Focus On Your Strengths

Character strengths are the components that comprise the good life. If you are focused on problems and the things that are going wrong, try a different approach. Use your 24 character strengths to pay attention to and build upon what is going right instead of getting caught up in what’s wrong.

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A Shift OF Focus

When I was in my early 30s, I heard a recording by Earl Nightengale called Lead The Field. This began my life-long (at least from that age) interest in self-development, personal growth, and self-improvement. But in those early days, I focused on my weak areas, those parts of me I thought needed to be “fixed” or improved upon. Many years passed before I learned to shift my focus from weakness to strength; to work from and improve my strengths – the skills, talents, and traits I already had, rather than try to overcome my weak areas.

Several more years passed until I was introduced to Positive Psychology and the concept of character strengths. Learning about my strengths, including my strongest Signature Strengths, gave me a new perspective and a new understanding of working from my strengths.

Since then, I’ve discovered how a strengths-based approach helps us pay attention to and build upon what is going right instead of getting caught up in what’s wrong. This approach doesn’t ignore problems but it doesn’t get lost in them either. Using our strengths is empowering and helps build our positivity.

If you’re mired in the middle of problems and things going wrong, maybe it’s time to shift your focus to using your Character Strengths.

Character Strengths – A Definition

First, let’s define what we mean by “character strengths” because, in this case, they have a specific definition.

These character strengths we are referring to are 24 specific traits, identified by the early practitioners of Positive Psychology, led by Martin Seligman and Christopher Peterson. In A Primer in Positive Psychology, Dr. Peterson calls them a “vocabulary for speaking about the good life and an assessment strategy for investigating its components.” [Peterson]

Character strengths are the components that comprise the “good life”. They represent “qualities valued across time, across nationalities, and across religions as elements of strong and virtuous behavior” and “that we value in ourselves, our friends, our children, our colleagues, and our leaders.” [Polly]

Character Strengths – Why They Matter

As we discussed earlier, using your character strengths leads to a sense of empowerment and brings the benefits that accrue with increased positivity. Plus, “when people are aware of their own character strengths, they use them more intentionally for their own benefit and for the benefit of the people around them.” [Polly]

using character strengths
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Character Strengths – What They Are

Let’s look briefly at each of the 24 character strengths and what they mean.

  • Appreciation of beauty and excellence: You appreciate beauty and excellence in all its forms: physical beauty, skill or talents that have been developed, and moral goodness or virtue.
  • Bravery: Acting in spite of fear; facing (and not avoiding) challenges, threats, or difficulties.
  • Creativity: Coming up with new and unique ideas and approaches to doing things that are also useful. Creativity has two essential components: “originality and adaptiveness” [“The 24 Character Strengths.”]
  • Curiosity: This strength is associated with exploration and discovery and being open to new experiences. Curiosity shows a “natural desire to build knowledge”. [“The 24 Character Strengths.”]
  • Fairness: Treating people justly and with empathy and compassion; the ability to “walk a mile in another’s shoes”
  • Forgiveness: “to extend understanding to those who have wronged us”. [“The 24 Character Strengths.”] Forgiveness involves letting go of feelings of anger, hurt, and resentment when someone hurts or disappoints us.
  • Gratitude: “Feeling and expressing a deep sense of thankfulness” for all the goodness in our lives; it especially involves showing appreciation and thankfulness to others. [“The 24 Character Strengths.”]
  • Honesty: Speaking the truth and acting without pretense, being genuine and sincere; behaving consistently across all areas of life; your actions show that you are who you say you are.
  • Hope: You have positive expectations for the future and you act to bring them to fruition. Hope involves “agency” – the belief that the future can be better than the past and you have the ability to make it so.
  • Humility: Accurately assessing your abilities and your accomplishments and recognizing that, as the saying goes, you are not the center of the universe. “Truly humble people think well of themselves and have a good sense of who they are, but they also are aware of their mistakes, gaps in their knowledge, and imperfections.” [“The 24 Character Strengths.”]
  • Humor: Humor is the ability to find amusement in situations. It includes being able to make people smile or laugh and taking a “composed and cheerful view” when faced with adversity. [“The 24 Character Strengths.”]
  • Judgment: Making “rational and logical choices, and analytically evaluating ideas, opinions, and facts” [“The 24 Character Strengths.”]; weighing and acting on evidence, rather than on one’s own opinion or biases.
  • Kindness: This strength includes being generous with one’s time and money to help those in need; showing compassion and concern for others; and caring for and nurturing others.
  • Leadership: Leadership involves organizing and directing a group toward a common goal. The strength of Leadership gives one the ability to articulate a vision that inspires and encourages group members to work together.
  • Love: “Love as a character strength, rather than as an emotion, refers to the degree to which you value close relationships with people, and contribute to that closeness in a warm and genuine way.” [“The 24 Character Strengths.”] This strength includes the ability to give love and to receive love, to love and be loved.
  • Love of Learning: The desire and ability to acquire and deepen one’s knowledge and then to put it to use in one’s life.
  • Perseverance: Finishing what you start, staying the course in the face of obstacles and setbacks, and doing what you say you will do.
  • Perspective: This strength involves the ability to see the big picture, to analyze a situation from different angles, “to see the forest as well as the trees”. [“The 24 Character Strengths.”]
  • Prudence: Prudence is a “stength of restraint”. [“The 24 Character Strengths.”] Prudence helps you make careful choices, keeping long-term goals in mind while making short-term decisions. And it allows you to anticipate the consequences of your actions.
  • Self-Regulation: The ability to exert control over one’s responses so as to pursue goals and live up to one’s standards. Self-control is a component of self-regulation. This strength can be used to resist temptation, and it can also be used to initiate actions.
  • Social Intelligence: Displaying insights into one’s own feelings and motivations and in the feelings and motivations of others. This strength has two basic components: “Social awareness – what we sense about others and social facility – what we do with our awareness”. [“The 24 Character Strengths.”]
  • Spirituality: In the VIA Strengths Classification, “spirituality is believed to describe both the private, intimate relationship between humans and the divine, and the range of virtues that result from the relationships. Spirituality is universal. Although the specific content of spiritual beliefs varies, all cultures have a concept of an ultimate, transcendent, sacred force.” [“The 24 Character Strengths.”]
  • Teamwork: Being committed to working for a group’s success. It could be a workgroup, a sports team, your family, or any other group to which you belong. Teamwork extends to include being a good citizen and having a sense of social responsibility to a specific group or groups.
  • Zest: People exhibiting the strength of zest approach life with vitality and energy. They don’t go about anything halfheartedly but full on with excitement. “People who are high in zest are excited to get up in the morning, and they live their lives like an adventure.” [“The 24 Character Strengths.”]

Your Signature Strengths

When you take the character strengths assessment at the VIA Institute On Character website, you get a report of your individual score on all 24 strengths. The top 5 or 6 where you score the highest are identified as Signature Strengths, the ones you use more naturally. Dr. Ryan Niemiec, Education Director of the VIA Institute, has identified three key features common to all Signature Strengths. He calls these the “3 E’s”. [Niemiec]

Essential: Your Signature Strengths “feel essential to who you are as a person.” [Niemiec] These strengths are a part of who you are.

Effortless: Using your Signature strengths “feels natural and effortless”. Research indicates that the feeling of being in flow “when using a character strength is the best single identifier of a signature strength”. [Niemiec]

Energizing: “Using the strength energizes and uplifts you. It leaves you feeling happy, in balance, and ready to take on more.” [Niemiec]

A Plan For Using Character Strengths

Shannon Polly and Kathryn H. Britton, in their book Character Strengths Matter, share a three-step process – based on the work of Ryan Niemiec – for using your character strengths. [Polly] This plan is appropriate if you are just starting to explore the area of character strengths or if you’re already using some of your strengths but want to explore others.

Step 1: Start by learning what your unique 24 character strength profile looks like. When you take the survey at the VIA Institute, you receive a report of all your 24 strengths: your top or Signature strengths, your “middle” strengths, and your “lesser” strengths. Note that we all have and use all 24, but some come more naturally than others.

Step 2: Begin to explore the strengths that interest you. These could be your Signature Strengths, but don’t overlook the others. You can find out more about each of the 24 character strengths here.

Step 3: As you work toward your BIG goal or look for solutions to problems that arise, be mindful of your strengths and how you can put them to use.

Use All The Strengths

Remember that your top or Signature Strengths are the strengths you naturally go to most of the time. But don’t stop there. An unused strength is an unrecognized asset but an overused strength can become a liability. Occasionally, select a lesser or middle strength and devise ways to consciously put it to use.

Focus On Your Character Strengths

Character strengths are the components that comprise the good life. If you’ve been focused on problems and the things that are going wrong, try a different approach. Use your 24 character strengths to pay attention to and build upon what is going right instead of getting caught up in what’s wrong. Don’t ignore problems but don’t get lost in them either. Instead of focusing on weakness, focus on your strengths. That is embracing your Excelerated Life™!

Discovering and using your Signature Strengths is one step in creating your Excelerated Life™, a life of flourishing and well-being, and a life of meaning, purpose, and service.

Read more about the Excelerated Life™.


Niemiec, PhD., Ryan and Robert E McGrath, Ph.D. The Power of Character Strengths: Appreciate and Ignite Your Positive Personality. Cincinnati, Ohio: VIA Institute on Character, 2019.

Peterson, Ph.D., Christopher. A Primer In Positive Psychology. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.

Polly, Shannon & Kathryn Britton. Character Strengths Matter: How To Live A Full Life. Positive Psychology News, LLC, 2015.

“The 24 Character Strengths.” Character Strengths/All 24 Character Strengths. VIA Institute on Character, . Web. November 17, 2021.

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