks. Does it feel ‘you’? If not go back over your list and see if anything else shines out.