What’s the first thought that goes through your mind when you wake up in the morning? Do you jump out of bed in excitement looking forward to the day and all the interesting things you are going to be doing; or do you pull the duvet over your head in dread at the thought of the long, dull hours ahead of you?
If the second version is the one you recognise, you are not alone. The sad truth is that many people spend their days doing jobs they hate, pursuing careers they are not suited for, living lives that don’t make them happy.
A recent survey of workers by a recruitment firm found that a third of participants were bored in their jobs, while almost half confessed to leaving part of their true selves behind when they set off for work in the morning. Every day the same relentless routine of fighting for a seat on the train to get to and from work, or queuing for the bus in the rain, with only the brief respite of evenings, weekends and holidays to relieve the tedium.
The crazy thing is that you probably have no shortage of wonderful things you’d like to do. That glittering new career. That big promotion. That exciting new life in the sun. That book you want to write, that business you want to start, that amazing idea you long to put into action.
The problem is that achieving any of those goals feels just so impossible and out of reach. Maybe you feel you lack the skills to improve your situation. Perhaps it feels as though there are too many obstacles standing in your way to achieve your goals. Maybe you struggle to even find the time to understand what it is that you want to do or just don’t know where to start.
So instead you live your life through Google, clicking on houses you can’t afford, holidays you will never go on, places you will never visit, adventures you will never have.
The good news is that you can take control of the decisions that really matter. You can begin to develop good habits and overcome any obstacles standing in your way. Even better, you can turn those obstacles into advantages that will help rather than hinder you.
Most importantly, you can play to your strengths. You may not realise it, but your personality, character, experiences, skills and even your personal circumstances are all fantastic tools and assets that you can use to create the life and career you’ve always wanted – no matter who you are, where you live or what you currently do for a living.
Now, playing to your strengths is not some kind of vague feel-good idea; it is a very practical and pragmatic approach to achieving more. It means deliberately focusing on the things that you can already do and then making those things as good as they can be, rather than wasting your energy worrying about the things you can’t do.
It’s about identifying and using the resources you already have, rather than pointlessly trying to improve the bits that aren’t that great, in the futile hope of being amazing at everything.
It is an approach that makes a lot of sense. You have limited time and energy in life, so it is far more effective to use those to build up your strengths, where you already have some ability, rather than trying to improve your weaknesses, where you don’t.
That’s because – and it is important to remember this – to get ahead in work and life you don’t actually need to be good at everything; you just need to be good at some things, and then to use those skills in the most effective way.
What’s more, using your strengths can not only help you get to where you want to be, it can also improve how you feel. A recent study by academic psychologists found that people who felt they were using their strengths regularly developed greater levels of well-being over time than those who did not, measured in terms of greater self-esteem and vitality, and lower stress levels.
But while focusing on improving your positive qualities might sound obvious, it’s actually the complete opposite of how we usually operate in life. Assessments and reports at school and work typically focus on the things we need to improve, not the things we are already good at.
Remember all those ‘could do better’ and ‘room for improvement’ comments in your school reports? Of course you do. From a young age we are conditioned to pay as much attention to our weaknesses as our strengths, which means that inevitably those are the things we tend to dwell on. Studies show that if people are given a report that highlights four strengths and one weakness, it is the single weakness they remember most.
It’s hardly surprising, then, that so many people doubt themselves and question their abilities. Well, not anymore. It’s time to start thinking in a different way.
You don’t have to stay stuck in your rut, watching your life go by as the days turn into weeks and then into years. You don’t have to live with the choices you have made. You can start afresh and make the changes you need, to get to where you want to be.
That’s because you are capable of much more than you think. You already have the seeds of your success inside you. It’s all right there, just waiting for you to press the start button.
Rachel Bridge is an author and former Enterprise Editor of The Sunday Times. This is an edited extract from her book Already Brilliant (Piatkus, £13.99).
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