BUILDING CHARACTER WITH A 30-DAY PRACTICE (BOOK REVIEW)


This article authored by Rosalinda Ballesteros Valdes, director of the Institute for Wellbeing and Happiness at Universidad Tecmilenio, was originally published on PositivePsychologyNews.com on May 22, 2019.


Jane Strunk Anderson’s book, 30 Days of Character Strengths: A Guided Practice to Ignite Your Best lays out a month-long series of practices to help people intentionally develop their own character strengths. It can also be used by coaches or team leaders to help people work together to develop habits around character strengths.

Positive Psychology highlights the importance of focusing on strengths. Lea Waters, professor at the University of Melbourne, defines strengths as what you do well and enjoy doing that benefits others. Anderson explains that character strengths are core capacities for thinking, feeling, and behaving in ways that can bring benefit to self and others.

Who is the author?

Jane Anderson has studied character strengths with the Wholebeing Institute and the VIA Institute on Character, and she has taught them in the Wholebeing Institute and to her clients. She is now running a 6-week program called Rise and Thrive in 2019. In her biography on the Strength Based Living site, she states:

“Sometimes it’s necessary to improve weaknesses and what’s wrong, but I find that as a society we’re good at focusing on the negative and less practiced at pursuing the positive. I hope to change that.”

She herself has worked her way through more than forty 30-day practices, by herself and with friends, so this format comes very naturally to her.

What is in the book?

Anderson invites you, the reader, to start by creating a personal strengths profile using the VIA Strengths Survey that is freely available online. With this profile in hand, Anderson’s book leads you through the following four-week practice:

  • Week 1: understanding your own strengths
  • Week 2: building relationships based on your strengths and spotting the strengths of others
  • Week 3: building competence in the use of your character strengths so that you don’t overuse, underuse, or misuse them
  • Week 4: perfecting your own development

Every activity or exercise is organized with a question and reflection format that allows you to evolve consciously your understanding of your own strengths and shows you ways to truly ignite your personal development. One of the wonderful things about this book is that each week closes with a summary of the week activities, and the last three days of the 30-day period are used to look towards creating your own future practice.

What did I particularly enjoy?

The book is written from an easygoing and warm perspective. It has a good balance of explaining why the activities work to make you a better version of yourself with a very practical and simple daily exercise format. I especially liked having a 30-day format. When trying to create a habit, repetition is key. Although the book includes 30 different exercises, they are related and build on each other. That makes the book habit forming, especially if you go through it more than once. The book also leads to a beneficial change of mindset by shifting the focus from deficit improvement to boosting strengths.

Anderson proposes a progression in terms of the depth of the activities. The simpler ones are in the first week. More complex and reflective exercises are presented as the month advances. This is one of the specific things that I value about thinking about character strengths for a month: there is a start, a progression, and an end to the improvement plan.

Anderson’s book, besides helping you to understand your unique character strengths profile, also invites you to look at others through the lens of their unique strengths profiles. I could personally relate to one of the exercises where as a reader I was invited to look at conflict as a collision of strengths. If each of people in the conflict are using their strengths to determine their particular views of the situation, what would happen if I changed to use a different strength?

How did I use the book?

One thing that I did with a group of friends is that we all started with the activities at the same time. Then we had brief discussions on each of the exercises and shared our experiences. After finishing the 30 days, we realized that the book also allowed each of us to customize strengths practices to our own personalities.

By now I hope you are interested on the practice of knowing and also developing a strengths-based focus using the VIA Character Strengths classification. If so a copy of this book for yourself can be the perfect tool to begin and keep going. You might also want to subscribe to her Strength Based Living newsletter to get ongoing reminders to practice.
 


References

Anderson, J. S. (2018). 30 Days of Character Strengths: A Guided Practice to Ignite Your Best. Strength Based Living LLC.

Anderson, J. S. (2019). 3 key questions that shift you into strengths when you’re stressed. Strength Based Living blog.

Anderson, J. S. (ongoing). Strength Based Living web site. Subscribe to be informed when a new round of the Rise and Thrive class is scheduled.

Niemiec, R. M. & McGrath, R. E. (2019). The Power of Character Strengths. VIA Institute on Character.

Waters, L. (2017). The Strength Switch: How The New Science of Strength-Based Parenting Can Help Your Child and Your Teen to Flourish. New York: Avery.


Image credits
Picture of Jane Strunk Anderson from her web site, Strength Based Living
Be strong Photo by Miguel Bruna on Unsplash
Group of friends Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash


Seeing Beyond Your Blind Spots

When it comes to our awareness of character strengths, we all have blind spots. Strengths-related blind spots can obscure your vision and prevent you from seeing positive facets of yourself and others.

In his book Mindfulness and Character Strengths, Ryan Niemiec talks about different kinds of blind spots. Three that seem to resonate most with my clients are highlighted below, plus ways to compensate and see beyond the blind spot. Which ones resonate with you?

Blindspot #1: Overuse of a strength
How to compensate: Elevate a more helpful strength

Each of the 24 character strengths can be overused, but you’re most likely to slip into overdrive with your signature strengths. These top strengths tend to be expressed easily and naturally in most settings.

Strengths overuse is a case where more is not always better.  The overuse of curiosity can seem intrusive. The overuse of hope can lead to unrealistic expectations. This overuse leads us down a path of frustration and conflict in relationships. In fact, you might consider that an overused strength isn’t even a strength anymore, as it no longer provides benefit to oneself or others.

For instance, when reflecting about an overused strength, a colleague thought of hope, her #1 character strength. She recalled a past romantic relationship when her boyfriend’s actions didn’t align with her beliefs about commitment and marriage. Being naturally optimistic, she focused on how much she enjoyed their time together. As these differences magnified over time, she maintained hope that things would work out. They didn’t.

Overuse of hope is akin to seeing things through rose-colored glasses, and perhaps not being grounded in reality. My colleague realized this overuse kept her in an untenable relationship.

To compensate for an overused strength, you can think about and elevate other strengths that might be more helpful. In this example, honesty to acknowledge the relationship difficulty. Bravery to initiate an honest conversation with her boyfriend. Any of the 24 might have assisted my colleague in seeing beyond the blind spot and managing through the difficulty supported by her other strengths.

Blindspot #2 – Lack of character strengths awareness
How to compensate: Explore to widen your perspective

Neither you nor I have perfect awareness of our strengths. No one does. In fact, many of us have little awareness about what they are or why they matter. Unfortunately, this can prevent us from tapping into the energy and excellence derived from expressing strengths.

A workshop participant recently took the free VIA survey of character strengths for the first time. His top strengths resonated except for one: Leadership. He didn’t view leadership as a top strength or one in which he was particularly interested. It’s not uncommon to notice strengths that don’t resonate after taking the survey.

He decided to explore leadership as a top strength. From Niemiec’s latest book The Power of Character Strengths, he learned the difference between “Big L” leadership  – typically thought of as leadership demonstrated by corporate executives, politicians, and other high level personnel –  and “small l” leadership – known as everyday leadership involving the guidance and growth of groups.

His awareness expanded as he noticed this strength in action in his life. He’s beginning to value this surprising aspect of himself and notice how it helps him succeed in his business, participate authentically in a group for small business owners, and rally his friends for dinner parties. As our workshop concluded, he noted these realizations as “best moments” and continued to see beyond the blind spot by exploring his unique expressions of leadership.

Blindspot #3: Undervaluing a strength
How to compensate: Seek input from others

Character strengths expand our capacity to do and become more, filling us with positive energy and confidence. It’s not an exaggeration to label them as extraordinary capacities.

Unfortunately, we often take them for granted, especially signature strengths. For instance, if social intelligence is your top strength, you might believe that everyone is as empathic or intuitive about other people’s feelings as you are. If perseverance is your top strength, you might assume everyone is as naturally industrious as you are. It’s just not the case.

When we undervalue a signature strength, we potentially diminish our own value and fail to live into who we are and what we do when at our best. We also shortchange others by failing to recognize their unique contributions and potential.

As an example, kindness is a strength that others consistently see in me. They’ve shared examples of me going out of my way to be helpful and caring. Although I hear what they’re saying, kindness doesn’t resonate with me as much as other signature strengths do. In this sense, it’s my blind spot.

Nonetheless, their input has given me a new perspective on how I operate when at my best. As a result, the value I place on kindness as a top strength is growing as I tune into what trusted others see and value in me. It feels good to know that the kindness within can have a profoundly positive impact on someone.

Here’s the good news

No matter which form of strengths blindness might be at play in your life, through practice you can learn to compensate and experience a growing sense of harmony. Over time, you’ll find yourself living more fully into who you are and what you do when at your best. And helping others do the same.

If you’re interested in taking a next step:

  1. Be sure you’ve taken the free VIA survey within the past year.
  2. Explore your unique profile of character strengths by scheduling a confidential debrief session with me (email Jane@StrengthBasedLiving.com).
  3. Check out my book 30 Days of Character Strengths, which was recently reviewed on Positive Psychology News Daily. (See the review here.)

REFERENCES

Niemiec, R. M. (2014). Mindfulness and character strengths: A practical guide to flourishing. Cambridge, MA: Hogrefe.

Niemiec, R. M. & McGrath R. E. (2019) The power of character strengths: Appreciate and ignite your positive personality. VIA Institute on Character.