3 Key Questions That Shift You Into Strengths When You’re Stressed

Whether you’re stretching outside your comfort zone to reach toward a dream, navigating a challenging conversation, or simply going about your daily routine, your day is likely filled with stressors. We all have them, but we don’t always respond in productive ways. If you could be at your best, how might you respond differently? Find out by asking 3 key questions that can shift you into strengths when you’re stressed. Grounding yourself in your character strengths can help you feel more balanced, authentic, and confident.

3 Key Questions

Question #1: Who am I in the face of this situation?
This question speaks to how you’re feeling, thinking, or acting in the moment. Are you feeling calm and in control? Frustrated and impatient? Are your actions helping or hurting the situation? Your answer might be a gut reaction about who you are in that moment. It might not feel good.

Question #2: Who do I wish to be?
This question reflects the desire for a different response or outcome. We can’t be someone else, but we can often call forth our best more strongly. Reflecting on who you are when at your best and what you’re hoping to accomplish can help you frame an answer to this question.

Question #3: How can my character strengths help me right now?
This question creates a bridge from where you are to where you’d like to be, using your character strengths.

An Example

An example from my life is that, like 75% of Americans, I suffer from glossophobia, the fear of public speaking. I don’t experience a full-on panic attack, but I do feel lingering anxiety in the pit of my stomach. In these moments, I’m not in my best frame of mind. Once I get 5 minutes into the presentation, I’m fine. But sometimes 5 minutes is all you get to make an impression. I want it to be a good one.

Of course, preparing well in advance helps me feel less anxious. So does meditating and getting enough rest. Shifting into my strengths is also a go-to strategy. Below, I walk you through my answers to the 3 questions as I prepare for a presentation or workshop, which is when my anxiety typically begins.

Answer to Question #1: Who am I in the face of this situation?
I am a seasoned facilitator who feels anxious before a presentation. I’m also someone who loves to share wisdom with others and help them live into their strengths. But I sometimes withdraw when feeling strained or nervous, which hurts my ability to connect with people.

Answer to Question #2: Who do I wish to be?
I wish to exude a sense of calmness, create an exceptional learning experience, and navigate unanticipated challenges with grace and humility.

Answer to Question #3: How can my character strengths help me right now?
Perspective, one of my top strengths, kicks in naturally to help me think about what went well in prior presentations, notice how I managed challenges, and remember what I learned. Prudence, a lower strength, helps me plan what I might do differently next time. Elevating Humor, my #2 strength, almost always puts a smile on my face.

These strengths provide a springboard to help me feel confident. My anxiety lessens as the positive energy flows from engaging my strengths. You might say my preparation process has become strengths-based.

This process was so helpful to me that I posted these answers in my office as a reminder to shift into my strengths. If you had a fear of speaking, you’d probably use other character strengths. Perhaps Social Intelligence to focus on your audience or Creativity to brainstorm your own strategies for managing pre-presentation anxiety.

Give it a try!

Answering these questions can be difficult in the moment. Doing so in hindsight is much easier, so you could start by reflecting on a situation from the past. Try it, and remember that whatever the stressor, your 24 character strengths are capacities available to serve you and those around you.

Rise and Thrive in 2019!

Do you know anyone navigating a life transition, striving to achieve a difficult goal, or simply interested in infusing their work or life with strengths? If so, please invite them to rise and thrive with other strengths enthusiasts from around the world. Virtual groups for Rise and Thrive in 2019: A Strengths-Fueled Path begin February 19. They’re filling now, so don’t delay! For details, go here.


What Are You Doing Differently?

“On Monday, don’t tell me how much you enjoyed
our time together. Tell me what you’re doing differently.”

This is a quotation from the late Peter Drucker, known as the father of modern management and advisor to corporate executives, government officials, and non-profit leaders.  During his later years of life, he invited his proteges to his home to spend the weekend talking about leadership and business. When their time together concluded, he challenged them to put what they discussed into action.

Can you imagine having the privilege of spending a weekend picking the brain of the legendary Peter Drucker? No matter what role you’re currently in – leader, team member, volunteer, all of the above –  you’d need to be doing something differently and not just thinking about how much you learned.

It’s not easy to do things differently, even when change is for the good.  If you’ve ever tried to lose weight, improve a relationship, or create another positive change that sticks, you know what I mean.

Consider your strengths. Are you living into yours? Before you answer, know that about 2/3 of us don’t have a meaningful awareness of our strengths, much less live into these capacities. Still, even those with a strengths awareness often don’t give strengths the attention they deserve. Certainly I’m guilty of that from time to time.

Why Don’t We Give Strengths the Attention They Deserve?

There are many reasons. Too often, we work at improving weaknesses rather than building strengths. From another perspective, we’ve been taught that focusing on strengths is boastful or immodest. Perhaps we dismiss strengths as ordinary rather than extraordinary capacities that can help us feel confident, competent, and unique.

A coaching client’s top four signature strengths are Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence, Bravery, Honesty, and Love of Learning. She viewed these strengths as ordinary. Everyone has these, she would say.

Through our work together, she stopped thinking casually about her strengths and started using them intentionally. In job interviews, for example, she realized she could express Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence to set a high bar for herself, Bravery and Honesty to offer bold yet authentic examples of who she is and how she contributes at work, and Love of Learning to demonstrate how quickly she learns in areas beyond her expertise. She practiced engaging these same strengths in other ways in different parts of her life.

Lasting Change Through Strengths 

Over time, she began to view her strengths as unique and extraordinary. Her confidence grew. She leaned on her strengths more often in her personal and professional lives. Ultimately, she couldn’t imagine what life would be like or what she would be like if these strengths didn’t exist.

I shared the quote about Peter Drucker. As we wrapped up, she eagerly named these positive changes. Most notably, she appreciated and expressed her strengths in more situations and in new ways. My client was not only thinking differently, she was doing things differently. Using a lens of strengths helped lead her to satisfying work and other positive outcomes.

It turns out that we can’t wish or hope our way to better outcomes. We need to do something differently.

What Will You Do Differently in 2019?

No matter where you are on your strengths journey, consider blazing a new trail in 2019. Join us in early 2019 for a one-time-only learning opportunity to soar with your strengths within a like-minded community of strengths enthusiasts. Bring your colleagues, loved ones, or friends. Learn more here.

Until next time,

Jane S. Anderson
Author, 30 Days of Character Strengths: A Guided Practice to Ignite Your Best
President, Strength Based Living



Thriving and Character Strengths

Are you thriving? How would you know?

Thriving can mean different things to different people. You might thrive when the pressure is on to finish a project. Your friend might thrive when he can plan ahead and finish with time to spare. According to a 2017 article on the science of human thriving, thriving has many facets and may be different from person to person. The authors noted there isn’t a consensus on the definition of thriving within the scientific community. Instead, they offered their definition as the combined experience of development and success. 

Based on this definition, I can think of examples of thriving from my life. For instance, after I completed my MBA more than 30 years ago, I changed jobs and received a pay raise commensurate with the market value at that time. I felt challenged as I applied what I learned at work. The challenge plus salary increase were meaningful rewards as I built my career.

If you’re doing challenging work that has the right amount of stretch, enjoyment, and success, you might feel like you’re thriving. On the other hand, if you’re coasting and doing well but not particularly enjoying it, you’re probably not thriving. If you feel depleted and the work doesn’t fit your talents and strengths, you’re clearly not thriving.

From another perspective, you might notice that some parts of your life are thriving while others aren’t. For instance, perhaps you’re in a great relationship, but you feel lethargic about where you can contribute the most. Or maybe you feel energized about work, but you seek a meaningful relationship.

The Good News: Thriving Enablers + Character Strengths

The good news is that there are seven personal variables that can enable thriving. The even better news is that you can focus on and improve these variables. Your character strengths, 24 human capacities that amplify what’s best within you, like Curiosity, Fairness, and Leadership, can play a central role.

Positive psychology expert Ryan Niemiec makes the connection in a November 2017 blog post. Below is a summary of the thriving enablers, in bold, and the role played by character strengths, capitalized:

1. Psychological Resilience – All 24 character strengths, from Appreciation of Beauty & Excellence to Zest, can boost your resilience.

2.  Motivation – Your signature strengths (top strengths) can enliven you to take action in your relationships, work, and play.

3.  Proactive Personality –  Bravery and Perseverance help you seek out challenges and overcome obstacles.

The other 4 thriving enablers include Knowledge & Learning (assisted by Creativity, Curiosity, Love of Learning, and Perspective), Social Competence (Social Intelligence, Love and Kindness, Leadership and Teamwork, and Fairness), Positive Perspective (Hope), and Religiosity and Spirituality (Gratitude and Spirituality).

In other words, there’s yet another reason, among hundreds of research-based reasons, why you should practice and share your strengths wisdom with others: they’re key ingredients to human thriving. If you’d like to learn more about your character strengths or sharpen your character strengths skills, take a look at the sneak preview of what’s coming up for you in 2019.

Sneak Preview of 2019

We’re going to be part of a study beginning in early 2019, and you’re invited to join in! This could be the inspiring opportunity you’ve been waiting for. Instead of wrestling with new year’s resolutions, why not kick off the new year with an investment in your personal or professional growth? The 6-week program is based on Jane S. Anderson’s book 30 Days of Character Strengths: A Guided Practice to Ignite Your Best, a workbook endorsed by positive psychology experts Tal Ben-Shahar, Ryan Niemiec, Margarita Tarragona, and others. To receive information and updates, make sure you subscribe to our newsletter at www.StrengthBasedLiving.com.


Brown, D. J., Arnold, R., Fletcher, D., & Standage, M. (2017). Human thriving A conceptual debate and literature review. European Psychologist, 22(3), 167–179. DOI: 10.1027/1016-9040/a000294

Niemiec, R. M., (2017, November 8). Seven Pathways to Thriving. Psychology Today Online. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/what-matters-most/201711/seven-pathways-thriving


Happy Character Day!

(about a 2.5 minute read)

Tomorrow (September 26, 2018) is Character Day! Character Day is the day people around the world link arms to celebrate what unites us as humans: our character strengths.  As you can see, I’m celebrating early. In honor of Character Day, for two days, I’m offering half off my print book 30 Days of Character Strengths: A Guided Practice to Ignite Your Best on Amazon.com. The price you see is the discounted price.

Readers tell me they’re giving it as gifts to friends and family; including it in work with coaching clients and in workshops; adding it to reading lists for courses they teach; and starting their own 30-day practice groups. Stock up and save while it’s half off!

On Character Day, hundreds of thousands of schools, workplaces, families, and individuals will be sharing the research and practice of character strengths. Thank you Let It Ripple Film Studio for launching Character Day in 2014! If you haven’t registered to participate in Character Day, no worries. There are many simple ways to celebrate character strengths. For instance:

Get and Share Resources
1.  Watch the brief, inspirational video The Science of Character. If you’ve already seen it, share it and introduce others to the research and practice of character strengths.

2.  Take the free VIA survey of character strengths or offer it to someone you know who hasn’t taken it.

3. Request these free discussion kits to use in your next character strengths discussions.

Boost Your Strengths Wisdom
4.  To understand why strengths matter or when describing to someone else why they matter, access the hundreds of research findings on the VIA Institute on Character website. They’re organized into topics such as character strengths in the workplace, education, and relationships.

5. To learn more about a specific strength, go here and click on the strength.

6.  Check out these books to expand your knowledge.

Practice and Have Fun With Character Strengths
7.  Post your signature strengths (top 5 strengths) in a prominent place such as the refrigerator, the entryway to an office, or a journal. This will remind you of who you are when at your best. Better yet, if you’re part of a family, work team, or other group, post everyone’s strengths and notice how they bring goodness, meaning, and performance into each others’ lives.

8.  Brighten someone else’s day by noticing and appreciating his or her strengths. Practice strengths-spotting your postal carrier, neighbor, barista, pharmacist, or anyone you encounter during the day.

9. Perform a random act of kindness. Clean the kitchen without being asked. Purchase a cup of coffee for the person in line behind you. Offer to carry someone else’s heavy bag.

10. Send a note or text of gratitude expressing thanks and praise to someone you appreciate.

There are virtually limitless ways to infuse strengths into whatever you do and wherever you go. Most importantly, you don’t need to wait for an annual event to celebrate character strengths. Just take a step!

May we celebrate character strengths today and every day.

Until next time,

Jane S. Anderson
President, Strength Based Living
Author, 30 Days of Character Strengths:
A Guided Practice to Ignite Your Best
***half-off for two days – September 25 and September 26 – at Amazon.com***


Strengths Conversations That Connect

(about a 4 minute read)

Do you regularly have strengths conversations? A strengths conversation is a simple discussion about your strengths or someone else’s. Many of us probably don’t have strengths conversations often enough. In modern life, we tend to rush through the day and focus on what is urgent but not necessarily important. It takes intention and commitment to shift our mindset to what’s strong, but it’s worth the effort.

In his book Mindfulness and Character Strengths: A Practical Guide to Flourishing strengths expert Ryan Niemiec summarizes numerous studies about the benefits of knowing and applying character strengths. He says that character strengths are linked to things we want more of in life, like greater happiness, work satisfaction, engagement, meaning, confidence, goal achievement, and vitality. Building strengths conversations into your daily routines can put you on the path to these and other positive outcomes.

There are virtually limitless ways to strike up strengths conversations. Below are a few examples in different settings.

In a Team Setting
Ask your team members to share examples of when they felt engaged or energized. Name the strengths they used. Brainstorm ways to apply these strengths on team tasks. Keep the conversation going each week and find new opportunities to apply strengths. Watch the energy, connection, and engagement amp up.

In a Social Setting
Spot strengths in your friend as he accomplishes something new or persists through a challenge. Tell him why you value those strengths. Notice how this brightens his day.

In a Family Setting
Start a strengths-spotting ritual at dinner time. Ask one family member to describe something that went well during the day and have the other family members name the strengths they noticed in that person. Make sure all family members get their strengths spotted. Feel the positivity boost within the whole family.

My #1 strength is Creativity, so I came up with my own strengths conversation starter. I found an artisan who crafts words from metal and asked him to create metal wall art of my immediate family members’ top strengths. You can see our top strengths below in the picture.

   I mounted these metal works of art in the den, where we tend to gather with family and friends. When guests visit, they notice and ask about the significance of these words.

They are reminders of who we are individually and how we live as a family. Fairness and Kindness are strongly held values that tend to govern our interactions. Interestingly, two of us have Fairness as the #1 strength. Creativity helps us be flexible with each other. We each play a role in maintaining this family culture.

I like to ask my guests what resonates as their top strengths and why. In five minutes or less, we touch on each other’s unique capabilities. This short conversation is uplifting and infinitely more inspiring than one that begins with the question: How are you?

When and where can you begin a strengths conversation? Take a moment to write down a few ideas. Choose one and put it into action. Even if you’re not an enthusiastic conversationalist, you may find this a simple, positive way to connect with others.

Until next time,

Jane S. Anderson
President, Strength Based Living
Author, 30 Days of Character Strengths:
A Guided Practice to Ignite Your Best
(check it out here)


How Many People Does It Take to Make a Difference?

(about a 3 minute read)

Need a little inspiration today? I recently came across a brief video and had to share it. It will invite you to consider what you can uniquely contribute to the world right now, a theme that ties in nicely with character strengths.

In the video, a key question is posed: How many people does it take to make a difference? The answer:  Just one. You.

Take two minutes to watch How Many People Does It Take to Make a Difference?

How can you make a difference today? Start by living into your strengths a bit more. Character strengths are multi-faceted, so there’s always a way to go deeper. Use Social Intelligence to better understand others. Turn Kindness toward yourself when facing a hardship. Try Bravery to stand up for and give a voice to the voiceless. Wherever you are on the strengths journey, go a little deeper and discover how your strengths are pathways to meaningful conversations and contributions that only you can make in the world.

As it says in the video, where you are right now is the entry point.  Jump in!  If you know someone who can use a little inspiration today, please share this message.

Until next time,


*A special note of thanks to the folks at Compendium, Inc.for this video and their book The 1 Book: How Many People Does It Take to Make a Difference?

Jane S. Anderson
President, Strength Based Living
Author, 30 Days of Character Strengths:
A Guided Practice to Ignite Your Best
(check it out here)