Are you looking for the secret path to a successful life? Something you can find out there in the world – if you just keep searching for it. You see, most people make the mistake of looking outward for success opportunities.
However, the easiest and most rewarding path to success is looking within. Discovering what you have to offer to the world that nobody else can. Finding your own unique talents and sharing them in a meaningful way.
So here is a little run down on the importance of finding your true talents.
Why you need to find your talents and strengths
Most people never find their natural talents and strengths – either because they do not believe they have any or because they underestimate their importance. If you want to be successful, discovering your uniqueness is not a nice bonus – it’s a necessity. The following two examples show you why:
– Your biggest room for growth lies within your talents
A common assumption in today’s society is that the key to success is fixing your weakness. People tend to think that working on what you are not good at is the fastest way to grow and develop. That’s far from the truth. Of course, you can get better at anything. Working on your weakness can help you go from bad to mediocre. But you will never be able to achieve true excellence without an underlying talent. As Markus Buckingham says: each person’s greatest room for growth is in the areas of his or her greatest strength.î So find these areas of talent and strength and capitalize on them. That way you can use your full potential.
– Making use of your key differentiator
What sets you apart from everyone else is your unique personality with all the special talents and strengths that you possess. YOU are the biggest asset that you could ever have. The first step to embrace your uniqueness is being aware that you are special. You are like nobody else in this world. Nobody else has had the same experiences as you. No one has exactly the same characteristics and shares the same values. Nobody has learned all the various skills you learned. Discovering your talents and strengths means becoming more aware of who you really are. Because only when you know what makes you so unique ñ you can fully embrace and make use of it.
But what exactly is a talent?
A talent is simply a strong characteristic that you have. It’s something you naturally do, think, or feel and that can be used in a beneficial way. It is nothing you acquired in school or that was taught to you at university. A talent is just a natural pattern of thought, feeling, or behavior. Psychologists say that 90% of what you think every day is repetitive*. Meaning most of what you think today, you already thought yesterday, and 90% of these thoughts you also thought the day before … Not only are your thoughts the results of underlying patterns but also your behavior and feelings. Finding your talents is simply about discovering these most prominent patterns within you and then using it to your advantage.
Identifying your unique talents
To set yourself up for success and capitalize on the way you are, you need to identify your unique characteristics. This is a process that takes quite some time but that is definitely worth doing!
The following four ways can help you get started:
1. Find what makes you feel strong
Keep track of how you spend the next two days: What are you doing, feeling or thinking about daily? Write down everything that energizes you and makes you feel strong. It could be a particular physical activity such as meeting up and going dancing with a friend or a mental activity such as finding a solution to a difficult problem. Then when you found a few things you repeatedly do and love, dig deeper and see what part of that particular activity made you feel good.
So for example, one of my patterns is that I love learning and sharing my findings with you. That statement in itself is not quite true: I don’t like learning about everything. Give me books about personal development and I am occupied for hours feeling energized and in flow. Give me almost anything else and I am bored to hell. I like sharing what I learn but if you make me talk about it in front of a crowd, I will try to run and hide. However, sit down with me alone and I will happily talk with you for hours. These are distinct differences that are vital to know in order to make the most of my talent.
Look out for your own patterns: what are you always doing or thinking about? What can you just not help doing, thinking or feeling? Even if someone asks you not to? Often these are things that others can find quite annoying about you 😉
2. Discover what you spend your money on
Your core values are closely linked with what you spend your money and time on. Take note of what you spend your money on and look closer at what this can tell you about yourself.
For example, I spend my money on books, seminars and conferences. The types of books I buy show me what I am passionate about – namely personal development and entrepreneurship. But what’s behind it is my innate desire to learn and grow. That is a strong natural characteristic of mine, a talent that drives everything I do, how I think and how I spend my time.
If you like spending money on going out with friends, is it that you like bringing people together? Is it that you like getting attention and expressing yourself? Or maybe is it because you value deepening your pre-existing friendships? Why do you do what you do? What is behind it? The key is to keep digging deeper in order to get to the core essence of your talent patterns.
Most people, including myself in the past, make the terrible mistake of being too fast and not taking enough time to truly discover themselves. Identifying what makes you truly unique and what drives you is not a 1-minute exercise you can complete while brushing your teeth.
3. Asking others
Find out what others value most about you. What personal characteristics would describe you best? Ask your friends, partner and family members what they love most about your personality. This will not just be valuable for your self-confidence ñ it will also show you what you are likely to dismiss about yourself. You might be surprised by what you find out. Often, how you see yourself is very different to how others see you.
The problem with talents and strengths is that they are so normal to you that you tend to dismiss them. You are so used to them that you take them for granted and don’t realise that they exist and that they are your biggest asset.
4. Using personality tests
Another good way to discover your unique talents is using a personality test. One that I can recommend is the Clifton StrengthFinder which determines your top five dominant patterns. It gives you a detailed explanation of them and actionable advice about how to put them to use. The test has really opened my eyes and helped me understand my talents and myself a little better. You can buy the test as part of the book Now, Discover Your Strengths or get it on its own.
However, don’t just use the test alone and do nothing with it. The result alone will have no impact on you or your strength development unless you use the answers as a starting point to get to know yourself better. The best would be going through the steps in the order described above. Start with self-analysis, then see if others confirm your view about yourself and lastly you can also see what personality tests reveal about you. From my experiences, this process will prove to be the most valuable one for finding your unique talents and strengths.
Let me know in the comments what you have done to identify your talents.
Do you still tend to focus on fixing your weakness or are you already developing your strengths?
*According to a research by Dr. Fred Luskin of Stanford University
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When I hear someone using my name once in a while throughout the conversation we are having, I cannot stop myself thinking “this person must have read Dale Carnegie’s books or must have been influenced by someone who read them…” Have you just recalled a similar moment and it felt nice?
As Dale Carnegie famously said, “Remember that a person’s name is, to that person, the sweetest and the most important sound in any language”. Why did Dale Carnegie highlight the importance of an individual’s name to that person in his “How to Win Friends and Influence People” book published in 1936?
Each and every one of us wants to feel special and unique. I guess he recommends using the person’s name in the conversation because that is one of the easiest ways to grab that person’s attention so that we can enhance the chances of getting our point across. However, I am more interested in this from the other side; hearing our names directly addresses our individuality, our need or desire to feel special and unique.
Let’s park this one for now and we will come back.
Categorization is essential to our survival
There is countless scientific research telling us about how our brains recognize similarities and put things into categories, which has been crucial to our survival in evolution and still helps us with a lot of things from learning new things to coping with the continuous influx of massive amounts of information through our senses.
The continuous influx of information is mostly handled by our subconscious mind rather than conscious. It is estimated that our brains receive about 11 million bits of information every second through our senses, of which only 40-50 bits can be processed by our conscious mind. We process more information than we are aware of. The magic here is the subconscious mind.
An example is when you are at a very loud party where you hear a lot of words flying around without you recognizing each one of them, then suddenly, you immediately catch it when you hear your name. Your subconscious had been processing all of those words, without your awareness, but informed your conscious mind when your name was out there because it was relevant to you.
In order to most effectively process this much information and inform the conscious mind with only the relevant ones, our subconscious employs categorization as one of its strategies.
When our ancestors encountered some deadly predators in the African savanna, their subconscious prompted their conscious mind to immediately fight or flight by categorizing the information gathered through their senses into “predator / life threat / take action”. Most probably we are not descendants of the ones that were frozen rather than fighting or flighting!
Although it is a completely different situation, the same strategy applied in remembering lists. Let’s look at the below two lists.
- lion, eagle, shark, leopard, hawk, whale, panther, falcon and dolphin
- lion, leopard, panther, eagle, hawk, falcon, shark, whale and dolphin
The second list is easy to remember because it is reordered into relevant groups even though the content of the both lists are identical.
Subconsciousness is the magic and categorization is one of its key strategies. It is essential to our survival, learning new skills and processing information as well as bringing back the information we had processed and stored.
This amazing skill has its drawbacks
As a result of our brains’ categorization strategy, we also categorize people, especially if we don’t know them as well as our closest ones.
Imagine I am sitting at the table next to yours while you are having your favorite coffee and working on your computer or reading your novel at your neighborhood coffee shop. I stand up, very calmly grab your bag, and start walking away. Your reaction might be quite different depending on my outfit. It could be much more vocal and harsh if I have a dirty T-Shirt and a pair of torn jeans on. However, if I have some navy colored, 3-piece suit and well-pressed white button up shirt on, you might even say something like “Excuse me, you might have picked up my bag by mistake”. (There is an experiment done by social psychologists which reported similar results)
Similarly, I would not be surprised to hear that my co-worker’s spouse is very skilled and knowledgeable in English grammar and literature because he is an English teacher. However, I would not expect it from my co-worker herself because she is an outstanding chemical engineer.
This is defined as unconscious bias or stereotyping, as a result of our subconscious brain’s categorization strategy. The outfit I have at the coffee shop impacts your response to my action, because it puts me into a different category in your mind depending on my outfit. My co-worker’s and her spouse’s backgrounds make me put them into different categories, which might mislead me sometimes.
Just like we categorize things, it is very natural that we categorize people.
The key question here for me is; how do we truly treat people as individuals so that they feel unique, just like as they would want, while we know that our brains categorize people?
We can overcome unconscious bias
Leonard Mlodinow, in his enlightening book “Subliminal”, suggests that “if we are aware of our bias and motivated to overcome it, we can.” That doesn’t mean that we need to fight our brain’s categorization strategy. We just need to employ our conscious mind more when we are working or dealing with individuals.
Our unconscious bias might tell us scientists are bunch of technical nerds who cannot understand abstract concepts that marketers are talking about or it might say that marketers are some daydreamers who need to be grounded by scientists to the real world all the time. I am an engineer and I love thinking in abstract terms and I worked with quite a lot of marketers who thought primarily in factual and concrete terms.
Spending some effort to learn more about individuals will help overcome unconscious bias. Gathering more information and qualities about them will make it easier for us to treat them as individuals rather than a member of the category we put them in our minds.
The moral of the story here is to recognize the fact that our brains do categorize, and it is essential; but also, to recognize that every individual wants to feel unique. When we appreciate these two and keep reminding them to ourselves, we are one step closer to figuring out our own way to overcome unconscious bias and treat people more like individuals.
What was the most interesting part of this article for you? Share your thoughts below!
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