by Rochelle Melander
Identify a person’s strengths. Define outcomes that play to those strengths. Find a way to count, rate or rank those outcomes. And then let the person run.
– Marcus Buckingham
One of my teaching mentors gave me this advice about managing a challenging class, “Encourage and reward the positives. Even if they’re small.”
In school, I learned key critical thinking skills. They’ve helped me earn degrees, master new topics, and write books. These same critical thinking skills support me in helping clients overcome obstacles and write more. But sometimes, analyzing gets me stuck in a critical mindset. Instead of writing, I analyze every single problem and misstep in my writing and life. I can barely get a few words on paper before my inner critic launches an attack.
After learning how important it is for students to hear what they’re doing right, I realized that those of us engaged in the challenging task of writing have the same need. I wondered: What might happen if we paid attention to what went well and did more of that? What if we noticed, encouraged, and rewarded our own positive steps forward? And what if we recruited our strengths to support us when we were struggling with a task?
My guess? Noticing the positive would help us write more and do it with ease.
This quest will help you notice what you do well—and then use those skills to level up your writing life.
In last week’s tip, “Discern Your Best Practices,” you examined your best working sessions and noted many of the practices, habits, and tools that help you write. In this quest, you will examine the data from that quest and search for your strengths.
What is a strength? A strength might be a trait like curiosity; a skill like research, drafting, or editing; or a knowledge base, like health.
Pro Tip: If you haven’t done last week’s quest, review it now. The exercise prompts you to record three successful writing sessions and note the habits, tools, and practices that led to your success.
Step One: Record
Take your journal to a coffee shop, library, or park bench. Pull out the notes on your best writing sessions and reflect on the following questions. When you jot down your answers, use as much detail as possible.
- What writing or other creative tasks do I find to be easy or do well (or both)? (Examples of tasks: organize ideas, interview sources, write anecdotes, tell stories, persuade readers, research, write rough drafts, revise, etc.)
- When was I engaged with my work? What project was I working on at the time? What task was I doing? What were some of the circumstances around my work? (E.g., was I working alone or with others?)
- When did I feel most energized by my work? What project was I working on? What task was I doing? What were some of the circumstances around my work?
Step Two: Analyze & Identify
Review your answers to the above questions and reflect:
- What practices add to my productivity? (Please define productivity in any way that works for you: writing more words, beginning and completing pieces, putting in a certain amount of time, etc.)
- What practices or situations challenged my ability to be productive?
- What traits emerge as my strengths? If you have trouble putting your strengths into words, search online for lists of “strengths” or “character traits.”
Step Three: Transform
Change happens when we allow what we do well to transform our writing and lives.
- Based on the above data and analysis, what kinds of projects would you like to do more of? Less of?
- How can your strengths and positive practices improve your writing sessions or other creative work?
- How can these strengths and practices support you in overcoming your blocks or challenges?
Pro Tip You may have difficulty looking at writing experiences and seeing strengths in what you do or how you do it. Part of that is because we don’t value our own daily habits, it’s “just what we do.” It might be helpful to ask a close friend or colleague to help you find the strengths in the way you do your work as well as in the work you do.
For the Win
Your strengths are evident in everything you do—from cleaning your house to writing a book. But most of us review our life in order to uncover our weaknesses. We think that if we can get a handle on our faults and fix them, we will be more successful. In doing that, we often ignore our own superpowers—the strengths that we use to make a difference in the world. But today you changed all that. You reviewed your own life and named your strengths. Now it will be easier for you to remember and use them.