Overuse: When A Strength Becomes A Weakness

young man in sleepwear suffering from headache in morning

One issue that comes up over and over again, whether I’m coaching one person, or speaking with a group, is the concept of strengths overuse. The usual question is, “If I’m good at something, isn’t it better to use it more?”

Sweet or sour?

Almost anything in life has a sweet spot – the point at which the benefits significantly outweigh the costs. But it is possible to go beyond the sweet spot, and end up souring everything.

Something that was once helpful (like a day on the couch relaxing after a busy few weeks), can become a barrier to success if you do too much of it. Five weeks of couch time, binge-watching all of the latest shows, probably isn’t going to get you to any of your goals.

It happens with exercise too – working out 3-4 times a week can be optimal for building strength and fitness, but working out hard every day without any rest days can be a recipe for disaster.

And it can even happen at work and play. If you spend too much time using your body in a particular way, whether that’s typing, hammering, or swinging a golf club or tennis raquet, you can develop Occupational Overuse Syndrome (OOS).

Personal strengths overuse

The same goes for your personal strengths. When you’re get good results from something, it’s tempting to do more of it. But use it too much, for too long, and your strength starts to act like a weakness.

If you are always the Storyteller1, and never the Listener2, those around you might stop giving you their attention.

Or if you take an overly Analytical3 approach and evaluate everything to death, instead of occasionally looking through the lens of a Connoisseur4, you can squeeze all the fun, joy, and awe out of life.

You might even find that overusing a certain strength can become a career-limiting move, whether that’s because you try to stay Flexible5 to keep all your options open, or you push so hard with your Grit6 that you don’t recognise when it’s time to pursue a different goal.

Overuse can happen with any kind of strength

It’s common for people to overuse their Genius strengths, because of the natural attraction of using a high Performance, high Preference strength. But that’s not the only type of strength that you can overuse.

It’s also possible to overuse your Reputation strengths (high Performance, low Preference), Proficiency strengths (moderate Performance and Preference) and even your Potential strengths (low Performance, high Preference).

The problems with overuse are less about the Zone that the strength comes from, and more about the effect that excessive use has on you, and your work, life, and the people around you. If your use of a strength doesn’t seem to be bringing any downsides to you (whether that’s in terms of your results or wellbeing), or the people around you (that is, you’re not annoying others, blocking them from using their strengths, or getting a reputation as a one-trick pony), then you’re probably ok. But if something’s not quite right, experiment with the following strategies.

Strategies for addressing strengths overuse

There are a range of strategies that you can use to address the overuse of your strengths. As you become more familiar with your own strengths, and the principles of the strengths-based approach, you’ll probably identify some additional strategies that work well for you.

Start by looking for ways to dial back your use of the strength. That might mean taking a temporary break from the task(s) involving that strength. For example, if you’ve relied on Stretch7 a bit too much, it could be time to take a step back and focus on tasks that are well-within your comfort zone.

Delegating the task to someone else who has it in their Zone of Genius or Proficiency is another great strategy. That way, they get to spread their wings, while you’re resting yours.

You might be able to find ways to reduce how intensely you are using the strength. For example, if you’ve allowed your Improver8 strength to run rampant over every area of your life, you might choose to focus your improvements on only one area,

Another strategy is to identify other strengths that you can dial up in place of the overused strength. If you’ve found yourself leaning too heavily on your Welcoming9 strength, you could turn to Systematiser10 to create a process by which new people to your community are welcomed and included (such as an automated email sequence, rather than writing emails from scratch), or Mobiliser11 to prompt others to step up and welcome new people to the fold.

Overuse can be temporary or permanent

It’s possible to burn out a strength temporarily – it loses it’s shine for a while, but after some rest, and focus on using other strengths, it bounces back.

But in some cases, especially if you’ve persisted with the strength for a long period after it began to burn out, it may never come back to its original levels of enjoyment for you. That’s why it’s so important to take action as soon as you start to notice signs that you could be overusing the strength.

And if you need some help to figure out how to rest a strength, or which other strengths you can dial up so you keep things fresh, I’d love to chat. Book your free, no-obligation, 30-minute chat by tapping the button below.

The Strengths Deck definitions

  1. Storyteller: You love using stories to share insights, lessons, values and humour.
  2. Listener: You focus intently on what others have to say, noticing what is and isn’t said, and picking up on subtle cues.
  3. Analytical: You love searching for patterns and causes and uncovering all the factors that might influence a situation.
  4. Connoisseur: You notice and appreciate beauty and excellence in the world, whether in nature, art, work or people.
  5. Flexible: You prefer to go with the flow, letting the future unfold and taking things as they come.
  6. Grit: You persist in the face of challenges and frustrations, overcoming obstacles to finish what you start.
  7. Stretch: You enjoy getting out of your comfort zone, being adventurous and taking calculated risks.
  8. Improver: You love making things better and have a keen eye for spotting opportunities to do so.
  9. Welcoming: You accept others as they are and seek to include them in everything you do.
  10. Systematiser: You take a structured, orderly approach to life and work, creating and applying rules, guidelines, processes and systems.
  11. Mobiliser: You have a knack for inspiring other people and motivating them to take action.

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