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February 19, 2019

Chances are, we’re all too familiar with this scenario: alarm clock goes off, we hit snooze seven to 23 times, and, finally, we muster the strength to drag ourselves into the shower (maybe) before having our morning coffee and strolling into class/work/life.

And, if you’re anything like me, you may also throw a one-person pity party berating yourself for not getting up on time, planning your outfit the night before, and meal prepping ALL the things.

As it turns out, we give our weaknesses and limitations a lot more love than our strengths.

We give our weaknesses and limitations a lot more love than our strengths.
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This is due, in large part, to our brain’s negativity bias.

In a study by psychologist John Cacippo, he demonstrated that our brains are hardwired to have a greater reaction to negative events than positive events. Negative stimuli actually create a stronger "surge of electricity" in our brains, and that can impact our vibe. "Our attitudes are more heavily influenced by downbeat news than good news," according to Psychology Today.

But what if there was a way we could rewire our minds to give our strengths more TLC?

According to researchers at UC Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center, which is devoted to exploring the science of happiness, it's possible. They cite a study where participants took time each day to think of a personal strength and how they'd apply it in the next 24 hours. After a week of this ritual, they created a noticeable change in their mood.

“Research suggests that thinking about personal strengths can increase our happiness and reduce depression," the Greater Good Science Center explains.

The findings make sense: The exercise forces us to press pause on our negativity bias and actively think about our positive qualities. This helps us build up our confidence and self-esteem, which promotes good vibes. Plus: It challenges us to put our strengths into action.

“Putting strengths to use can help enhance them, and using strengths in new and different ways can reveal how useful these strengths can be in a range of contexts," the researchers explain.

Interested in trying the exercise for yourself? I know I am—and what better time to think about your strengths than at the beginning of your day?

You can do this exercise when you’re brushing your teeth, making a cup of coffee, walking to the train—it’s easy to incorporate into the busiest mornings.

Here’s how to do it:

1. Name One of Your Personal Strengths

This could be anything—creativity, perseverance, kindness, compassion, curiosity, resilience.

Your strengths are characteristics that come easily to you—the traits that are like second nature. You may not even notice them because they’re so ingrained in you.

If you’re not sure what your strengths are, try asking your friends what they think. But if you want to get more research-based results, you can try tools such as the VIA Survey, StrengthsFinder, or personality tests like Myers-Briggs or the Enneagram test.

2. Think of How You’ll Use It Today

You know what they say: A goal without a plan is just a wish.

Once you identify a strength, take some time to think about how you’ll put it into action in the next 24 hours.

If your strength is compassion, maybe it’s having a heart-to-heart with a friend. If it’s creativity, maybe it’s leading that team brainstorm. If it’s curiosity, maybe it’s challenging yourself to read an article about a totally new topic.

A goal without a plan is just a wish.
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For the purpose of this exercise, I decided to show my strength of curiosity a little more love.

Growing up, my family would call me nosey. In their defense, I did have a penchant for minding everyone else’s businesses but my own. It’s a strength that led to a successful career as a journalist, but in my current job I haven’t shown it a lot of love.

Because I’m a visual person (and an overachiever), I used this exercise to make a list of ways I planned to explore my curiosity each day:

●︎ Saturday: learn more about the health benefits of tea vs. coffee (hey, I’m trying to kick the habit!)

●︎ Sunday: start a new book (in a genre I don’t typically read)

●︎ Monday: ask a Twitter friend about how she landed her literary agent

●︎ Tuesday: sign up for a different workout than I’m used to

●︎ Wednesday: attend a webinar about a skill I’d like to learn

●︎ Thursday: order a new salad at Sweetgreen for lunch

●︎ Friday: find a new show to Netflix and binge

You can use this exercise to stretch yourself, too. Consider a strength you don’t act on as regularly as you’d like, and challenge yourself to find a new way to incorporate it into your day-to-day.

3. Reflect on Your Progress

A few days into the exercise, I felt a bolt of energy from exploring my curiosity and trying something new. Admittedly, this practice helped push me out of my comfort zone and got my brain firing in all kinds of directions, which in turn has impacted my other strengths, like creativity and leadership.

This practice helped push me out of my comfort zone and got my brain firing in all kinds of directions.
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Once you’ve tried this, take some time to reflect on how you feel and what you learned about yourself and your strengths.

Maybe you’ll want to try it again with a different strength, or perhaps you’ll want to dive a bit deeper into the strength you chose and try the exercise for a longer amount of time.

We all have personal strengths—we just have to make an effort to show them some love. Use this exercise and your strengths to give your brain and your mood the boost you need to conquer your day.


Read next: 6 Habits That Will Help You Build Mental Strength

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