The character strengths comprise 24 positive human traits that have been recognized as desirous across cultures, religions, and philosophies. We all have all 24 of the traits in varying degrees, which gives each of us a unique strengths profile. Experience the enhanced positivity and well-being of putting your strengths to use.TheExceleratedLife.com
How I Use a Signature Strength
“Many people in today’s world focus almost entirely on what’s wrong with them – their problems, their struggles, and their stressors – and often lose sight of what is good and strong in them. But, there’s much more to life than problems.” So begins my VIA Me! Pathways Report, which analyzes how I personally identify with the 24 “character strengths” and provides insights into ways to tap into each one.
For example, my #1 strength is Gratitude. My report tells me that I express gratitude to others for specific reasons and I am also generally grateful for my relationships, my health, and my life in general. And it says how gratitude is associated with such good things as physical and mental health, stronger relationships, and less depression.
Over time, I have devised ways to incorporate gratitude into my daily routine. The very first thing I do when I rise in the morning is to lightly stretch and say “Thank you, thank you, thank you” as a gratitude prayer. When I complete my morning exercise routine, I conclude with a prayer: “Thank you, thank you, thank you. Thank you for this time. Thank you for this exercise. Thank you for this day. Thank you for my family. Thank you for my life.” I look for ways to express gratitude to other people throughout daily interactions. And I conclude my evening journaling by listing 4 things for which I am grateful. Overall, I think I’ve done pretty well at incorporating gratitude into my life and I am grateful for that!
What Is a Strength?
What do we mean by “character strengths” and, specifically, “Signature Strengths”? Let’s first describe what a character strength is not.
A character strength is not a talent. It isn’t a skill or a learned ability. And it is not expertise in a particular area.
The character strengths, identified in a study by Martin Seligman and Chris Peterson, comprise 24 positive human traits that have been recognized as desirous across cultures, religions, and philosophies.
We all have all 24 of the traits in varying degrees, which gives each of us a unique strengths profile. However, some strengths within our profile are more natural for us to use. We go to them without much thought. These top 5 or 6 strengths are called our “Signature Strengths”.
Features of Signature Strengths
Dr. Ryan Niemiec is Education Director of the VIA Institute and has devoted much of his career to the advancement of the research, education, and practice of the character strengths. Dr. Niemiec has identified 3 key features of Signature Strengths, which he calls “The 3 E’s”. [Niemiec] The 3 E’s are:
“Essential: the strength feels essential to who you are as a person.”
“Effortless: when you enact the strength you feel natural and effortless.”
“Energizing: using the strength uplifts you and leaves you feeling happy, in balance and ready to take on more.”
When you use your strengths, particularly your Signature Strengths, you feel energized. Using them feels natural and authentic and leads to peak performance. Additionally, you are intrinsically motivated to use them — no one has to “make” you use them. [Grenville-Cleave]
Why Use Signature Strengths?
Why use your character strengths in general or your Signature Strengths in particular? What are the benefits?
Bridget Grenville-Cleave, in the book Positive Psychology: A Practical Guide, writes: “There is growing empirical evidence to suggest that using your strengths every day is beneficial to your psychological well-being in a number of different ways.” [Grenville-Cleave]
Here are some of the ways that using your strengths can make a difference for you.
- Increased resilience – You bounce back faster and stronger when you encounter adversity.
- Increased vitality – When you use your strengths, you’ll see higher levels of positive energy.
- Decreased stress – Over time, using your strengths has been shown to decrease stress.
- Increased confidence & self-esteem – Self-confidence and self-esteem has been shown to increase over time when you use your strengths.
- Increased well-being – An overall sense of well-being is associated with using your strengths over time.
How To Use Signature Strengths
The first step to using your strengths, including your Signature Strengths, is to take the VIA Strengths Survey at the VIA Institute on Character website at https://www.viacharacter.org/.
They’ll provide you a free “Strengths Profile” report, listing all 24 character strengths sorted by your individual score, with the highest Signature Strengths listed first. It also contains a brief description of each strength.
For a nominal fee, you can get a more in-depth report that gives additional information on each strength with suggestions for ways to use your Signature Strengths.
Once you know your strengths profile, explore in more detail the strengths that appeal to you, including but not limited to your Signature Strengths. You can find ample information about each strength at the VIA Institute on Character website. For example, each strength is looked at in detail on this page, https://www.viacharacter.org/character-strengths
Then, begin to mindfully explore how you could bring one or more of your strengths to bear on a specific goal or problem you are dealing with.
For specific ideas for how to use each character strength, see these articles:
Tips for Using Each Character Strength in a New Way by Dr. Ryan Neimiec.
340 Ways to Use VIA Character Strengths by Tayyab Rashid & Afroze Anjum
Reap the Benefits
Recall the benefits of using your strengths that we discussed earlier. These include increased resilience, more vitality, less stress, improved confidence and self-esteem, and overall well-being.
Think of your Signature Strengths as a tool kit, a collection of resources you can draw upon when you are faced with a challenge. Here’s a process for doing this.
- In a couple of sentences, describe the challenge or issue you are facing.
- List your top five or six strengths, your Signature Strengths.
- Look at each Signature Strength individually, in light of your challenge.
- How could you use that strength to deal with the issue?
Take an issue I’m facing, for example. I’ve written a book – actually a collection of past articles – that I want to publish on Amazon. I’ve researched how to write and publish a book, however, I am overwhelmed with general information but no real practical steps about how to do it.
So I look at my Signature Strengths: gratitude, love of learning, perspective, hope, forgiveness, love.
How could I use these to deal with my challenge?
An Example of How to Use Signature Strengths
The obvious strength to use is Love of Learning. I like to learn new things and take on new challenges. I can use this strength to help me plow through the information and to pick out the relevant parts that I need.
Perspective allows me to see the forest AND the trees, so I could use this strength to remember the big picture, while I focus on the day-to-day tasks of completing my ultimate goal.
Hope is more than just wishing and dreaming. Real hope is an action-based strength. Hope requires a goal that can be achieved, “agency” or the power and confidence to reach the goal, and the ability to see multiple effective pathways to make it. My strength of hope helps me know that I’ll reach my goal and gives me the fortitude to keep trying paths — if one doesn’t work, I have another one to follow.
Do you see from this example ways you can bring your Signature Strengths to bear to help you reach your BIG goal or overcome any problems you are grappling with?
Putting Your Strengths to Use
Do you want to experience the enhanced positivity and well-being of putting your strengths to use? You now know the benefits and you have suggestions for using each one.
While your Signature Strengths are important parts of your personality, don’t neglect the other character strengths. All of them can play a big part in improving your approach to goal setting and to life.
If you don’t know what they are yet, take the survey https://www.viacharacter.org/ to find your unique set of character strengths. Then use the suggestions here to make them an integral part of your life. 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.
Grenville-Cleave, Bridget. Positive Psychology: A Practical Guide. New York: MJF Books. 2012.
Niemiec, PhD., Ryan. “What Are Your Signature Strengths?” Strengths Basics: The Strengths That Help You Thrive. VIA Institute On Character, 22 March 2012. Web. 08 February 2020.