The attention remedy for fear: Feed your strengths, starve your weaknesses

Paying attention to our strengths gives us confidence, but first we have to know what our strengths are. Photo: Pat Pilon

WASHINGTON August 18, 2012 - Sometimes we become so aware of our weaknesses that we lose sight of our strengths. If it is true that we energize whatever we focus on, being attentive only to our weaknesses serves to make us weaker.  

Giving our attention is a gift to the receiver. You know this is true when another person listens intently to your words. They have given you something they were free to fix on anything around them, and they chose you. We can also gift ourselves by being attentive to our strengths, despite our pending problems, and weary weaknesses. 

It is amazing how many people have difficulty naming their strengths and there are a few reasons for this. Sometimes our strengths become lost to our perception. Others may see them, but we cannot. People who have over-learned humility may feel embarrassed or selfish recognizing their strengths. 

There are also those who are strength-blind and do not understand what is meant by the concept of personal strengths. Broadly speaking, they are our assets of intellect or giftedness, spiritual perception, physical health, finances (including employment), social and community supports, emotional intelligence, and resilience.  

When faced with a problem, the most helpful thing to do is inventory the inner and outer resources we have to work with, instead of speculating about worst possible outcomes. For many this shift from catastrophic speculation to resourceful thinking requires practice, practice, practice, and possibly the assistance of a strength oriented therapist. 

It helps to remember that people who typically face life’s challenges head-on have weaknesses too, but they are not in the habit of leading with them. They move forward with confidence having their capabilities in view. Some of their weaknesses may be your strengths; forget about comparisons.  

To lead with our strengths we must cultivate awareness of them. You can start by asking those who know you what they see as your assets, and why. Think about what you have accomplished, and the capabilities you used to succeed. Look at the strengths utilized to manage any disappointments or failures.  

Focusing solely on what’s wrong leaves us feeling helpless. Looking at difficulties through the lens of our strengths, we have tools for action. This demonstrates how powerful our attention is; what we rest it on matters and helps create our lives.

The philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset wrote, “Tell me to what you pay attention and I will tell you who you are.” (Talk about saying a lot in a few words.) Think of where you put your attention and what that says about you. The answer(s) is not always comfortable but the more disconcerting is it, the more helpful as well.

Those of us who have learned the habit of helplessness may have to remind ourselves daily what our capabilities are. Maybe leading with our strengths will never be second nature, but we can give them our attention in any situation.   

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Jacqueline Marshall

Jacqueline Marshall is a writer for Help For Depression, and freelances primarily in the areas of psychology and personal development. She has a MA in Counseling Psychology and is a licensed therapist living near Chicago.

Jacqueline has experience helping those diagnosed with severe, persistent mental illness, and in providing general therapy services for individuals, couples, and families. Prior to counseling, she worked in graphic design and music education.

When not writing or counseling, Jacqueline enjoys reading literature and math-less books about quantum physics. She is a published poet, and has studied animal communication and energy healing.  


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