Whether you’re celebrating Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, or the new year, this can be a time of both joy and sorrow, endings and beginnings. And stress. Even if you’re in a good place in your life, there’s bound to be stress. You might need to navigate bad weather, difficult relationships, or juggling too much to do at work and home. When besieged by stress during the holidays, or any time of year, there are things you can do to boost your stress resilience. Your character strengths can help.
What is Stress Resilience?
The symptoms of life’s daily stressors – a racing heart, shortness of breath, difficulty concentrating – can trigger anxiety or fear. Most of us think of stress as the enemy because we’re afraid of its harmful effects on our bodies and minds. But studies have shown that we have everything we need to benefit from stress and in fact become stress resilient.
I’m not talking about long-term stress due to traumatic experiences. Chronic stress can increase the risk of illness, depression, and even death. If you’re suffering from chronic stress, know that this article is only a starting point and isn’t meant to replace other helpful options, like seeking professional help.
Resilience is about responding to adversity in healthful ways. Not everyone who encounters adversity is harmed physically, mentally, or emotionally by the experience. No two people respond to the same stressful situation in the same way. Those who fare better may be more stress resilient, which is about choosing a response that is beneficial, not harmful.
Kelly McGonigal, Stanford lecturer and stress expert, says that the harmful effects of stress aren’t inevitable as she and other experts once thought they were. In her 2014 TED talk How To Make Stress Your Friend, she discusses how to change the body’s response to stress.
In other words, instead of working to rid yourself of stress you can practice responding to it differently. This isn’t meant to be a quick fix, but with practice you can learn to respond in healthier ways.
Two Ways to Respond Differently
#1 – Shift Your Beliefs and Thoughts About Stress
If you believe stress is the enemy,
this message is especially for you. Studies have shown that if you believe
stress is harmful, it probably will be. You might interpret physical changes –
your heart pounding, rapid breathing, increased sweating – as signs of stress
or anxiety. Although this is a natural response to stress, it can lead to an
unproductive downward spiral of negative thinking and actions.
Instead, what if you could change
that response to one that’s more accurate and helpful? If you begin to
understand that the body is actually preparing you for the challenge you’re
facing, you can change the way you think and feel about stress, and the body is
likely to follow.
Where do character strengths fit in? For starters, engage Love of Learning, a wisdom strength, to help you understand what happens physically when the body is under stress. For instance:
Your body’s natural response is to release adrenaline, a stress hormone that initiates physical changes like increasing the heart rate, blood pressure, and oxygen flow. It kicks the body’s systems into high gear.
These physical changes help ensure that more oxygen is getting to the brain and other organs.
Your energy level increases, preparing you to take action and rise to whatever challenge you face.
Below are other ways your character
strengths can help you practice choosing how you respond to stress:
Use Self-Regulation to notice and name the signs of stress as they’re occurring – the racing heart, the sweating, rapid breathing. Remind yourself that your body is preparing you to rise to the challenge.
Use your other wisdom strengths to learn more about what’s going on around and within you. Use your Creativity and Curiosity to personify the stress and ask yourself: What is this stress telling me to do? Or not do? Use Perspective to take a wider view of the situation and Judgment to think critically about what’s happening.
In addition to adrenaline, there’s a
lesser-known hormone that’s also part of the stress response: oxytocin.
Oxytocin is a natural anti-inflammatory that may help regulate fear and
anxiety. Oxytocin is also known for its role in social bonding.
In a stressful situation, the
release of oxytocin motivates you to seek social support. Below are a few
simple actions you can take when under duress:
Tell someone how you feel.
Surround yourself with people who care about you.
If you have an instinct to withdraw, try to resist it.
How can your character strengths help? Try tapping into any of the three humanity strengths that support strong relationships: Love, Kindness, and Social Intelligence. If any of these are your signature strengths, you might already be naturally engaging them.
If these are your middle or lower strengths, you can bring them forth at any time. Call a trusted friend or family member. Give, or ask for, a long hug. Allow yourself a form of Kindness you might not normally extend to yourself – time to read a good book or a meal out with a friend.
In addition to the humanity
strengths, perhaps the courage strengths would help you connect with others. Persevering
through difficult conversations can help you connect with others despite the
anxiety or fear you might be feeling. Zest can activate the energy you
need to stay engaged. Brave actions you’ve taken in the past might inform
what you do in the present situation. Honesty might help you to feel
more open and real rather than self-conscious.
McGonigal says that when you view stress
in this way, you’re trusting yourself to handle life’s challenges. And you’re
remembering that you don’t have to face them alone.
We’ve been given the gift of having everything we need to care for ourselves and others, especially when under duress. In a season that seems full of bright lights and shiny objects, perhaps that is the biggest and best gift of all. Take good care during these holidays.
WISHING YOU MUCH STRESS RESILIENCE & JOY THIS HOLIDAY SEASON!
Here in the United States we’re approaching the Thanksgiving holiday. Whether you’re celebrating Thanksgiving or something else right now, it’s the holiday season for most of us. As you might already know, experiences and emotions around the holidays can run high, ranging from joy and camaraderie to loneliness and depression. Wherever you are on that continuum, your character strengths can help boost your enjoyment, buffer stress, and even reduce depression. Below is a recipe for a delicious, strengths-fueled Thanksgiving. Share it with all who wish to make every day a holiday.
Top 3 signature strengths 2 parts strengths-spotting 1 or more “happiness strengths” (I recommend Gratitude and Hope, for starters) At least 1 overused strength, tempered At least 1 underused strength, elevated
Choose 3 of your top signature strengths, and identify one new way you’ll express them Thanksgiving day.
Using a signature strength in a new way every day for a week can increase happiness and reduce depression. To identify your signature strengths, take the free, scientific survey.
I’m choosing my top 3 – Creativity, Humor and Perspective. For Creativity, I’ll experiment with cranberry relish flavors and create my own new recipe. I love unleashing my Creativity in the kitchen, combining flavors in interesting ways. When I think of my family enjoying my creations, I feel contented and happy.
Humor will lighten my mood when I start feeling the weight of everything that came before – the push to finish work projects, last-minute shopping, cooking, cleaning and setting up. My all-time favorite video makes me laugh every time. I can’t resist those cherubic faces and the giggles that come from them. Watching the quadruplets always brightens my day and provides a burst of enjoyment.
When feeling depleted, whether temporarily or chronically, it’s important to remind yourself of the things that support your well-being. So I’ll place a sticky note that says “quadruplets” on the kitchen wall. Not only will this remind me to engage my Humor and prioritize my well-being, it’s also a conversation starter.
Perspective is probably my
best friend when in pressure-filled situations. During holidays, there never
seems to be enough time to work, exercise, sleep, shop, cook, clean, and
prepare for the relationship drama that sometimes sprouts up. Of course, I want
time with family and friends to be picture-perfect, but it never is. It’s just
not realistic to think it will be.
Instead, I will periodically step
back to take in and notice what everyone is doing. Are we enjoying ourselves? Does
anyone seem to be in distress? Is there something I can do or not do to create
a more positive experience? I like to enjoy myself when with family and friends,
and Perspective helps me do that.
Which of your top strengths will you choose for your holiday recipe? If you’d like to feel more confident discussing your strengths, consider registering for a personal coaching session with me toPower Upand strengthen your strengths.
Add 2 parts strengths-spotting in yourself and the people around you.
Strengths-spotting is a gift you can give on every occasion. It is the gift of seeing and valuing others for their best qualities. When your 10-year-old is behaving well, appreciate her Self-regulation. When you notice someone being helpful, point out his Kindness. Don’t forget to notice your own strengths – how your Bravery led you to this moment in time, or how your Honesty is helping you feel or act authentically.
Choose 1 or more “happiness strengths” and add a healthy portion of each. I recommend Gratitude and Hope for the Thanksgiving holiday.
Five character strengths are highly correlated with life satisfaction and happiness. These strengths are Gratitude, Hope, Love, Zest, and Curiosity.Gratitude is inherent in the Thanksgiving holiday, but we don’t always remember to express it. No matter how bad things get, there is always something to feel grateful for – the sunny sky, a dear friend, good health. Take a moment before sitting down for a meal to notice and appreciate the blessings in your life. If you’re with others, ask each person to name what or who they feel grateful for, and notice the elevation effect.
Add at least 1 overused strength, tempered, and 1 underused strength, elevated.
Which of your strengths might you tend to overuse or underuse during holidays? Some of us become overly critical when under stress, overusing Judgement. Temper that strength by taking a few deep breaths to reset and open your mind. Others might forget that even a crabby relative deserves Kindness. Elevate your Kindness by speaking to him with kind words or striking up a conversation to get to know her better.
Fold all ingredients carefully and gently together to infuse your strengths into Thanksgiving, or any holiday. Feel free to add more of your unique blend of character strengths for added sweetness.
Remember that this recipe is your recipe. It is within your reach to have a delicious, strengths-fueled holiday. Choose your ingredients according to who you are at this moment and who you wish to become during the next holiday. And don’t forget to share it with your loved ones to multiply the goodness!
all your holidays and days be fueled by your strengths.
We don’t often appreciate what we have until it’s gone. This applies to people, like when a college student feels the absence of his parents after going off to school the first time. It applies to things, like when that old broken-down car finally gives out and you’re left without transportation. It applies to character strengths. Have you ever stopped to think: What would you be like without your top strengths?
Recently, I was asked to teach character strengths to participants in a 10-month positive psychology certificate program. We were at a week-long immersion taking place towards the beginning of the course. At this first immersion, deep personal connections are forged, and small learning pods are formed in preparation for the virtual portion of the program. I know because I graduated from this certificate program in 2014, assisted the faculty for 4 cohorts after that, and then became a faculty member.
When teaching strengths, I like to start with the scientific evidence behind character strengths then move quickly into giving participants the experience of what they are and why they matter. Consistently, there is one activity that can significantly influence whether we appreciate our top strengths. I featured this activity in my book 30 Days of Character Strengths: A Guided Practice to Ignite Your Best.Readers consistently share that it’s among the most memorable.
Strengths Activity With a Lasting Impact
The activity is simply to imagine your life without a top strength. In research, taking away something important and positive is called mental subtraction (Koo, Algoe, Wilson, & Gilbert, 2008). Participants in this study felt better having thought of themselves without something positive. When you think about it, this is counter-intuitive. Instead, we might think more easily about something we want but don’t have – better health, a nicer home – rather than starting with something we already do have.
Interestingly, when we think about boosting happiness and success, the pathways forward typically involve adding something like mindfulness or positive emotions. This evidence-based activity is different. It’s about subtraction. Without fail, after imagining a life without a top strength, each group I’ve worked with describes what their lives would be like in undeniably negative terms. Boring. Suffocating. Purposeless. Useless.
I’m careful not to leave anyone hanging out in a difficult space like that, so I always end with a reflection about why the chosen signature strength is important in participants’ lives. The descriptors become energizing again. Inspired. Authentic. Enlivened. Motivated.
Now It’s Your Turn
I encourage you to see for yourself. Below are the steps you can take. Be sure to find a quiet space and a 15- or 20-minute block of time.
Choose one of your signature strengths. If you haven’t taken the character strengths assessment yet, or if you haven’t updated your results within the past year, take the free survey. Then review your results and choose a strength from among the top 5 that captures your attention.
Close your eyes or fix your gaze softly on the floor or wall in front of you. Allow yourself to begin tuning into this strength. Notice how you use it each day in different parts of your life – with family, friends, or colleagues. Picture how it helps you connect with someone, achieve something, or simply feel happy. Focus on how you think, act, and feel when engaging this strength.
Next, imagine that you’re unable to use this strength for 1 month. If you chose Perseverance, you’re unable to finish anything or pursue a goal. If you chose Love of Learning, you’re unable to read a book or develop greater mastery of a skill. If you chose Kindness, there’s no caring for or helping others. If you chose Curiosity, there’s no internet surfing, new restaurants, or asking questions. Imagine in great detail what life is like without this strength. Imagine what you are like.
Write down a word or phrase that describes what you pictured. If you prefer, journal for a few minutes.
See The Bigger Picture
Now step back and look at the big picture. Living without our core valued strengths isn’t how we wish to live our lives. Sometimes in a workshop setting, tears begin to flow. This activity can strike an inner chord about who we are and what we value most in life, like the capacity to:
Persevere despite hardship,
Grow by mastering important skills and topics,
Help and care for others,
Explore new territory.
Imagining oneself and life without these capacities can feel painful. This is not an image of a flourishing life. Unfortunately, sometimes life does feel this difficult. Or worse.
The Good News: Your Strengths Are Always Accessible
We don’t always appreciate what we have until it’s gone. Now that you’ve imagined life without a signature strength, are you beginning to appreciate it in a new way?
The good news is you don’t have to live without this strength. In order to finish on a positive note, please repeat step 2. Do not end this intervention without repeating the second step:
Notice how you use it each day in different parts of your life – with family, friends, or colleagues. Picture how it helps you connect with someone, achieve something, or simply feel happy. Focus on how you think, act, and feel when engaging this strength.
Trust me, I skipped this step once myself to save time. It led me down a pathway of negativity that was hard to shake off the rest of the day.
Take a Next Step
If you’re interested in taking a deeper dive into your character strengths profile, consider working with me for 1.5 hours in myPower Up: Strengthening Your Strengths debrief session. I’m scheduling now for November, and there are a few slots remaining so grab your spot now, while you’re thinking about it!
Enjoy this newfound appreciation of
you and a key trait that helps you function at your most authentic and best.
Cherish this part of you. Bring it forth with abandon. There is only one of you,
and there is only one life for you to lead. Make it count by living into your
Algoe, S. B., Wilson, T. D., & Gilbert, D. T. (2008). It’s a wonderful
life: mentally subtracting positive events improves people’s affective states,
contrary to their affective forecasts. Journal of personality and
social psychology, 95(5), 1217–1224. doi:10.1037/a0013316
Character Day is an annual event dedicated to the development of character strengths. Character strengths are 24 human traits like gratitude, leadership, and honesty that cultivate what is right and good in communities, schools, organizations, and families around the world. If you wish to cultivate greater happiness and success in your life, unleashing your character strengths is a pathway forward.
For instance, a participant in a group I taught recognized how she often overplayed her top strength appreciation of beauty and excellence. This overuse led to unrealistic expectations of her team and of herself. She had an “aha” moment when she realized how the unintentional overuse of this strength kept her moving toward self-defeating perfectionism rather than her own potential.
Over time, she learned to notice these situations, to pause, and to intentionally dial down this strength. She was then able to engage more useful strengths, like prudence, to carefully plan her next moves. As a result, she became even more productive and less stressed.
Join in the fun – it’s not too late!
It’s not too late to join the more than 200,000 groups from 125 countries and 50 states by creating your own Character Day event. You can participate as an individual, group, or organization. Get started here.
For another approach to joining in, below are 18 ways to celebrate Character Day. This list provides activities, links to resources, and ideas for spreading the news to others.
Introduce Yourself or Someone Else to Character Strengths
If you’ve already taken the survey within the past year, invite someone close to you to take it by forwarding the above link. Explain that their survey results reflect who they are and what they do when at their best.
Familiarize yourself with the science behind the character strengths framework by watching the inspirational 8-minute video The Science of Character.
Boost Your Awareness and Learning
Working with someone who has also taken the survey, share stories about the other’s strengths. Give examples of when he or she used them and why you appreciate them. This foundational practice called “strengths-spotting” provides a common language of what’s strong. It also boosts your ability to notice and appreciate strengths in action.
Spot strengths in someone who rubs you the wrong way. Notice how they, and you, respond differently to being noticed and valued for positive traits.
Notice the character strengths all around you, even in your favorite book, movie, or TV characters.
Dive into a character strength that resonates with you right now. See how it cultivates excellence, boosts relationships, or elevates meaning.
Learn more about who you are at your best by purchasing and reviewing a character strength report tailored to your unique profile.
Post your top 5 signature strengths at home or work in a visible spot as a conversation starter.
Lead with a bit of research when introducing character strengths to your boss, a client, or a family member. Check out the world’s largest database on character strengths to locate key findings about character strengths in the workplace or parenting, character strengths and achievement or wellness, and a variety of other topics.
View your team or family through a lens of strengths by creating a grid of everyone’s top 5 signature strengths. Simply list each character strength along the bottom of flip chart paper, give each person 5 sticky notes, ask them to place their sticky notes by each strength, and watch the group profile emerge. Notice what the resulting profile says about the group.
Choose one of 70 research-based activities from positive psychology’s only field guide for practitioners: Ryan’ Niemiec’s Character Strengths Interventions. Choose from among exercises that boost awareness and use, enhance meaning and engagement, build resilience and problem management, or elevate goal setting, achievement, or mindfulness. Try one yourself, then offer it to a friend, team member, or family member.
Character Day typically occurs near the end of September each year. If you’d like to know the actual date or be reminded about it next year, subscribe to my newsletter.
Really, though, every day is character day. You don’t need an annual event to spread the research and practice of character strengths. On any given day, simply choose one of the practices that resonates most.
Perhaps there are other practices you’ve tried yourself. If you’d like to offer them for publication, email me at Jane@StrengthBasedLiving.com. I’ll include them with your name, if you agree, in my blog post next year.
In the meantime, enjoy Character Day, a global day of celebration of what’s best in you!
I recently returned from a once-in-a-lifetime, 3-week trip to Australia. I traveled across the world to 1) share the preliminary results of a study that Dr. Karen S. Whelan-Berry and I are co-leading and 2) enjoy the culture and hospitality of our Aussie friends Down Under. I’ll share more about the study in a future blog post.
Surprisingly, I noticed a slight language barrier even though everyone spoke English. I was unfamiliar with certain pronunciations and colloquialisms, which impeded my ability to understand and navigate with ease. On the 15-hour plane ride home, I was thinking about how similar this is to the language of character strengths: building fluency is key. The rest of this article explores the notion of fluency and how to boost your strengths fluency. Strengths fluency is the ability to express oneself articulately through the 24 capacities known as character strengths. The rest of this article explores the notion of fluency and how to boost your strengths fluency, so you can apply greater clarity and confidence to the adventures in your life.
Fluency smooths the journey
No matter where I visited – Melbourne, Port Douglas, or Sydney – I found myself asking the locals to slow their speech or repeat things. I came to understand that:
g’day = hello mate = informal address for friends and strangers how ya goin’ = how are you? arvo = afternoon avo = avocado barbie = barbecue (a grill) hooroo = goodbye
Interestingly, they don’t pronounce the “r” sound like we do in Chicago, so the word for afternoon sounded like avocado. Also, I wondered about how to answer the question: How ya goin’? I didn’t know at first. They were extending hospitality and I didn’t feel comfortable returning it.
Although these barriers seemed minor, I began to notice my frustration lessen as my knowledge grew. I experienced the benefits of fluency: clarity, greater ability to navigate, confidence in getting around. All of which led to deeper enjoyment of the adventure. If you’ve ever been in a situation where your native language isn’t spoken, or even sounds different, you can probably relate.
Why character strengths fluency?
Character strengths fluency is about learning a universal language that describes the virtuous traits of humans around the world. In truth, the “virtuous person” doesn’t exist. This journey is about becoming more virtuous, not arriving at a virtuous pinnacle. In fact, someone who thinks they don’t need to strengthen their character strengths might be underusing humility!
Developing your strengths fluency is a worthy investment. Consider that:
Speaking about strengths articulately and engaging them effectively helps cultivate the things you may want more of, like positive relationships, meaning, and accomplishment. In particular, in a recent study teamwork, love, and kindness were most strongly linked to positive relationships; curiosity and perspective to meaning; perseverance, perspective, and zest to accomplishment. (Wagner, et al., 2019).
Being able to put other people’s strengths into words helps you become skilled at strengths-spotting, the practice of naming and openly appreciating strengths. Strengths-spotting helps others internalize what’s best within them. Imagine how this gift, so easy to give, can provide a boost to your children, friends, clients, or team members!
Whether you’ve studied the character strengths framework extensively or are just curious about it, boosting your character strengths fluency will help you:
Build your capacity to rise to challenges and pursue new adventures
Communicate using a positive lens and framework
Appreciate the best in others
Express the best in yourself more often
How to boost your strengths fluency
The approach to developing strengths fluency is similar to learning a foreign language:
Vocabulary – learn the character strengths names and their definitions
Syntax – choose the strengths needed for each situation you face
Practice – experiment with applying the strengths
Immersion – dive in to expand your level of skills and knowledge
This is a non-linear and iterative process.
5 steps you can take
Below are 5 of the many ways you can boost your strengths fluency. Depending on your current level, one might resonate more than the others.
Take, or retake, the free VIA survey. If you haven’t taken it within the past year, it’s good to update your results. Although you’re not likely to see your top strengths move to the bottom or vice versa, individual strengths do sometimes shift based on life circumstances.
To learn about other facets of character strengths, like turning strengths inward, understanding your strengths tendencies, or building team strengths, please feel free to contact me at Jane@StrengthBasedLiving.com. We will clarify your interests and schedule time together.
Sometimes the best way to learn is to teach someone else. Share this work with others by inviting them to become more strength-based.
So how ya goin’? What resonates with you? Take a moment to consider how you will boost your strengths fluency in the global language of human virtue. Carve out some time to learn the vocabulary and syntax, to practice, and then immerse yourself in character strengths.
As for me, it’s arvo, and I haven’t had lunch yet. I have the fixings for avo toast, but I’m thinking I might throw a burger on the barbie. Hoo roo, mates!
NOTES Wagner, L., Gander, F., Proyer, R. T., & Ruch, W. (2019). Character strengths and PERMA: Investigating the relationships of character strengths with a multidimensional framework of well-being. Applied Research in Quality of Life. doi:10.1007/s11482-018-9695-z
Do you know someone who feels depleted from the pace of daily life? Or someone curious about amping up their work or relationships? Is that person you?
POWER UP: Strengthening Your Strengths is a 1.5-hour character strengths debrief session tailored to help you tune into your unique blend of character strengths. You’ll explore the question: How can my strengths empower me to meet challenges or lead a more robust life?
Move in a new direction! Character strengths are inherently part of being human, 24 positive traits like curiosity and teamwork, scientifically shown to be pathways to human flourishing. We all have them. Many of us are familiar with them but don’t fully understand how they can enliven us, help us emerge from challenges stronger, and build our capacity for new endeavors.
THIS WORK IS FOR EVERYONE!
Whether you’re facing a challenge or an opportunity, your character strengths can strengthen your capacity to meet life with energy and enthusiasm. Everyone can strengthen their strengths – the exhausted business professional, the college student finding his way, the person transitioning into a new role or life situation. Even people already familiar with their character strengths find new facets of themselves in this strengths-based session.
WHAT YOU CAN EXPECT
Some strengths assessments zero in on what you do well in work or life. Others hone in on talents you have. In POWER UP: Strengthening Your Strengths, you’ll tap into 24 positive traits that help define who you are and what you do when at your best, joining over 7 million others on a similar path.
Your session will be tailored to your experiences, interests, and profile of strengths. During the session, you will:
Experience the difference between fixing weaknesses and building strengths
Become familiar with the science of character including what character strengths are, how they’re different from other types of strengths, and why they matter
Discover new insights about who you are, how you operate when at your best, and how to express your most authentic self more often, even when under stress
Understand how overusing and underusing your strengths can cause unintended negative consequences in relationships, and what to do about it
Decide how to take your strengths practice forward
WHAT OTHERS HAVE TO SAY
Some of my clients describe living more fully into their strengths as “living out loud” or “living in the zone.” Even those who feel attuned to their strengths come away from this session with new insights about their best, most authentic qualities, how to deploy them intentionally, and which strengths help them feel happy and successful. For instance, a client who recently completed POWER UP: Strengthening Your Strengths noticed that:
For years I’ve viewed myself as being too driven for my own good, depleting myself while striving for more and better. It didn’t occur to me that I was overusing my #1 strength appreciation of beauty and excellence. I can now appreciate the high level of excellence I bring to work and focus more on being fair and kind to myself, not putting so much pressure on myself.
GETTING STARTED IS EASY – CLAIM YOUR SPOT NOW
Each session typically takes up to 1.5 hours and is conducted via Zoom video conferencing or by phone. The fee is $139 plus the cost of the report you choose at registration.
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.
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.
WE HELD 5 GROUPS OF RISE AND THRIVE! REGISTRATION IS NOW CLOSED
For information about future workshops, please subscribe to my newsletter.
Rise and Thrive in 2019: A Strengths-Fueled Path
This time of year is the perfect time to set aside limitations and ignite your potential, by engaging your VIA character strengths. Character strengths are key building blocks to human flourishing. They can energize you in dark times and fuel your dreams. This course will help you blaze a strengths trail in 2019 as you explore and engage your unique blend of character strengths. Learn about other ways you’ll benefit here.
In this 6-week course, you’ll create an embodied strengths practice. Your participation includes:
Completing a daily character strengths practice using my book 30 Days of Character Strengths: A Guided Practice to Ignite Your Best as a guide.
Attending 6 weekly 1.5-hour workshops to connect, check in, and receive bonus content
Our work is evidence-based, so we’ll collect from you confidential pre- and post-course survey data about your perceived levels of happiness, self-compassion, confidence, and engagement with character strengths. We’ll also share a summary of what we learned from this data.
The workshops reflect the themes from the book:
Workshop 1: Introduction & Getting Started, plus pre-course surveys
Workshop 2: Exploring Your Best Self
Workshop 3: Connecting & Building Relationships
Workshop 4: Boosting Confidence & Competence
Workshop 5: Living Your Strengths
Workshop 6: Celebrating & Taking Your Practice Forward, plus post-course surveys
Providence, RI Group If you live or work in the Providence RI area, we have a new group starting on Wednesday, May 15 at the Jewish Community Center (JCC). Click here for details and to register. If you have questions, contact Karen Whelan-Berry at Karenwb@Wholebeinginstitute.com.
Virtual Groups Our 4th virtual group is currently in action! If you’re interested in possible future dates, please contact Jane S. Anderson at Jane@StrengthBasedLiving.com.
Let’s individually and collectively blaze a character strengths-fueled trail in 2019. Hope to see you there!
Jane S. Anderson Author, 30 Days of Character Strengths: A Guided Practice to Ignite Your Best President, Strength Based Living LLC
Signature Strengths: Creativity/Humor/Perspective/Honesty Jane@StrengthBasedLiving.com
Dr. Karen S. Whelan-Berry
Chief Learning Officer, Wholebeing Institute
Signature Strengths: Bravery/Gratitude/Fairness/Kindness KarenWB@WholebeingInstitute.com
“Just as ripples spread out when a single pebble is dropped into water, the actions of individuals can have far-reaching effects.”
Small actions can have a large positive impact. Even in the face of something seemingly insurmountable. My colleagues and I refer to these as “2% actions.” When something feels insurmountable, thinking of a 2% action can boil the bigness down, leaving something actionable and less intimidating.
For example, one might think of elevating 2% more bravery when feeling anxious about taking a stand on an important issue. For one person, that 2% action might be making a phone call to connect with a like-minded friend. To another, it might look like attending a protest for the cause. Either way, that small action can be the difference between creating a positive ripple effect and maintaining the status quo.
Sometimes we have the good fortune of seeing and feeling the ripple effect.
A participant in one of my workshops turned kindness inward when struggling with the unexpected loss of a close family member. She gave herself the gift of a massage to help her relax during this difficult time. For some, this might be a weekly ritual; for her it was a 2% step. Something out-of-the-ordinary that she wouldn’t normally afford herself. She typically tended to other family members, helping them manage and deal with their struggles. By focusing on herself in this small way, she noticed that she was in dire need, and deserving, of tender loving care also.
This act of kindness was like a springboard to wiser self-care, which in turn is helping her move through her grief. By tending to her own needs, she says, she can be a better support for others and manage her work life and personal relationships more effectively. A small act of kindness turned inward created a ripple effect of resilience and strength.
Sometimes the ripple effect isn’t known for weeks, months, or even longer.
I was with a team of people getting ready to lead a webinar. There was a problem with the technology, so our technology liaison took the lead, demonstrating her command of the platform as she began troubleshooting. Most impressively, she maintained her cool as the webinar was scheduled to begin in four minutes, deftly getting us back up and running in five.
I quickly spotted and named her strengths of creativity, as she easily connected the dots of this unique situation; judgment, as her critical thinking helped analyze different solutions; and perseverance, as she continued methodically until the platform was running smoothly again. Others joined in the strengths-spotting.
All of a sudden, it got completely quiet. After a few seconds of silence, she thanked us for noticing her strengths. Months later, she emailed me to note the impact that moment still had on her, and how it shifted her view of herself and her work on a terribly difficult day.
Sometimes the ripple effect isn’t known atall. A client wanted to informally introduce some of his newfound strengths wisdom to a few co-workers. They had expressed interest, so he asked them to take the free VIA survey of character strengths. He then offered to help them explore their strengths in a brief conversation together. They took the survey and commented on how interesting their results were, but none took him up on his offer. He felt it didn’t land with them at all and wondered why. He elevated his curiosity and asked them directly. In a nutshell, it wasn’t good timing. Not every pebble dropped will create an immediate ripple effect, but that doesn’t mean it won’t in the future. You just might not know about it.
Drop the pebble anyway. Whether you’re struggling with what seems like an insurmountable obstacle in life or you wish to be a positive presence in the world, try taking a small 2% action such as turning a character strength inward, strengths-spotting someone close to you, or sharing your strengths wisdom. The ripple you create won’t always be known to you, but don’t let that deter you from dropping the pebble.
Think of a time when someone – a teacher, parent, boss, or co-worker – noticed one of your gifts or strengths. What was the ripple effect from that moment? Have you expressed your gratitude to that person? If not, please consider whether/how you might do that.
What 2% strength-based action might you take today to cultivate goodness within or around you?
Rise and Thrive in 2019: A Strengths-FueledPath Interested in taking a deep dive into character strengths? Join us as we launch our 5th group of strengths enthusiasts developing a more meaningful awareness of their character strengths and spreading their wisdom to family, team members, clients, and friends. Our next group begins Tuesday, April 30. For details, click here.