How Focusing on Strengths Instead of Weaknesses Changes Your Brain

The key to human development is building on who you already are”
― Tom Rath

Let me ask you a question.

How many of your New Year’s resolutions focus on fixing a weakness?

My guess is most of them.

Am I right?

It’s human nature to focus on our shortcomings. And by doing so, we sabotage ourselves.

Research clearly shows that people experience faster growth and development when they nurture their strengths instead of correcting their shortcomings.

The Power of nurturing our strengths

As a Harvard Business Review shows, once people focused on their strengths, they felt more satisfied with their lives and believed in new possibilities. All in all, they became happier.

And this goes for focusing on strengths in the form of talents and natural abilities as well as having positive feelings and trusting in yourself too. Often one is influencing the other.

Let’s review a real-life example.

I am quite musical. I play the piano, and I also sing in a choir. I had a solo part in December and took some private vocal lessons to give my best. I enjoy this. I don’t mind putting lots of work and hours into rehearsals. After every rehearsal, I feel happy and refreshed. And I was thrilled to realize that I improved.

On the other hand, when I have to draw something, I feel like a total loser. Even after learning some techniques, I am still frustrated that nothing I draw turns out the way I want. I feel like I want to jump and stomp on my artwork, and then throw it out of the window. It frustrates me. And I’m not having any fun.

Can you see what I mean?

In both cases, I am putting effort and energy into something. I learn techniques, and I try to improve.

But with music, I’m having fun. I see real improvement that leads to something great, which I can perform and present to other people. It leaves me happy, satisfied, and with a feeling of achievement.

With drawing, I’m not having any fun – at all. After putting lots of energy and time into improving this skill, the result is still crap, and I can’t present it to anyone. I feel like I’ve wasted precious time. It leaves me frustrated, discouraged, and moody; even when I try to move on to something else, the negative feelings carry over.

How what we focus on affects our brains


What I described in the examples truly affects our lives, our successes, our happiness, and how we perceive ourselves. Where we direct our focus affects our brains.

Focusing on our weakness makes our brains believe that we are not good enough

Whatever we think of most becomes stronger and more powerful in our brains. So, if we think of our weaknesses, they become stronger in our brains, to the point that our brains make us believe that we are our weaknesses and that we are not good enough.

 Focusing on our weaknesses stresses our brains

Spending every day being reminded of what we’re not good at is frustrating. And it stresses the brain. So all of the brain’s functions are reduced to one simple activity: surviving the present situation.

The brain does only what guarantees survival and uses only what it knows. In no way is the brain able to use all of its areas and capacity to visualize and be creative at this stage. Stress reduces and blocks all that.

Focusing on our strengths opens our minds

If we do the opposite and think about our strengths, our brains let us believe that we are strong. We can use more areas of our brains, and our minds open up to new options. Our brains are also more open to learning new skills and new knowledge.

Only a positive, happy, and relaxed brain can be truly creative and think freely.

Focusing on our strengths increases our brain activity

Focusing as part of practicing a strength and talent improves this specific talent. Improvement is success, to the point of mastering the talent. And the more we experience success, the higher brain activity we’ll have. This activity changes our brains. It increases motivation, self-esteem, and happiness.

Focusing on our strengths releases dopamine

Doing what we’re good and strong at is usually accompanied with enjoying what we’re doing. This releases a molecule in the brain called dopamine. Dopamine in the brain provides feelings of pure happiness. It motivates us to continue doing what we’re doing. In addition, dopamine makes the brain be alert and able to react faster to new information.

Focusing on our strengths is not an easy way out

Don’t misunderstand what focusing on strengths means. It’s not an excuse to do only what you feel like. It’s not an excuse for avoiding hard work. Building your talents into real strengths requires practice and hard work, much like building physical strength does. It is your ticket to success, but it won’t happen by itself.

How can we find our strengths and talents?


OK! You got it! It’s great to focus on strengths. But you might still wonder what exactly your strengths are. Do you have strengths and talents at all? Maybe you feel more like someone who can’t do anything well.

Well, everyone has a unique set of talents and strengths. Yes, everyone. That includes you. Some strengths are obvious; some are not so obvious.

You can discover your strengths in several ways:

  1. Ask your friends and family. Tell them to be absolutely honest with you. They probably know you better than you might want to acknowledge. They can tell you if you’re empathetic and a good listener, if you give great advice, or if you are organized. They can tell you if you’re creative or into details when decorating the house or planning a trip, or if you are a talented story teller.
  2. Observe yourself. What do you truly enjoy doing? What tasks make you forget the time and wish you could do them forever? Don’t think what would look good or cool or give you lots of appreciation. Think of yourself. You have your own special set of strengths.
  3. Do a professional test. Great tests are out there. The Gallup strength finder is quite popular, but you can do other great tests like “The best possible self” or “MBTI – Meyers Briggs.” A professional test gives you a lot to think about and points you in the right direction. Of course, these kinds of tests have to generalize a little. So please keep that in mind.
  4. Work with a coach, if you want to invest a little more. A coach will help you make sense of your test results and help you implement them and develop a plan for the future.

If you’re not into tests, you can work with a coach where you analyze, ask questions, and roll play. Just make sure the coach is experienced, maybe even certified. By law, everyone is allowed to call themselves a coach. So choose wisely.

 Final thoughts

You’ve seen clear proof that focusing on your strengths changes your brain, opens your mind, and releases stress.

Your strength is what sets you up for a positive life full of possibilities, creativity, and happiness.

If focusing on your strengths is your way to happiness and success, why would you still focus on your shortcomings and waste your time with it?

Forget about obsessing over your shortcomings.

You have a unique set of talents and strengths.

Use them!


Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

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