One of the things I love the most about strengths and The Strengths Deck is that there is always more to learn! And I recently had a lightbulb moment about where the ‘Vitality’ strength shows up for me, and how I use it in my daily life and work.
What is 'Vitality'?
The definition of Vitality in The Strengths Deck is: “You approach life with zest and excitement, undertaking tasks with enthusiasm and energy.”
You are probably already thinking of someone you know who epitomises this strength. They sparkle in every moment. They seem to have unending energy. They always have something to be excited about.
Or maybe that person is you! It certainly describes me to a large extent. But just because it’s something that we (or others) are brilliant at doesn’t automatically mean that it’s a Genius strength.
Vitality: a Reputation or Genius strength?
Right from when I started creating The Strengths Deck, I thought of ‘Vitality’ as being in my Zone of Reputation. That is, something I’m great at, but that is draining and de-energising.
I formed that theory because I rely heavily on my Vitality strength in my work, especially when I’m delivering keynote speechs or facilitating workshops. And at the end of each session, I’ll feel tired and ready to hibernate for a few hours. I was confusing how I felt after using it with how I feel while I use it, even while educating others about the importance of making the distinction!
Vitality and flow
It turns out that the tiredness I was feeling was the mental and physical exhaustion that typically follows what author Cal Newport calls ‘deep work’, or psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi called ‘flow’. And we generally achieve a deep work/flow state when we’re working with our Genius strengths, because they help us to focus in an unusually deep way as we work on tasks we find meaningful and engaging.
The way we are wired means that we’re only able to focus in this way for around 90 minutes, then we need some time to recover before launching into another round of flow. And most of us can only do 2-3 flow sessions in a day before we have tapped out our energy levels. So, when I was over-relying on Vitality to deliver full-day workshops, I was also thoroughly exceeding my overall energy capacity.
Seeing Vitality in others
Every time I talk about strengths with other people, I learn something new about how strengths work in general, as well as how they show up specifically in my life.
A friend recently shared her completed Strengths Deck Matrix with me, and her top-rated Genius strengths included Vitality. I instantly recognised how it features in the way she approaches the world. She is, in a word, effervescent. But she also regularly takes time to decompress and recharge, dialling her Vitality strength down and bringing other strengths to the fore.
And I suddenly had a lightbulb moment about Vitality for me. It wasn’t a true Reputation strength, because I actually feel amazing when I’m using it. I feel like the “real me”, and what I’m doing is engaging, enjoyable, and easy. That makes it a Genius strength.
However, when I overplay it, it becomes a drag on my energy. Overplaying can mean using it too intensely, or using it for too long, to the exclusion of my other strengths. And if I overplay it for too long, that’s when I risk turning it into a Reputation strength (temporarily or permanently).
Using my Vitality wisely
The key strategy with our Genius strengths is to use them wisely and well. This means knowing when to dial them up, when to dial them down, and when to stop using them entirely.
That lightbulb moment prompted me to review how, when, and where I’m using my Vitality strength. I realised I’d allowed Vitality to become my default approach to everything I do. I hadn’t been leaning into my Self-Aware (1) strength, which is why the change had gone unnoticed.
And as a result, I have been using my Genius strengths of Listener (2) and Reflection (3) less. These strengths bring balance to my approach, allowing me to “rest” my Vitality and creating space for others to shine. So, it was time to dial up my Self-Control (4) Reputation strength to help me get things back onto a more even keel. And I’ve changed the way I’m delivering my workshops to allow more time for listening and reflection. This is helping me dial down my Vitality and stay within my energy capacity each day.
As I write this, I’m on holiday in Queenstown, staying with friends who are the most wonderful hosts. I’ve been able to dial my Vitality strength up and down, delighting in the activities we’ve been doing, and also spending time on my own relaxing, reading, snoozing, and dreaming. I’ve listened and reflected, and turned my Benevolent (5) strength on myself to ensure that I’m getting what I need from my holiday, so I can return to work rested, refreshed, and ready to help others learn about and use their strengths wisely and well.
What strengths are you overplaying?
As you’ve seen from my story, it’s really easy to fall into overplaying a strength, or not recognise the difference between how you feel when using a strength compared to how you feel after you’ve been in a flow state with your strengths.
What strengths might you be overplaying right now? Where might you be exceeding your energy capacity? What strategies can you put in place to dial up other strengths? And how will you create time to recharge your batteries?
(1) Self-Aware: You reflect on and understanding your behaviour, emotion, strengths, and weaknesses.
(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) Reflection: you engage in deep thinking and discussions, contemplating ideas, principles, and concepts.
(4) Self-Control: You manage your feelings, behaviours, appetites, and emotions, maintaining discipline and self-regulation.
(5) Benevolent: You act with generosity, kindness, and compassion, caring for others.