Having taught thousands of people around the world to put their strengths to work, there’s one common barrier I find most people encounter – they’re “too busy” to develop their strengths. Let’s just pause for a moment and think this through.
We know that 87 percent of employees report that they are not engaged at work. We have a growing body of research that suggests employees who use their strengths more at work are likely to feel more engaged, energized and productive at work. There are tested, easy-to-access tools like the VIA Survey that take just 15 minutes for people to discover their strengths.
Making this small change in our behaviour sounds so straightforward. Yet many people are so overwhelmed at work that even when they understand how developing their strengths might make their job easier and more enjoyable, they lack they daily mental space and energy to start.
So what can do to remove this barrier?
Researchers Robert Biswas-Diener and Todd Kashdan argue that while being mindful brings many benefits, being mindless at times also offers important advantages. The reality is our brains are wired to balance the constant mental, emotional, physical and social demands of life by turning about 40 percent of what we do each day into mindless habits. Studies have even found that we even have a neurological habit loop to make this easy that consists of: a cue, a routine and a reward.
Harnessing this knowledge, we started experimenting with how we could help people to create a daily “busy-proof” strengths habit in just 11-minutes by designing a:
- 30 second cue – by anchoring it to habits they already had so they moved seamlessly from one to the next, embedding it into their environment so they habit was unavoidable, or priming their brain with a ‘when/then’ statement.
- 10 minute routine – to develop their chosen strength.
- 30 second reward – to savor what they’d achieved and release a surge of feel-good hormones that helps to accelerate habit creation.
Anecdotal feedback suggested people found this intervention helpful, so in August 2015 we decided to test it on a larger scale by inviting employees around the world to join us in a free one-week Strengths Challenge. More than 2,000 people across 65 different countries created a one-week, 11-minute strength habit. For the participants who completed baseline and immediate post-intervention data we found that:
- 41% improved their ability to name their own strengths
- 60% became better at setting weekly strength-based goals
- 41% improved their feeling of having the opportunity to do what they did best each day.
- 39% improved the likelihood of having a meaningful strengths conversation with their supervisor
- 32% felt their organization was more committed to developing their strengths.
Perhaps most importantly: across the board, roughly a third of participants improved in their reporting of wellbeing measures, including feeling engaged and energized (37%), making a difference (30%), respected and valued (32%), and flourishing (38%) at work.
Of course this is not a randomized, placebo-controlled experiment, so we need to be careful of the conclusions we draw about this intervention. That’s the next step now that these results look promising.
In the mean time, starting on February 8th 2016, we’ll be running the free global Strengths Challenge once again. If you, or the people you work with, would like to join us and see if a daily eleven minute strengths habit can get you over the “too busy” hump so you can more consistently put your strengths to work, join us at www.strengthschallenge.com.