In my two previous blogs, I discussed how using our Signature Strengths (our top five character strengths) is easy, energizing and essential for us, and helps us to shift into positive emotion and build resilience. I hope that you have begun to practice with your Signature Strengths to discover how helpful they can be in navigating life’s challenges.
Beyond our Signature Strengths, we each possess all of the remaining character strengths, too. One common pitfall when we are beginning to learn about character strengths is to look at our profile, go immediately to the bottom of the list, and say “These are at the bottom because they are my weaknesses, so now I have to work on strengthening them.” That is a natural response that results from years and years of conditioning ourselves to zero in on our problems and go about fixing them. But that mindset is exactly what Drs. Peterson and Seligman sought to move beyond when they developed the character strengths; with character strengths, we are meant to focus on what is good and right with ourselves, engage it and build on it. And let the deficit mindset go. Does that mean that we can only focus on our Signature Strengths and must ignore the bottom nineteen? No, each of the strengths is ours to explore. Just do so with an attitude of fun and confidence, rather than with an intention to correct weaknesses.
So how exactly do we explore strengths? Ultimately, we want to train ourselves to think of our strengths at any number of times throughout the day, to consider which strengths we are using and to think about which strengths we might activate. We can also start to engage in what experts like Seligman, Peterson and their colleague Dr. Ryan Niemiec at the VIA Character Institute call “strength-spotting;” we can identify character strengths used by people around us, point them out, and in doing so, create some positive emotion between us. That can, in turn, strengthen relationships, facilitate cooperation and build teamwork, which are all good things to have in place when the going gets tough.
Another way to explore strengths is to focus on one particular strength and practice with it. We can do so in moments of reflection, such as while journaling or in meditation. And then we can set up challenges for ourselves to use the strength in our daily lives. Take, for example, the strength of Love of Learning. First, reflect on what Love of Learning means to you. What do you love learning about? How do you go about learning? How do you feel when you are learning about something that interests you? You might then review the VIA Character Institute website (www.viacharacter.org) for what the research says about this strength; for instance, love of learning helps us to deepen our knowledge and understanding about something, and studies show that helps us to persist through challenges and weather hard times, the essence of resilience. Then you can plan to employ Love of Learning in your day. Make a plan to lose yourself for a while in a subject or activity that you enjoy but want to know more about. Go deeper into something meaningful to you.
You might practice your Love of Learning strength to learn more about character strengths. Pick up Niemiec’s The Power of Character Strengths or Character Strengths Matter, by Polly, Britton, Gillespie and Mayerson. Let me know what you discover! I’d love to hear from you.