Use your Signature Strengths but don’t neglect your lesser strengths — there is potential for growth.
A Journaling Practice
Almost every morning, after I spend some minutes in meditation, I write in my journal. I list my “Eulogy Virtues” – the things I want to be remembered for. Next I write my “Valid Values” – my highest values and the ones I want to structure my life around. Then I write out my Signature Strengths – the character strengths that I scored highest for in the VIA Strengths Survey. Writing them down helps to imprint them in my conscious and subconscious mind. It helps me consider them as I plan my day.
This practice helps to make using my Signature Strengths almost automatic. However, while I want to make good use of these top character strengths, I don’t want to neglect the others that don’t come as naturally to me . . . especially when they could be beneficial in helping me grow and develop.
The Character Strengths
What are “character strengths”? Dr. Martin Seligman and Dr. Chris Peterson, with a team of distinguished researchers set out to answer that question in an attempt to develop “an authoritative classification and measurement system for the human strengths”. [Seligman] They surveyed the wisdom literature of the last 3000 years from across the globe and were surprised to learn that every single tradition recognized these common virtues: wisdom and knowledge, courage, love and humanity, justice, temperance, spirituality and transcendence. [Seligman]
Within these 6 common virtues, the researchers identified 24 characteristics, or “strengths”, that exemplified the virtues.
The Character Strengths Categorized (*)
The strengths of Wisdom and Knowledge: creativity (originality, ingenuity), curiosity (interest, novelty-seeking, openness to experience), judgment and open-mindedness (critical thinking), love of learning, and perspective (or wisdom).
The strengths of Courage: bravery (valor), perseverance (persistence, industriousness), honesty (authenticity, integrity), and zest (vitality, enthusiasm, vigor and energy).
The strengths of Humanity: love (capacity to love and be loved), kindness (generosity, nurturance, care, compassion, altruistic love, niceness), social intelligence.
The strengths of Justice: teamwork (citizenship, social responsibility, loyalty), fairness, leadership.
The strengths of Temperance: forgiveness and mercy, modesty and humility, prudence, self-regulation (self-control).
The strengths of Transcendence: appreciation of beauty and excellence (awe, wonder, elevation), gratitude, hope (optimism, future-mindedness, future orientation), humor (playfulness), religiousness and spirituality (faith, purpose).
You may read a definition of the 24 strengths here.
Using All The Strengths
You and I have and use all of the character strengths in our daily lives. Some come to us more naturally and we use them most often. These are our “signature strengths“.
Some we use frequently but perhaps in only certain situations – at work or at home or while engaging in a hobby, etc. These are our “middle strengths”. While we access these easily when needed, they are not as automatic.
Finally, there are the “lesser strengths”. You have access to these strengths as well, but they do not come naturally. They require effort and thought from you. It can be enlightening and enriching to take actions to cultivate your lesser strengths through deliberate practice. You might pair one of your Signature strengths with a lesser strength to enhance your use of it.
Why Use The Lesser Strengths?
For example, one of my middle strengths is Zest. And one of my Valid Values is “vitality” which is an aspect of this strength. I can honor my value of vitality by finding more ways to use my Zest strength.
Or a lesser strength is Perseverance. I know that this is an important strength in achieving BIG goals. Planning ways to increase this strength can help me persist on a goal when things get difficult.
If you haven’t taken the VIA Character Strengths survey, that is a good place to start. Take the survey and get your personalized Character Strengths report here.
The Strengths Profile ranks the 24 character strengths for you. The first 5 – 6 are your Signature Strengths. The last 4 – 6 are your Lesser Strengths. The ones in between are, of course, your Middle Strengths.
Choose one or two strengths from the Lesser or Middle strengths group that you want to use more. This blog post lists all the strengths with suggestions for ways to use them. Let these suggestions and your own creativity help you to devise ways to use these strengths more frequently or in new ways.
Develop a plan and set up your environment to remind yourself to use your selected lesser strength(s). Use a checklist or calendar to keep track of when you use them. See if you can make using the strengths a habit so it becomes automatic.
Use ALL Of Your Strengths
All of the character strengths are yours and indeed you use them all to a greater or lesser extent. If you, like me, see that one of your strengths could be beneficial if you made better use of it, why not begin to take steps today to use it on a regular basis? Live from your strengths. All of them. That is embracing the Excelerated Life™!
Discovering and using your Signature Strengths is one step in creating your Excelerated Life™, a life of flourishing, of well-being, meaning, and purpose.
(*) This information comes from the VIA Institute On Character website, https://www.viacharacter.org/www/, as well as from material I received at a VIA Strengths work shop.
Seligman, Ph.D., Martin E. P. Authentic Happiness. New York: Free Press, 2002