Courage helps us choose new pathways during times of stress and difficulty. These days, we need courage to complete even the most basic tasks, like sending the kids to school or shopping for groceries, because they carry higher risks than before.
There are many ways to demonstrate everyday courage. You can stand up for yourself. Take a step in a new direction. Give a voice to the voiceless. The benefits of doing so are often memorable. When you act courageously, you might inspire others, feel a sense of accomplishment, or advance a meaningful endeavor.
Deliberately engaging these strengths can be especially helpful when you feel discouraged, lack confidence, or don’t know what to do next. The practice below will help you identify a difficult situation and apply one of these strengths to help you move forward.
Courage typically begins with fear or anxiety, but a courageous person recognizes that getting to the other side is worth the risks. They do feel the fear, but it doesn’t prevent them from taking action.
Many of us think we’re either born courageous or not, but courage can be developed. Check out each of the strengths below to see how.
Courage is an approach to life, but bravery is about taking action. Brave actions can help you overcome fears like opening up in relationships, shifting away from work that feels stagnant, and accomplishing other daunting goals.
For instance, one of my coaching clients is creating an aspirational vision of her work and life. Like many of us, she can easily identify what she wants less of but struggles to imagine what she wants more of. She was concerned that difficulties in past relationships or situations might repeat and thwart her efforts to move forward.
A turning point in our work was when she was able to admit that she deserved the life she envisioned. Facing a feeling of unworthiness was possibly one of the bravest moments I’ve seen lately. It allows her to genuinely believe that her vision is possible to achieve. This, in turn, energizes her to keep going and feel confident she can navigate concerns that arise.
What brave action might you consider taking right now?
Perseverance is about finishing what you started, even when things get difficult or you feel like giving up. Persistent people tend to be dependable and trustworthy. They are the “go-to” people for getting things done. They build skills, resources, confidence, and achievements along the way.
Instead, I blocked out short periods of time in my daily schedule to establish a writing habit. I wrote most, but not all, days. It took a while, but I stuck with it. It wasn’t a perfect practice, but I was striving to finish my book, not have a perfect practice. Seeing my progress each week motivated me to continue.
My book is now published because I persevered. People around the world are now applying their character strengths in new ways in their personal and professional lives.
What helps you get things done when you feel like giving up?
Honesty is about truth and authenticity. Honest people act with integrity and own up to their feelings and actions to gain control of their lives. Honesty builds close relationships.
Another coaching client engaged honesty to own up to the unfair or unkind ways she treats herself, even as she is known for her kindness to others. This underuse of kindness to herself sapped her energy and kept her stuck in patterns that didn’t serve her well. This insight was eye-opening to her.
Ironically, kindness is one of her signature strengths. She has strong personal and professional relationships because of this kindness. She wanted to be kinder to herself, but it seemed selfish to do that. Being kind to herself became an act of bravery, one that she now allows herself regularly. As a result, she feels more confident and in control.
When does a lack of honesty hold you back in relationships or within yourself?
Zest is the vital energy and enthusiasm needed to get through stressful times. Zest allows you to live into your aspirations and provide the energy to step up or persist at something harder and longer. It is also linked with more happiness.
I love being around zesty people. They know how to make life engaging and meaningful for themselves and those around them. Their positive energy is contagious. One of the zestiest people I know is a caring mental health provider, a brilliant teacher, and an engaged parent and grandparent. Her zesty living inspires others to live more fully as they see her expressing all parts of herself.
When does zest help you create positive outcomes?
Where do you need to act courageously in your life?
Think of an upcoming situation that you feel discouraged about, lack confidence in, or wish to avoid. This should be a situation in which you believe an added dose of courage could change how you approach it.
Choose one of the courage strengths – bravery, perseverance, honesty, or zest – and identify one way to apply it as an act of courage. Perhaps acknowledging your feelings about something and elevating honesty will help get you on the right track. Perhaps it’s time to stand up and be brave publicly for something you believe in.
Put this action into play. Be sure to notice the effects and how you feel.
When I responded to a difficult situation with courage, I noticed that _____________ and felt _______________.
Perhaps you noticed that the situation turned out much better than you thought it would, and you were elated. If not, perhaps you noticed why it didn’t or what you could do differently next time.
Feel free to journal about this reflection, letting your thoughts flow freely and without judgment. Or talk it through with someone you trust.
My last article introduced the importance of whole person well-being and how to complete a SPIRE check-in to target elements of well-being that might need a boost. Today, I follow up by connecting character strengths with each element of SPIRE. Think of it as exploring your well-being in a strength-based way.
This article is my interpretation of how character strengths can help us cultivate:
Greater spirituality (S)
Healthy physical habits (P)
Intellectual challenge (I)
Robust relationships (R)
Positive emotions (E)
If you haven’t yet, read the last post for an introduction to the SPIRE approach to well-being and a few simple tools to help you apply it today.
Some well-being approaches fail to include key elements of well-being like the mind-body connection, or the spiritual nature of humans.
SPIRE is an approach that engages the whole person as she or he attempts to flourish in work and life – the spiritual, physical, intellectual, relational, and emotional components of well-being. This image describes this approach.
Below is my interpretation of some connections between character strengths and SPIRE. Many are backed by research. I provided links to each strength so you can explore different ways to apply each one.
See what connections you can make.
S – Cultivate Spirituality
When raising the S in Spire, the character strength spirituality probably comes to mind. From the VIA Institute on Character’s website:
Spirituality has been defined consistently by scientists as the search for or connection with “the sacred”… That which is blessed, holy, revered, or particularly special… experienced in the forgiveness offered by a child, a humble moment between a leader and a subordinate, an awe-inspiring sunset, a profound experience during meditation or a religious service, or the self-sacrificing kindness of a stranger. As a character strength, spirituality involves the belief that there is a dimension to life that is beyond human understanding.
Both secular and non-secular activities, then, can help provide that shift in S. If you’re interested in specific ways to boost spirituality, take a look at this article by Ryan Niemiec, Education Director of the VIA Institute on Character.
When I think about the physical body, the character strength zest immediately comes to mind. Zest is the vital energy and enthusiasm that some people bring to everyday life. In a recent coaching call, a client was delighted to discover that zest can activate other character strengths. She intuitively knew it was her go-to strength even though it wasn’t a signature strength. For example, getting into physical action when stuck on a problem activated her critical thinking (judgment). She appreciated having the language to describe her experience.
In research, almost every character strength contributes in some way to healthy physical habits. This article outlines eleven habits, like having an active lifestyle or eating healthy, and the character strengths that are linked with those habits. I summarized the character strengths as a group and found that self-regulation shows up most often, followed by prudence,hope, and zest.
These character strengths don’t necessarily cause healthy habits, but you should consider them when boosting the P in your SPIRE check-in. Self-regulation helps with the discipline to establish a new habit. Prudence helps us be cautious and make wise choices. Hope helps us envision becoming healthier.
I – Feel Intellectually Challenged
Strengths from the wisdom virtue help you gather and use knowledge. These include creativity, curiosity, judgment, love of learning, and perspective. Elevating any of these strengths can support you in feeling intellectually challenged. For instance, creativity helps you innovate. Curiosity helps you explore. Judgment helps you think critically. Love of learning leads you to mastery. Perspective helps you see a wider view of situations. Any of these strengths, whether a signature strength or not, can potentially help you feel challenged intellectually.
But I believe other strengths can lead to intellectual challenges, too. Fairness, one of my middle strengths, comes to mind as I think more deeply about racial divides in the United States. Teamwork, another middle strength, leads me to think about how to collaborate more fully with personal and professional partners. These are great intellectual challenges, and ones that I’m up for right now.
R – Build Robust Relationships
Clearly, the humanity strengths can help you build and maintain your relationships. Love, kindness, and social intelligence are essential for connecting with others, showing you care, and communicating understanding.
Two others that might be less obvious are curiosity and gratitude. Curiosity is not only about exploring but showing interest. It shouldn’t be surprising that those who show more interest connect well with others. In addition, the curious person showing the interest tends to feel closer due to getting to know new facets of others. This article by Todd Kashdan and John Roberts shows some of the effects of curiosity on relationships. In other studies, curious people were found to enjoy socializing more and cope better with rejection.
The research-based benefits of expressing gratitude is a whole other blog post. When you appreciate the actions of another – even in small moments when they notice your favorite color or remember an important date – relationships strengthen. Gratitude is essential to happy and caring relationships.
Think about what your life would be like without an important person in it. If you were to stop and picture the details, it would likely feel pretty bleak and empty, maybe worse. Expressing gratitude benefits the recipient and you. It’s one way to avoid taking those you care about the most for granted.
E – Accept Painful Emotions and Cultivate Positive Emotions
In my personal and professional experiences, accepting painful emotions often requires an act of courage. That’s why character strengths from the courage virtue – bravery, perseverance, honesty, and zest – come to mind.
In my work with coaching and workshop clients, unacknowledged shame, anger, and fear often drive people to act in ways that don’t reflect their values or certainly who they are when at their best. Honesty can shine a light on those emotions and actions so they can be understood. Taking a bold step in a new direction can be an act of bravery for many. Persevering through fear is the essence of courage. Zest can provide activation energy.
Many character strengths are also positive emotions – hope, gratitude, love. Cultivating these individual strengths as well as one’s signature strengths boosts positive emotions. I always start each team meeting, client call, and workshop with an activity that boosts positive emotions. It brings down defenses when people feel guarded, allows participants to leave behind whatever came before, and helps us all focus on building what needs to be built and solving what needs to be solved.
This week’s practice builds on completing a SPIRE check-in, outlined in my last blog post.
Use your summary scores to identify which elements are in need of a boost.
Choose one character strength to put into action in order to boost that element.
Now, try it out.
Try to notice how you feel, what you’re thinking, and what happens as a result of your strength-based action.
The character strength I chose helped boost __________________ (the SPIRE element I chose), by __________________.
Perhaps you chose humor to reduce tension in a team meeting to boost relationships or appreciation of beauty and excellence to boost spirituality. Feel free to write down your reflection, allowing your thoughts to flow freely. Or talk it through with a trusted friend.
Feel free to check-in weekly to increase your well-being.