Aligning Strengths with Goals: Creating a Self-Concordant Journey

By Linda Faucheux

As Career Counselors, it is common to see clients set goals but fail to follow through with them or to witness clients achieve their goals only to find they are not any happier than before. How do we help our clients create meaningful goals worth striving for that actually make them happier and more fulfilled in their careers? Positive Psychology researchers have made some important discoveries in this area.


What are Self-Concordant Goals?
In the article, Self-Concordance, Goal attainment, and the Pursuit of Happiness: Can there be an Upward Spiral?, by Kennon M. Sheldon and Linda Houser-Marko, the authors present a model of healthy goal striving called the Self-Concordant Model. They define self-concordance as the extent to which people pursue personal goals with feelings of intrinsic interest and identity congruence.


Self-concordant goals are goals that are aligned with who we are, our authentic self, and with what we really want to do in our lives. They are goals that we pursue out of deep personal conviction. Sheldon and Houser-Marko found that a person who sets self-concordant goals enjoys the experience of authenticity, which has value in and of itself, and creates an upward emotional spiral that contributes to greater well-being, happiness, and life satisfaction. When you are experiencing this upward spiral of well-being, you are accessing the most positive, talented, and best part of yourself. Any decision or goal you make from that place is a powerful predictor of success.


Why Focus on Strengths?
One focus that has been helpful for me in my work with clients is to help them align with their strengths as a way to experience self-concordance. Strengths are pre-existing patterns of thought, feelings, and behavior that are authentic, energizing and lead to one's best performance. When clients are able to articulate clearly and precisely what their strengths are, what is most important to them, and what their professional goals are, then they are truly on a self-concordant journey.


Tal Ben-Shahar, who teaches a very popular University of Pennsylvania course in Positive Psychology, explains there are two kinds of strengths; extrinsic strengths and intrinsic strengths.


Extrinsic Strengths
Extrinsic strengths are activities that can be viewed by someone else. They are observable activities or tasks we are good at and enjoy. It concerns our talents, our performance, and the areas where we have the most potential for growth. These are the strengths that can be identified by asking questions such as: What am I good at? Where do I thrive, and where do I succeed? Take the Strengthsfinder 2.0, www.strengthsfinder.com , to discover your five signature themes of talent that are the foundation for your extrinsic strengths.


Intrinsic Strengths
Our intrinsic strengths can be identified by asking questions such as; What gives me strength? What motivates me? What fuels me? These strengths give us the experience of the internal felt sense of self and point to what is most important. They are our character strengths and point to our most cherished values. These strengths give us energy and motivation to persevere with sustained effort when cultivated and developed. They make us more resilient in the face of obstacles. Martin Seligman and Chris Peterson created The VIA, (Values in Action), www.viacharacter.org, to identify our intrinsic character strengths and virtues.


The Strengths Zone
When you have identified both extrinsic and intrinsic strengths, then look for where the two sets of strengths merge. The key is to identify what you are good at and what gives you strength and then find the overlap of the two. This is the zone that points to your greatest performance and contribution.


For example if Maximizer is one of your top five Strengthsfinder themes, you are someone who strives to turn something good into something great. You polish the pearl until it shines. What if you also scored highly on the character strength in the VIA of Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence? This character strength is about a sense of wonder and awe. You have an eye for beauty and excellence and are deeply touched by it. The overlap is the extrinsic talent and motivation to make things excellent coupled with an intrinsic eye for excellence. When you find yourself in your strengths zone, you are intrinsically interested and extrinsically capable and that feels authentic. This experience sets the stage for the opportunity to set a meaningful goal that is worth pursuing and achieving. It is a pathway to your unique way of being that if consciously developed has the potential to be your unique genius and your most profound contribution to the world.


In summary, by calling on the part of you that is an expression of you at your best, you are setting yourself up for the potential for greater success and achievement in the specific way you are uniquely wired to perform. In addition, a trickle effect also occurs that creates a stronger internal capacity to deal with life’s challenges. This combination of extrinsic and intrinsic resources provides powerful fuel for creating meaningful goals worth striving for and also the capacity to follow through in the obtainment of your goals.



Linda FaucheuxLinda Faucheux, MA, LPC, manages and supervises the Career Counseling Team at University of Colorado, Career Services. Linda is passionate about Positive Psychology, career counseling supervision and training, and strengths based leadership. She can be reached at Linda.Faucheux@Colorado.edu

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Anna M. Aragon   on Saturday 03/03/2012 at 11:41 AM

Linda; fabulous article with excellent key theme for strong and important case management. this is the area where most folks are almost always at a low point when they meet with us. love and blessings......Anna

Linda Pollock   on Wednesday 03/07/2012 at 04:31 PM

Thanks for the article. I like the overlap of strengths we can observe and our values which drive us. I see people at their best when they overlap and appreciate you outlining it here!

Sunitha Narayanan   on Monday 03/12/2012 at 07:51 PM

Linda: Thanks for sharing--I like your capturing the heart of this topic, "expression of you at your best." An authentic, honest and deep self-reflection of motivated strengths with expression of the same allows opportunities to come to you naturally and often.

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