These words from Ryan Niemiec and Robert McGrath’s latest collaboration, The Power of Character Strengths, ring in my head following last week’s attack on Capitol Hill in Washington DC.
Honesty is a globally valued trait, and yet it seems woefully missing in many places. Omissions, half-truths, exaggerations, and outright lies poison our society. At one time or another, most of us have fallen into these patterns with consequences ranging from mild to serious.
It’s easy to point fingers at leaders and others who don’t seem concerned about facts, scientific data, or the opinions of experts. However, every one of us plays a role in living into truth.
At a time like this, we owe it to ourselves, our families, teams, communities, and country to value and demonstrate honesty. One thing we can all do is pause to check in on our own levels of truth, honesty, and integrity. The practice below will help you do this and spread honesty in different settings.
Honest people do what they commit to do. For instance, I am committed to creating relevant content as life unfolds. This time of year, I’d normally write about starting the year strong, replacing an uninspiring resolution with an energizing daily practice, and sharing other topics that move you toward the things you want more of in life.
I wasn’t planning to write about honesty this week, but I couldn’t simply go about “business as usual” after the recent events. This change in my writing schedule caused a delay in connecting with you, yet this topic of truth feels urgent and relevant right now. My marketing professional and I both committed to pursuing this more authentic pathway, so here we are. Pursuing what seems right isn’t always easy, even in a basic example like this.
You’re probably already aware that honesty helps build trust and strong relationships, but perhaps you didn’t think about how it helps you correct errors in judgment, navigate decisions between what’s easy and what’s right, honor your commitments, and own your thoughts, beliefs, and actions. Perhaps most importantly:
“…freedom is the bonus you receive for telling the truth.” -Martin Luther King, Jr.
To connect the dots: honesty cultivates truth, which leads to freedom. Doesn’t that sound about right?
In the scientific Character Strengths and Virtues framework, honesty is one of 4 character strengths within the courage virtue. Indeed, the simple act of being honest and speaking the truth is often one of the most difficult and courageous things you can do. Like when speaking out against injustice or standing up to a leader or unpopular opinion.
One challenging thing about honesty is it seems there are degrees of it and no clear guidelines around when it’s acceptable to shade the truth. For instance, do you need to be so direct when doing so would deeply hurt someone’s feelings without providing any benefit? Perhaps not, depending on the situation.
This week’s practice focuses on checking in with yourself and your own levels of honesty, integrity, and authenticity. Experiment with the prompts below to identify where you’re satisfied and where you’re not. Then, take a step that enables you to spread honesty.
On a scale of 1-5, where 1 = virtually never and 5 = virtually always, how often do you:
Speak the truth to power?
Model honesty to others?
Refrain from fibbing, even when it suits your purposes to shade the truth?
Focus on the question with the highest score. How or with whom can you speak truth to power, model honesty, or refrain from fibbing even more often? Keep the spread of honesty going.
Focus on the question with the lowest score and answer the following:
When, with whom, and in which situations do you struggle to express more honesty? Consider that your answer might vary in different situations involving your boss, subordinate, or team; a parent or family member; a sibling or friend.
Name one thing you can do to boost authenticity, honesty, or integrity in the situation you described above, and go out and try it. Perhaps you would speak more freely to your boss about the status of a project, demonstrate to your child a difficult but honest choice, or simply catch yourself being on the “wrong side” of the truth.
Valuing and demonstrating honesty more often might _____________________.
What might it change or improve? Perhaps a project, a partnership, or even the relationship you have with yourself.
With everything going on in the US and around the world, one thing has become crystal clear to me: our character strengths are more essential than ever before.
Can you imagine what daily life might be like if each of us, including world leaders and politicians, consistently elevated his or her signature strengths? Especially in the most contentious of times? Based on decades of research, I can realistically imagine creative problem solving, collaboration, more physical and mental health, meaning, and joy – the things many of us need more of right now.
The practice below focuses on one slice of this big, complex pie. It highlights a recent article by strengths experts Tayyab Rashid and Robert E. McGrath. It describes at length how character strengths can enhance our ability to feel good and function well, specifically during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This article is an important resource for you as a leader, parent, or strengths enthusiast because it offers 101 actionable practices you can easily integrate into your daily routines and share with your team or family. The post below provides the context you need to focus on strengths and build well-being each day. All you have to do is carve out a few minutes daily to experiment and share.
Public health measures such as face coverings and physical distancing aren’t the only measures that can help us navigate this prolonged pandemic. Focusing on character strengths can help soften intense emotions, like the fear and anger that often accompany this unnatural state of physical distance. It helps us reframe challenges using a positive lens of strengths. This not only allows us to shift away from what isn’t working, but it provides the tools that allow us to build what works – systems and practices that help us through the crises we face.
Integrating your character strengths in small doses, in things you’re already doing, can help you right now through hardships brought about by political, economic, and daily life challenges. Whether you’re a parent confronted with your kids’ remote learning challenges, a business leader struggling to keep your doors open, or an unemployed or underemployed individual seeking income, applying your character strengths even in small doses daily can help you cope with stress, reframe challenges, boost your mental and physical health, connect meaningfully with others, and build hopeful and positive futures.
I love to experiment with character strengths and encourage my clients to do the same. Here are 101 actions you can immediately experiment with, beginning on page 127 of the article. They’re categorized based on the results you desire; whether you’re seeking to manage stress, stay healthy, or grow personally (see below for examples).
Manage Stress Try #97. Spending so much time at home will inevitably present a simple problem you suddenly find difficult to solve. Check in with your feelings. If you’re feeling anxious, take a break if the problem isn’t urgent. Do something to generate positive emotions – take a movement break, call a friend, put a few pieces in the puzzle. Then return to the problem with a fresh perspective and greater likelihood of solving the problem (social intelligence and judgment).
Stay Healthy Try #43. Fight cabin fever by getting into action. Run, hike, climb, do a few yoga poses. (zest, creativity,self-regulation). Or #44 – one of my favorites. Stop eating before you are full, especially with the holidays approaching. (self-regulation, prudence)
Grow Personally #17 Practice compassion. At least once daily, set your intention to refrain from doing harm to others in your thoughts, words, and actions. (kindness, self-regulation).
If you haven’t identified your unique blend of character strengths, or if you wish to update your results, take the free character strengths survey to discover where your strengths currently reside. Make sure to keep your results handy when you attempt this practice!
Experiment on your own or with your family, team, or a group of friends. The steps below will guide you.
Each day for the next week, decide whether you wish to: manage your stress, boost your health, grow or build skills, boost a connection, or support a social cause. Why did you choose this goal?
Next, choose one of the practices and put it into action. Feel free to choose different practices each day or stay with one. However you feel moved.
Complete this reflection to gain some perspective.
I chose this activity because ________. As I completed it, I noticed that ________.
Did you realize or learn something? Feel a sense of pride or accomplishment? Take a brave step toward something meaningful?
May you feel confident returning to your strengths again and again, no matter what is happening around or within you.
“Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the reflection will come even more effective action.”
This quote is attributed to Peter Drucker, esteemed management guru and champion for building personal and organizational strengths, even up to his passing in 2005. My interpretation of this quote is that sometimes we have to slow down to speed up.
If we wish to make a difference in our work and life, we need to lead with strengths; and that starts with awareness. Reflection helps us slow down and generate awareness around which strengths are needed in any given moment.
Try the practice below to help you reflect and lead with your strengths.
Today’s pace of change can be dizzying. Basic routines like caring for our health, educating the kids, working, socializing, and others are constantly evolving.
One practice that can help us take a breath, reset, and lead with strengths is reflection. We know from research that reflection is essential to effective leadership for both “Big L” leadership, conveyed through a title or position in an organization, and “little l” leadership, the character strength of leadership.
In “Big L” leadership, reflection can generate self-awareness around important matters like how a leader is helping or hindering the progress of her team. Or when he felt highly effective, or ineffective, and the contributing factors to each. This type of reflection can help reveal not only what to avoid, but what to embrace to achieve important goals.
However, not everyone has a title or professional position. Everyday “little l” leadership is just as important because it leads to connected communities by building what’s strong in families, neighborhoods, and social groups.
In the realm of character strengths, a healthy majority of us don’t have a meaningful awareness of our strengths, according to this strengths book excerpt from Alex Linley’s book Average to A+: Realising Strengths In Yourself and Others. A meaningful awareness means being able to deliberately apply one’s strengths to benefit ourselves and others. To feel engaged and vital. To function at a high level, tackle hard challenges, and move forward from adversity.
In his recent blog post, Robert Quinn, co-founder of the Center for Positive Organizations, mentioned a great practice from his favorite author. I found it clever and useful, so I decided to share it below. Note that I modified it by applying a lens of character strengths.
In this series, I typically offer a practice followed by a reflection question. However, in the activity below, the reflection is the practice.
The Reflective Practice
Open your calendar and find 5-10 short, empty time slots over the next two weeks.
Block those times out for reflection.
During each reflection time, reflect on one of the prompts below, or create your own. Then go about your day feeling refreshed and prepared to lead with strengths.
Reflection 1 – The Mindful Pause
Take a Mindful Pause. After the pause, ask yourself: Which of my strengths do I need to lead with right now? Why? Perhaps you need to elevate humility to admit you don’t have all the answers. Or teamwork to generate cooperation and collaboration. Then put that strength into action.
Reflection 2 – Be Intentional with Your Strengths
Reflect on the following: Which strength have I been actively living into today? In what ways has this benefited my well-being, work, or relationships? Perhaps you actively engaged fairness and that helped you outline an agreement all parties are thrilled about. Or humor, and that raised your team’s spirits so they could move through a challenge. Think of a situation later today that can benefit from this strength, then deliberately put it into action.
Reflection 3 – Balance Your Strengths Use
Reflect on the following: Which of my top signature strengths have I overused or underused today? If you’re not sure of your signature strengths, take the free assessment. Choose 1 signature strength and reflect: How did this misuse affect my work, a relationship, or my well-being? Perhaps appreciation of beauty and excellence slipped into overdrive, raising your expectations of yourself to impossibly high levels. Or underuse of zest is keeping you feeling lethargic or sedentary. Make sure you choose another strength to help balance this under or overuse, then put it into action!
For helpful tips on using each character strength in a new way, click here.
New situations arise every day, so feel free to re-use these prompts when necessary. As you become more comfortable in this practice, create your own reflection prompts, or contact me for more options.
May you lead with your strengths to fuel growth and creation, Jane
As humans, we have a fundamental need to feel like we belong. We rely on others, and they rely on us. We all need positive, human connections to feel seen and understood.
However, the world is struggling to navigate the harmful effects stemming from a lack of civility, disengagement from work, and more. We’ve landed in a space where we may not even be able to hug loved ones safely if they’re outside our ‘bubble.’ Not only are these experiences unpleasant, but they drain us of energy and can lead to burnout.
The quality of our connections matters. In communities of families, friends, and neighbors, people who enjoy positive relationships live longer, happier lives. In organizations, rewarding connections among employees, customers, vendors, and staff foster well-being, performance, and psychological safety.
If you’re feeling lonely, disengaged, or weary try the practice below to energize your connections.
You don’t need to be in a long-term relationship to enjoy positive connections each day. Jane E. Dutton, co-founder of the Center for Positive Organizations and professor at the University of Michigan researches the conditions that create flourishing individuals and teams in organizations. Some of her most fascinating research focuses on what she calls ‘high quality connections.’ She describes them as short, everyday interactions that light us up, fill us with positive regard and energy, and have a sense of mutuality.
You can have high quality connections within close relationships and everyday acquaintances alike. Her work shows that even momentary experiences of feeling seen and known can not only soften the hard edges of life’s daily struggles but lead us to live better lives.
Your character strengths can serve as key pathways to high quality connections. Of course, the humanity strengths of love, kindness, and social intelligence are obvious pathways because they’re inherently about building and sustaining positive relationships. Beyond that, however, each strength can contribute to growing your connections.
It’s probably already clear how strengths like fairness or honesty could lead to high quality connections. But what about an internally focused strength like self-regulation? Even the strengths you might not intuitively think of can help.
Self-regulation is about being disciplined and able to regulate your attention, emotions, habits, even your appetite. Self-regulation helps us take charge of our emotions. The next time you feel frustrated by your nosy co-worker or fussy child, use your self-regulation to take a step back and cool off rather than react angrily in the moment. Count to ten slowly before you respond. Notice how this helps you respond with objectivity rather than anger, which expands your ability to understand and connect authentically.
If self-regulation is an obvious choice, pick another one. How about love of learning? You can use your love of learning to dig into a special relationship and understand more about what you have or don’t have, in common. Or connect with someone with whom you have a mutual interest like cooking, hiking, or traveling, and pursue the activity together.
The activity I chose for this week’s practice is about expressing the character strength gratitude to someone in your life. The essence of gratitude is appreciating and valuing the blessings in your life. In this practice, you will focus on a person.
Is there someone you’ve taken for granted lately? It’s easy to do in these times. Is there someone with whom you haven’t connected in a while? This practice will help you deepen your connection with a relative, friend, teacher, or colleague. The practice below is adapted from this practice.
Call to mind someone who did something for you for which you are extremely grateful but to whom you never expressed your deep gratitude. Pick someone who could meet you virtually or face-to-face in the next week. Perhaps select a person you haven’t thought about for a while. For this practice, don’t choose someone with whom you have a chronically difficult relationship.
Write a letter to this person, guided by the following steps:
Write as though you’re addressing this person directly (“Dear ______”).
Don’t worry about perfect grammar or spelling.
Describe in specific terms what this person did, why you are grateful to this person, and how this person’s behavior affected your life. Try to be as concrete as possible.
Describe what you are doing in your life now and how you often remember his or her efforts.
Try to keep your letter to roughly one page (about 300 words).
If possible, deliver your letter in person or virtually, following these steps:
Plan a visit with the recipient. Let that person know you’d like to see him or her and have something special to share, but don’t reveal the exact purpose of the meeting.
When you meet, let the person know that you are grateful to them and would like to read a letter expressing your gratitude; ask that he or she refrain from interrupting until you’re done.
Take your time while reading the letter. While you read, pay attention to his or her reaction as well as your own.
After you have read the letter, be receptive to his or her reaction, and discuss your feelings together.
Remember to give, email, or mail the letter to the person afterward.
“My experience of sharing gratitude with the person I chose was _______________.”
What was it like? What insights about yourself or this other person did you gain? How has your connection grown or shifted? What will you remember from this experience? What do you think he or she will remember?
Feel free to journal about this reflection in an unstructured way, without regard to grammar or punctuation. Just let your reflection flow. Or share your reflection with a trusted friend or professional.
May you “SEA” a new perspective as you practice strengths-spotting today!
If you’ve been around awhile, like I have, you’ll probably remember Bobby McFerrin’s 1988 award-winning hit song, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” It’s also known among younger generations. Bobby McFerrin is famous for his a cappella songs. He gave a popular TED talk at the World Science Festival in 2009 in which he turned the whole audience into his musical accompaniment using just their voices.
The TED talk offers a clear example of someone in “the strengths zone” doing what he does best and being his most authentic. I sometimes use it in presentations to introduce strengths-spotting. Strengths-spotting is a powerful practice that helps us focus on the good and see ourselves and others through a lens of what’s strong, rather than blame or what’s wrong.
One of the best gifts you can give throughout the day is strengths-spotting. It’s easy and intuitive to do. Find out why and how below, then practice strengths-spotting in your own work or life.
Strengths-spotting is a gift we all deserve to receive more often, especially when confronted with times of high anxiety. This practice is about naming and valuing character strengths in each other, elevating who we are and what we do best. When someone else notices and values you for these qualities, you get the added bonus of feeling seen and understood for who you are. It’s like looking through a magnifying glass, where the image on the other side suddenly becomes clear and true to its nature.
Participants consistently highlight strengths-spotting as a practice that changed their lives the most. They cited improvements in difficult relationships, boosting teamwork, and elevating confidence.
You can practice strengths-spotting each day, no matter the circumstances. You can apply this practice in a family, work, or social setting. You can also practice it with acquaintances and people you just met, like the cashier at the grocery store, or your favorite movie or book characters. You can even practice it with that person that constantly rubs you the wrong way.
To easily learn and practice strengths-spotting, Dr. Ryan Niemiec, education director at the VIA Institute on Character, suggests using the SEA approach (spot, explain, appreciate).
First, pause to notice and name the strengths you see. In other words, spot them in action. This can be within yourself or others around you – your kids who picked up their toys without being asked (kindness) or your co-worker who supported your idea even though others didn’t (bravery).
Next, explain the details or context in which you spotted the strengths in action. What was the person doing? Who were they with? What was happening?
Last, describe the impression this person’s strengths left on the situation at hand, on others, or you. Why did you appreciate the use of these strengths? How did this person’s strengths create a positive result or affect you personally?
It’s always nice to have someone recognize you for a positive contribution you’ve made. For example “Jane, that blog post was really creative.” But it’s a richer experience when put into context and made personal.
“Jane, your creative blog post on The Mindful Pause gave me an easy but powerful tool I’ve shared with clients and friends. I also use it throughout the day to reduce anxiety. It helps me face what’s next with clarity.” It feels so good to hear about the impact I had on someone using my top strength creativity in my work!
Most people find spotting other people’s strengths to be quite intuitive. Naming our own strengths, however, is a bit more difficult. Many of us don’t feel comfortable describing ourselves in positive ways. Others don’t have the language to describe our positive traits. For some, the discomfort is grounded in cultural norms. This requires a deeper discussion, but I’ve helped clients successfully integrate strengths practices into groups of people with cultural sensitivities.
Another challenge arises when someone in your life constantly tests your patience – that relative who gossips about family members or the co-worker who never seems prepared for the Zoom calls. Guess what? They have character strengths, too! Can you acknowledge them for their strengths?
Remember that strengths-spotting is a practice that can be practiced. Over time, you will become more effective and comfortable strengths-spotting yourself and others. Are you ready to practice? Follow the simple SEA approach below.
Write down all the character strengths you see in Bobby, the gentlemen behind him, or the audience before him. Try to spot all 24. Below is an aid to remind you of the 24 character strengths. Practice with your family or team if you like. Up the ante, and create a reward for the person who spots the most strengths.
Use the SEA approach to spot, explain, and appreciate the strengths.
Next, apply the SEA approach to a personal situation in which you are interacting with your team, family, or others as you are out and about in your day.
As I practiced strengths-spotting, I noticed that _____________________________.
What did you notice about shifts within yourself – what you were thinking, feeling, or doing? What did you notice about others or how the situation shifted?
Feel free to record your thoughts in a journal, allowing them to flow freely without editing or evaluating, or speak with a trusted friend or colleague to debrief your reflection.
May you “SEA” a new perspective as you practice strengths-spotting today!
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.
Given the unrest in the world around us, it probably isn’t surprising that our well-being is declining. Most of us are probably aware of when we feel good and when we don’t. But, have you ever considered why you feel good and how to intentionally place yourself in that zone more often?
Well-being is about feeling good and functioning at our best. When well-being is low, our work, relationships, and physical and mental health can suffer. For a more definitive description of well-being, check out this article from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website.
The practice below describes the SPIRE approach to whole person well-being. It will help you discern different aspects of your well-being and identify steps you can take to shift it upwards. If you’re feeling out of sorts, but unclear why or what to do about it, this practice is for you.
Co-created by Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar, a former positive psychology lecturer at Harvard and co-founder of Wholebeing Institute; Megan McDonough, Co-Founder of Wholebeing Institute; and Dr. Maria Sirois, faculty at Wholebeing Institute, the SPIRE approach reflects that the body, mind, and spirit interact together to create an overall state of being.
When it comes to feeling and functioning well, it’s important to acknowledge the 5 elements of well-being and do our best to find balance among them. These 5 elements form the acronym SPIRE, which stands for:
When one element is too high or too low, it impacts the whole. For example, spiritual well-being might be high, but physical well-being might be low due to stress. Feeling aligned as a whole person spiritually, physically, intellectually, relationally, and emotionally plays an important role in enhancing well-being in everyday life, and in the face of adversity.
The SPIRE check-in is simple and effective. Please refer to the model below for assistance in this practice.
Completing a SPIRE check-in helps me understand which element of well-being is in need of a shift. For instance, I recently realized that my body (P) felt weary from sitting in a chair and staring at a computer screen. The lack of movement impacted my ability to concentrate and think clearly (I), thus impacting the timeline on a work project. Last month, a problematic relationship (R) caused sadness that increased my emotional distress (E). You can begin to see how the elements are interconnected. When one element is too high or too low, it impacts the whole.
With the aid of the SPIRE check-in, I identified and took a few actions to boost my well-being. First, I started a short daily yoga routine to ease my aching body, which boosted the physical (P) element. The yoga practice also increased my blood flow, energized my mind (I), and lifted my mood (E).
I also reached out to the person with whom I was conflicted (R) and had an honest discussion. I felt brave and authentic rather than sad; it lifted my spirits considerably (E). Relationships don’t always immediately improve, but that one took a turn for the better in that moment.
We may not be at our best 100 percent of the time, but we don’t always stop to acknowledge that we have control over how we feel and perform. Often, it’s just a matter of taking one or two actions to move us in the right direction. Not always, but often.
Think about it. It’s likely that you’ve cultivated these elements of well-being in the past. What steps did you take? This type of reflection helps create conditions that bring well-being to the forefront.
Ready to shift toward whole person well-being? Give it a try!
Use your summary scores to identify which elements are in need of a boost.
Decide on 1 or 2 things you can do to lift these elements, and put them into action.
To better understand your results, refer to the questions in the reflection below.
Deciding which actions to take can be a daunting feat. If you don’t know where to start, I invite you to use this SPIRE example sheet as inspiration to kick-start your practice.
If you complete this practice and you can say life is good, and there isn’t much that can make it better at this point, great for you! Enjoy that peace and keep doing what you’re doing. Otherwise, try a weekly SPIRE check-in to observe which actions are helpful, and how they affect your well-being over time.
Please note: The goal isn’t to achieve a top score in all elements. The goal is to identify the elements that are in need of a boost and implement actions that will result in a boost to your well-being.
Now, how can you reflect on your SPIRE worksheet summary scores? The following questions will help guide you:
In which element(s) are you feeling strong and engaged?
Which element(s) could use more attention?
What is one action you can take to strengthen the element(s) in need of attention
If you’re interested in knowing more about the SPIRE approach, this short video of Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar describes how it was developed and how it can benefit education systems, businesses, and governments.
In the meantime, may you feel and function well through all your days, Jane
This was the subject line of a digital news article I read recently, referring to the deadly pandemic, racial injustices, and a divided country. The author highlighted that African Americans, in particular, are paying a high price in terms of deaths, economic disparity, and declining mental health.
We see this and too many other heartbreaking injustices in daily life. I’m noticing my character strength of fairness being triggered often, and I’ve come to realize that one of the small things I can do to help is share strength-based practices.
Collectively, we might not be able to solve these injustices in an instant, but we can bring more humanity into daily life and lessen the divisions that exist. Even within families, people with whom we disagree, and people we’ve never met.
There’s something we can all do right now to help ease the pain and suffering: practice a loving-kindness meditation (LKM). Rooted in the humanity virtue, this practice helps you mentally direct love and kindness to yourself and others.
We all have the capacity to show kindness, but too often we direct it towards certain people or groups, and not others. Ironically, it’s not unusual to neglect those we love the most, showing them the least amount of kindness and love.
Research on the LKM highlights a wide array of positive results, many of which are needed at this time in our history. Obviously, performing LKM strengthens our expression of love and kindness, but you might not be aware that it also helps us react more positively to others, reduces the focus on ourselves, and helps reduce racial bias. Even a short session under 10 minutes can provide benefits.
To feel the inspiration, you should give it a try yourself.
The loving kindness meditation is about mentally directing goodwill inward toward ourselves and outward toward others by repeating a series of 4 phrases, silently or out loud.
You will complete it four times. The first time through, direct the loving-kindness inward. Repeat the following phrases to yourself as you close your eyes and breathe deeply:
May I (you, we all) feel protected and safe. May I (you, we all) be healthy and well. May I (you, we all) experience joy and happiness often. May I (you, we all) live with ease.
The second time through, direct the loving-kindness toward someone you feel thankful for such as a loved one or someone who has helped you. Close your eyes and bring that person to mind. Picture why you’re thankful or why you love this person. Then begin the LKM.
Next, challenge yourself to direct loving kindness to someone whom you are not fond of. This might be easier than you think and help you to feel better about the internal dissonance you feel. This person might be someone you know or someone you’ve never met. Close your eyes and picture this person, then begin.
Finally, close your eyes and widen your view to family, your community, country, and the world. Direct loving kindness to all. Try it yourself, then share it with others.
I felt differently after completing the loving kindness meditation. This difference can be described as ______________.
Perhaps you felt, as I did, that your sense of human connection was reinforced and that we are truly in this together. Perhaps you felt more at ease or relaxed. Feel free to elaborate on your reflection by journaling about it or discussing it with a trusted friend or colleague.
To say we are in a time of unprecedented upheaval would be a gross understatement, given the pandemic, economic downturn, and widespread looting and rioting in the United States. Still, as we face the difficult challenges of rebuilding and making systemic societal changes, there are many inspiring opportunities to also build up hope, courage, and each other.
We can probably benefit the most from strength-based practices during times like these. They can shift who we are and how we approach adversity. However, the challenge is it’s difficult in the moment to shift from fear, frustration, anger, and anxiety – when I’m certainly not at my best – to peace, strength, and good will to others.
Nonetheless, we can choose to respond from a position of strength rather than raw emotion. The question is how? When life is humming along smoothly, it’s easier to envision staying in the strengths lane. What about when we feel chronically anxious and stressed?
The practice below is a method that can help you shift your inner feelings and perspective from anxiety to strength, even when that may feel impossible to achieve. It prepares you to choose how you will face what comes next in your day.
It isn’t a cure-all, but it can certainly become one of your go-to practices. You’ll need no special materials for this simple, 60-second practice. Best of all, you can do it almost anywhere, anytime. It’s called the Mindful Pause.
You have the power to choose your response to virtually every situation you face. As you think about tackling your next life challenge, ask yourself: “Who do I wish to be in the face of this next challenge?”
Whether you’re preparing to address a friend or family member with conflicting views or mustering up the courage to have a conversation with your kids about social injustice, this practice is a helpful tool to get you grounded in strength and resilience.
Many prefer to be grounded in character strengths – for instance, bravery, perseverance, prudence, or kindness – rather than fear and anxiety. If you’re unsure of your unique blend of character strengths, feel free to take the free character strengths survey to discover yours.
The Mindful Pause is a powerful research-based character strengths intervention that I chose to feature in my guidebook, 30 Days of Character Strengths, because of its ease and impact. I love sharing this practice with friends, family, clients, and webinar participants because they quickly experience the shift from not being at their best to inner strength and authenticity.
Personally, I like to take Mindful Pauses throughout my day. For instance, I pause before presentations, client calls, and team meetings. Just ask my marketing team at Grotto Marketing – we’re all taking a Mindful Pause before each of our calls to feel strengths-fueled and ready to tackle what’s on our agenda.
Give it a try!
The Mindful Pause has three simple steps:
Pause, close your eyes, and take six deep breaths. Remember to match the length of your inhalations and exhalations. As your mind wanders during this short time, which it will do, simply bring your focus back to your breath.
After you’ve taken six breaths, silently ask yourself the following question: Which of my character strengths will help me with what comes next? Allow one strength to come into your awareness, and try not to force one in.
Take one final breath, open your eyes, and shift your awareness to the present moment. Consider the strength that came to mind and think of one way to apply that strength as you continue your day.
As you begin this practice, the graphic below is a handy reminder of the 24 character strengths. In addition, this website is a helpful resource that offers ways to put strengths into action. Simply click on the strength you chose.
The Mindful Pause helped me shift from _________ to _________.
In other words, how were you thinking, feeling, or behaving before you took the pause? Who or what did it allow you to shift into? Perhaps you shifted from anxious to focused, or confused to confident. Feel free to elaborate by journaling or discussing with a trusted friend or colleague.
May you go forward, grounded in what’s best within you and ready to face what’s next, with strength and resilience.