A Series of Practices to Cultivate Strength and Resilience – The SPIRE Check-In

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.

The Inspiration

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:

  • Spiritual
  • Physical
  • Intellectual
  • Relational
  • Emotional

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!

The Practice

  1. Download, print, and follow the instructions on this worksheet.
  2. Use your summary scores to identify which elements are in need of a boost.
  3. Decide on 1 or 2 things you can do to lift these elements, and put them into action.
  4. 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. 

The Reflection

Now, how can you reflect on your SPIRE worksheet summary scores? The following questions will help guide you:

  1. In which element(s) are you feeling strong and engaged?
  2. Which element(s) could use more attention?
  3. 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, 

A Series of Practices to Cultivate Strength and Resilience – Loving Kindness Meditation

“It’s all just too much.” 

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.

The Inspiration

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 Practice

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.

The Reflection

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.

May you live with ease.

With love and kindness,

A Series of Practices to Cultivate Strength and Resilience – The Mindful Pause

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.  

The Inspiration

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 Practice

The Mindful Pause has three simple steps:

  1. 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. 
  2. 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.
  3. 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 Reflection

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. 


A Series of Practices to Cultivate Strength and Resilience – Amplify a Signature Strength

“You can’t be anything you want to be —
but you can be a whole lot more of who you already are.”

– Tom Rath, bestselling author and 
expert on strengths in the workplace

In a recent spring-cleaning project, I discovered a bin in the back corner of my basement. It held my high school yearbooks from decades ago. Feeling nostalgic, I picked one up and flipped through the colorful markings and handwritten notes left by my classmates.

Throughout the stories of misadventures, brief confessions of feelings, and bursts of teen-aged wisdom, I noticed one predominant theme: Never change.

“Stay who you are honeybuns,” said one. “You’re so fun – stay that way,” said another. 

Never change? Really?!

It turns out, this is some of the best advice I’ve ever received. 

The Inspiration

We often hear that one of the only constants in life is change. Through the ups and downs of my life – navigating single parenthood, overcoming cancer, and transitioning into a new career – I have found this to be true.

However, we can choose to keep what’s best within us the same, and even develop those qualities. Then, “never change” truly is great advice. We know this to be true from research about signature strengths in the field of positive psychology.  

Signature strengths are personality traits that reflect what’s best within you. Research shows that people who focus on their signature strengths are more likely to flourish in their work; have less stress, anxiety and depression; have more confidence; and experience more positive outcomes in virtually every facet of life.

So, what are your best traits? If you aren’t aware of your unique signature strengths, I invite you to discover them by taking the character strengths survey. Your signature strengths will be in the top 5-7 of your results.

I find it ironic that during my high school years, when everything seemed to be changing, my classmates and I urged each other to stay the same. Many yearbook comments reflected my signature strengths, which I lean on every day to face daily challenges and opportunities.

For example: 

“You were a great listener when I had problems with my love life.” (Perspective)

“No, seriously you are…always fun to be around.” (Humor)

And a favorite: “…your personality is a rare, but good one.”

That last comment was a testament to how a friend appreciated my uniqueness. It made me laugh out loud! 

You don’t need to make yourself over to transform your work or life. By focusing on your signature strengths, you can not only grow and change but also live more deeply into who you are. In Tom Rath’s words, “…you can be a whole lot more of who you already are.”

So, never change? Absolutely!

The Practice

Try living into a top signature strength by following these two simple steps:

  1. Develop an awareness of your signature strengths, and
  2. Practice engaging them with intention.

This practice will help you accomplish both. 

I invite you to choose one signature strength. If you wish to skip taking the survey at this time, choose one strength from the graphic below that resonates with you. 

Practice using the strength you’ve chosen in a new way. If you’re unsure how to think about this, consult this character strengths resource from the University of Toronto and select the strength you chose. 

To challenge yourself, try engaging this strength in a new way each day for the next week to help you relax and de-stress, achieve a meaningful goal, overcome an obstacle to a goal, or make a deeper connection with someone important. 

If you get stuck, please do not hesitate to reach out to me. I love helping people live into their signature strengths!

The Reflection

When using my signature strength of _______, I noticed that _______.

Take your time with this reflection. Perhaps journal about it or talk it through with someone you trust. You might notice that you felt more confident or energized, had an “aha” moment about an obstacle you faced or approached a situation or person with a different perspective. 

Just notice what happens when you engage a signature strength, and feel free to try this practice with other signature strengths.

May you live into who you are when at your best, today and every day. 


A Series of Practices to Cultivate Strength and Resilience – A Spoonful of Humor

Knock knock.
Who’s there?
Broken pencil.
Broken pencil who?
Never mind, it’s pointless!

Not everyone likes a corny knock-knock joke, but I do. Whether you prefer playfulness, cleverness, or full-on belly laughing, we can all probably use a spoonful of humor to provide levity right now.

It’s easy to forget to laugh and have fun when what’s happening around and within us is so serious. Each of us is facing our own bundle of inconveniences, losses, and sacrifices. Humor can provide a brief, but necessary, respite from these stressors.

There are potentially infinite ways to cultivate humor. And great news: You don’t have to be a stand-up comic to appreciate and share humor.

The Inspiration

Over the past few weeks, the character strength humor, the human capacity for laughter and playfulness, has been coming up often in my personal and professional conversations.  For instance, I recently hosted a virtual family Zoom birthday party for my younger sister. One highlight was the guest appearance by Tito, the rescued cow, from Luvin Arms Animal Sanctuary. Tito was invited by my older sister as a surprise. We were told his appearance is a way to change up the flow of Zoom calls. It did! It was very “amooooooosing!” Perhaps even “moooooving.” 

Humor can help us shift from tension to relaxation. Our personal experiences, along with research, support this. Here’s a great article from the Mayo Clinic about the benefits of humor. It mentions that humor:

  • Lowers the stress response, depression, and anxiety
  • Helps relieve pain
  • Reduces blood pressure and heart rate
  • Boosts our ability to cope

As long as it isn’t at the expense of others or ill-timed, humor is a strength that can be practiced and developed. However, situations that end in hurt feelings or insult may be due to the overuse of humor. We each have our own sensitivities, so when we’re with others it’s important to engage in humor judiciously, based on knowledge of the situation and the audience involved.

When you pause in your day for a coffee or water break, think about adding a spoonful of humor. Although this practice is not a substitute for professional medical care, it might be just the right prescription for your body and mind right now.

The Practice

Below are a few things you can do to bring more humor into your life. Of course, you can also play with your own ideas. Humor is contagious, so think about sharing a spoonful with others for multiples of fun!

  1. Try laughter yoga. Whether you’re genuinely laughing or just making laughter sounds, your body is getting the same health benefits.
  2. Watch and share funny videos. I’ve shared these laughing quadruplets many times, and they never fail to amuse.
  3. Find and share the jokes you enjoy. Google “funny jokes” and you’ll find thousands of sources. You’ll have to find the sources that resonate with you.
  4. Have a conversation using different voices or accents.
  5. Watch improv. I love the zany antics in Whose Line Is It Anyway? Notice the overuse of humor toward the end.

The Reflection

Adding a bit more humor into my day _____________________. 

My reflection, for example, is:

Adding a bit more humor into my day provided much-needed lightness and the sense that I could breathe fully for the first time in a while.

Take your time with this reflection. You might wish to journal or speak with a trusted friend about it. Feel free to let your thoughts flow, free of self-judgment.

Try a spoonful of humor. It might be just what the doctor ordered!

A Series of Practices to Cultivate Strength and Resilience – Shift From Wrong to Strong

In these extraordinary times, we’re encountering a dizzying array of unwanted challenges and disruptions in daily life. Many of us cannot connect in person with family, friends, and teammates. Others have lost work and opportunities. Sadly, there are even more tragic repercussions. It’s enough to create a sense of hopelessness in even the most positive people.

Fortunately, research around character strengths shows us how to shift into what’s strong to help us face virtually every situation with strength and resilience. Character strengths reflect who we are and how we contribute.Since COVID-19 entered our lives, I’ve noticed that my top strength, creativity, is calling my name to help navigate difficult situations. For instance, during a stressful text exchange with my sister, I offered a few novel ways to solve a family problem. I was tempted to avoid replying – it was late on a Sunday evening, and I was tired. Creativity gave me the capacity to engage. Channeling creativity didn’t change the stressor, but it shifted me toward my best, kept me grounded and allowed me to contribute from a position of strength.

Most likely, your signature strengths look different than mine. Your top strength might be hope, giving you the power to envision a positive, yet realistic, future. Or, your number one strength might be bravery, making you a force that gives a voice to the voiceless. 

No matter your signature strengths, your unique contributions are sorely needed in your home life, work life and community. But, here’s the thing: although the idea of engaging strengths seems appealing to virtually everyone, not everyone practices living into them. The value comes from putting them into practice.

The Inspiration

In my work with individuals and groups, I’ve noticed a variety of obstacles to living into one’s strengths. Below are two of the most common:

  • We don’t have the language to describe what’s good and strong within ourselves. Growing up, many of us learned to avoid speaking of ourselves in positive ways due to modesty concerns. We’re good at describing what’s wrong and what we can do better, but not who we are at our best.
  • The human brain is hardwired to attend to what’s wrong – problems, challenges and weaknesses. We’re often not aware this is happening. What doesn’t work attracts us like a magnet.

Luckily the fist item can be addressed by taking the free, scientific character strengths assessment taken by more than 10 million people globally. In about 15 minutes, you can discover your unique strengths profile.

The second is more complex. Humans have a natural instinct dating back to ancient times to scan the environment for threats. This instinct remains active in us today. Although helpful in some circumstances, it’s also a reason we can over-invest time and resources dwelling on what’s wrong at the expense of what’s strong.

There’s so much that feels wrong about life during this pandemic, but you can shift into what’s strong to feel a greater sense of ease, energy and flow. Research shows that building strengths is where our greatest contributions lie.

I invite you to experience for yourself how shifting from wrong to strong can create positive results. The following practice is inspired by the work of Michelle McQuaid, an expert in positive organizational leadership. 

The Practice

For this practice, you’ll need a pen and some paper.

  1. Place a pen in your dominant hand, then write your full name.
  2. Switch the pen to your non-dominant hand. Again, write your full name.
  3. Describe the differences between your two experiences

Many people describe writing with the non-dominant hand as more effortful, difficult, and time-consuming. They aren’t as pleased with the outcome. 

Often, this is what it feels like to improve a weakness. If you practiced writing with your non-dominant hand, you could probably improve over time. However, it would likely take many hours to progress, let alone achieve the same results.

Conversely, writing with the dominant hand typically has an ease and flow. It’s faster and requires less effort. The results are pleasing. Often, this is what it feels like to build, and live into, our strengths.

The Reflection

Begin by bringing one of your signature strengths to mind. If you don’t know your top strengths, you can discover them now, or simply use the graphic below as a reminder of the 24 character strengths. Then return to the reflection. 

As I tackle my next challenge today, my strength of _____ can help me by _____.

Think of one way you can put this strength into action and then try it as you go forward.