If you can be a better version of yourself, how do you want to be?
When you think about yourself, what are your strengths?
And how can you use them more in your life, work and learning?
Scientists now know that character strengths can be learned, practiced and cultivated.
In 2004 Martin Seligman and Christopher Peterson developed the 24 Character Strengths. This work is based on their game changing idea to, instead of only looking at the things that can go wrong in us, to also recognise and celebrate all the things that can go right. They looked throughout history to identify core virtues that human beings through history and across cultures have agreed lead to a meaningful life:
From these they identified 24 Character Strengths that, when practiced and developed, could lead to these virtues. Their groundbreaking studies show that every person is a unique combination of these strengths.
They found that if we focus on building the strengths we have it has a lasting effect on our happiness and wellbeing. And they have found that the key to successful relationships is appreciating the character strengths of the people we connect with.
Criteria of Signature Strengths: what makes a Signature Strength a Signature Strength?
Here is what Martin Seligman tells us defines the hallmarks of a Signature Strength:
- A sense of ownership and authenticity – This is the real me!
- A feeling of excitement while actively using it
- A feeling of inevitability when using it – Try and stop me being this, doing this…
- A rapid learning curve as the strength is first practiced
- A yearning to find new ways to actively use it again
- Invigoration rather than exhaustion using it
- The creation and pursuit of personal projects revolving around it
- Joy, zest, enthusiasm, happiness, even ecstasy while using it
Unleashing the power of our Character Strengths requires us to adopt what is called a growth mindset: the belief that we can change, rather than the the fixed mindset of believing that we ate stuck with the characteristics we are born with and the circumstances of what happens to us. We can all develop a growth mindset. It takes practice and it is helped when we get encouragement from the people around us. But it can be learned.
This can be started by learning to take a moment to stop and ask myself: “is what i am about to do a reflection of who I am and who I want to be?” Taking this moment to pause and think is especially important in this age of constant distraction and multiple inputs.
One of the newest conversations about the importance and benefits of Character Strengths us that are seven that can be real success factors in academic achievement, professional success and happiness, no matter what your circumstances. These are:
- Hope, Optimism (Transcendence)
- Gratitude (Transcendence)
- Social Intelligence (Humanity)
- Curiosity (Wisdom)
- Self Control (Temperance)
- Zest, Enthusiasm (Courage)
- Perseverance (Courage)
This short film celebrates and imaginatively explains the thinking that is growing from the growing work using Character Strengths:
“watch your thoughts: they become words
watch your words: they become actions
watch your actions: they become habits
watch your habits: they become your character
watch your character: it becomes your destiny”
~ Frank Outlaw
“It’s like you have these superpowers, and focusing on them makes you stronger. And if you focus on the people around you and their strengths, it makes them stronger too.”
~ filmmaker Tiffany Schlain
You can find out what your own top 5 Signature Strengths through this free online survey, which will give you your personal rankings of the 24 Character Strengths.
VIA Institute are a brilliant resource and amazingly still able to offer the benefits of their research for free. What follows is a taster from their site, and I recommend it unreservedly to you if you would like to add a little more to your intelligence about yourself, both in terms of what innate strengths lie within your ‘natural character’ as well as getting a really helpful list of possibilities to work on developing for greater self-mastery and success.
Character strengths are the psychological ingredients for displaying human goodness and they serve as pathways for developing a life of greater virtue. While personality is the summary of our entire psychological makeup, character strengths are the positive components— what’s best in you.
The 24 VIA Character Strengths are universal across all aspects of life: work, school, family, friends, and community. The 24 strengths … encompass our capacities for helping ourselves and others.
Whereas most personality assessments focus on negative and neutral traits, the VIA Survey focuses on what is best in you and is at the center of the science of well-being. Completing the free VIA Survey will result in your Character Strengths Profile, detailing a strengths palette of the real “you.”
Here is what the VIA Institute offer in greater detail about the magic seven that Tiffany Schlain identifies…
If Hope is your Signature Strength you expect the best in the future, and you work to achieve it. You believe that the future is something that you can control.
Hope falls under the virtue category of Transcendence. Transcendence describes strengths that provide a broad sense of connection to something higher in meaning and purpose than ourselves.
Optimism is closely linked with having a particular explanatory style (how we explain the causes of bad events). People using an optimistic explanatory style interpret events as external, unstable and specific. Those using a pessimistic explanatory style interpret events as internal, stable and global.
Exercises For Boosting Hope:
- Write an internal movie that features one of your goals. Picture yourself overcoming the obstacles, developing pathways around and through problems, to reach your goal.
- Write about a good event and why it will last and spread. How is this event linked to your actions?
- Write about a bad event and how it will pass quickly. Detail how the effect of the event will be limited and who you are not completely to blame.
“What is your best possible hoped-for future…?
If your dreams are all realised how would that feel?”
Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky and Dr. Anthony M. Grant share science-based approaches for boosting the character strength of hope
“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” Winston Churchill
Optimism is a form of Positive Thinking that is focused on the future and how the future will unfold. It helps improve our lives and make us happier. Optimism changes the way we look at and remember our interactions in life because we put a more positive spin on our events and activities. Numerous research studies have confirmed the benefits of optimism which include better health, longer lives, faster recovery from illness, and even healthier babies…
If Gratitude is your Signature Strength you are aware of the good things that happen to you, and you never take them for granted. Your friends and family members know that you are a grateful person because you always take the time to express your thanks.
Gratitude falls under the virtue category of Transcendence. Transcendence describes strengths that provide a broad sense of connection to something higher in meaning and purpose than ourselves.
There are two types of gratitude:
- Benefit-triggered gratitude= the state that follows when a desired benefit is received from a benefactor.
- Generalized gratitude= the state resulting from awareness and appreciation of what is valuable and meaningful to yourself.
There are two stages of gratitude:
- Acknowledging the goodness in your life.
- Recognizing the source of this goodness is outside yourself.
Exercises For Boosting Gratitude:
- Write down three good thing that you are grateful for each day.
- Over dinner, talk with your loved ones about two good things that happened to them during the day.
- Set aside at least ten minutes every day to savor a pleasant experience.
“Gratitude is probably the most widely researched positive activity…it’s very tangible and we find very strong affects for gratitude…”
Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky shares science-based strategies for boosting gratitude
If Social Intelligence is your Signature Strength you are aware of the motives and feelings of other people. You know what to do to fit in to different social situations, and you know what to do to put others at ease. You are kind and generous to others, and you are never too busy to do a favor. You enjoy doing good deeds for others, even if you do not know them well.
Social Intelligence falls under the virtue category of Humanity. Humanity describes strengths that manifest in caring relationships with others. These strengths are interpersonal and are mostly relevant in one-on-one relationships.
Social intelligence involves two general components:
- Social awareness: what we sense about others
- Social facility: what we do with our awareness
Exercises For Boosting Social Intelligence:
- Practice noticing, labeling and expressing emotions. After you become aware of an emotion, label it, and if appropriate, express it to another.
- Write five personal feelings daily for four weeks and monitor patterns.
- Watch a favorite TV program or film muted and write feelings observed.
The Tuohy Family Matriarch Makes A Connection:
This video show interviews of the original Tuohy family and Michael Oher who came to live with them, as well as clips from the actual movie starring Sandra Bullock…
If Curiosity is your Signature Strength you are interested in learning more about anything and everything. You are always asking questions, and you find all subjects and topics fascinating. You like exploration and discovery.
Curiosity falls in the virtue category of Wisdom. Wisdom deals with strengths that involve the way we acquire and use knowledge.
There are two key components to curious individuals: They are interested in exploring new ideas, activities and experiences, and they also have a strong desire to increase their own personal knowledge.
Exercises To Boost Curiosity:
- Consider an activity that you dislike. Pay attention to 3 novel features of this activity while you do it.
- Practice active curiosity and explore your current environment, paying attention to anything that you may often ignore or take for granted.
- Pick a favorite topic and do extensive research on it. Discover at least one new thing that you didn’t know before.
“It’s not just being curious, it’s acting on your curiosity…” Dr. Todd Kashdan
If Self-Regulation is your Signature Strength you self-consciously regulate what you feel and what you do. You are a disciplined person. You are in control of your appetites and your emotions, not vice versa.
Self-Regulation falls under the virtue category of Temperance. Temperance deals with strengths that protect us from excess. It is the practiced ability to monitor and manage one’s emotions, motivation and behavior in the absence of outside help.
Self-regulation can be viewed as a resource that can be depleted and fatigued. A useful metaphor can be that self-regulation acts like a muscle, which can be exahausted through over-exertion or strengthened through regular practice.
Exercises For Boosting Self-Regulation:
- Next time you get upset, make a conscious effort to control your emotions and focus on positive attributes.
- Set goals to improve your everyday living (e.g., room cleaning, laundry, doing dishes, cleaning your desk) and make sure you complete the tasks.
- Pay close attentions to your biological clock. Do your most important tasks when you are most alert.
Self-Regulation/Self-Control Is A Key To Success:
“Self-control is one of the most important traits in predicting success in life, good relationships, earning more money, being successful in your field, staying out of jail, even living longer.” Roy F. Baumeister explains how Dartmouth students, staff and faculty can strengthen will power to improve self-control.
If Zest is your Signature Strength you approach all experiences with excitement and energy. You never do anything halfway or halfheartedly. For you, life is an adventure.
Zest falls under the virtue category of Courage. Courage describes strengths that deal with overcoming fear. These strengths can manifest themselves inwardly or outwardly as they are composed of cognitions, emotions, motivations and decisions.
Zest is a dynamic strength that is directly related to physical and psychological wellness. This strength has the strongest ties to overall life satisfaction and a life of engagement.
Exercises For Boosting Zest:
- Improve your sleep hygiene by establishing regular sleep time, eating 3-4 hours before sleeping, avoiding doing any work in the bed, not taking caffeine late in the evening, etc. Notice changes in your energy level.
- Do a physically rigorous activity (bike riding, running, sports singing, playing) that you always wanted to do but have not done yet.
- Call an old friend and reminisce good old times.
Smile And Dance With Matt:
14 months in the making, 42 countries, and a cast of thousands.
“Thanks to everyone who danced with me…”
If Perseverance is your Signature Strength you work hard to finish what you start. No matter the project, you “get it out the door” in timely fashion. You do not get distracted when you work, and you take satisfaction in completing tasks.
Perseverance falls under the virtue category of Courage. Courage describes strengths that deal with overcoming fear. These strengths can manifest themselves inwardly or outwardly as they are composed of cognitions, emotions, motivations and decisions.
Perseverance involves the voluntary continuation of a goal-directed action despite the presence of challenges, difficulties, and discouragement. There are two vectors of perseverance. It requires both effort for a task and duration to keep the task up.
Exercises For Boosting Perseverance:
- Set five small goals weekly. Break them into practical steps, accomplish them on time, and monitor your progress from week to week.
- Keep a checklist of things to do and regularly update it.
- Select a role-model who exemplifies perseverance and determine how you can follow her/his footsteps.
A Story Of Perseverance:
This short visual story focuses on the life of Nick Vujicic, a man born with no arms or legs, but who is touching hearts like hands never could.
How To Build Your Own Character Strengths
Here is an exercise from Martin Seligman if you want to try and develop how you use your own Character Strength capabilities…
Take the VIA Institute free online survey to get your ranked order for your top to lowest (24th) strength.
Your top 5 are considered to be your Signature Strengths, but you decide what from your top rankings feel most ‘right’ to you.
Once you have identified your top Signature Strengths…
Over the next week or two create a designated time in your schedule when you will exercise one or more of your Signature Strengths in a new way at work. or some other aspect of your life. (You will find 3 suggestions for each strength in the pull down menu is the VIA Institute site.)
THEN – Write about your experience…
How did it feel before, during and after engaging in the activity you chose to do?
What was challenging about this activity? And what felt easy?
What were you doing at any moments when you felt time pass quickly?
What were you doing at any times when you lost all sense of self-consciousness?
What plans can you make to help you repeat, develop or build on this experience?
Over and over again studies show these five strengths might be considered “the happiness strengths”:
I enjoy bringing my strengths to my work. I express my curiosity as I open up each new e-mail message, I express hope as I help clients work through struggles, and I express love (warmth and genuineness) with my colleagues as we discuss new ideas and process daily work happenings. This fills me with a greater passion and commitment to my work.
How about you? Do you express your highest character strengths each day at your job?
The research has been clear: Find ways to use your signature strengths and you will reap the benefits. One such benefit is greater happiness. And when you bring forth your best strengths at work, you have more positive work experiences, work satisfaction increases, and your engagement gets a boost too…
I hope you enjoy this and find much in it to help you to grow into realising your finest potential.
You can find many more stories and practical techniques in this week’s new Happiness At Work Edition #91 collection which publishes online on Friday 11th April 2014.
You might also like to watch this erudite, raw and funny tribute by Martin Seligman for his friend and collaborator Chris Peterson not long after his death in 2012 at the age of 62, which finishes a a poem of the story of Thor and tells us some more about the worth of our Signature Strengths.