In some situations who you are far outweighs what you know. Build that.
Updated: Dec 8, 2020
"Character is at least as important as intellect" (Angela Lee Duckworth)
My work has always focused around the enhancement of soft skills eg. communication, positive relationships, compassion and their application to success (whether that be professionally or personally). Further, within all the practical tools I offer for the more "conventional" of soft skills eg: delegation, assertiveness, time management (those relating to being successful) I also emphasise the importance of our emotional self; our ability to be well.
How to "Be Well"
The act of "being well" (not just "looking after wellbeing") is the building of our emotional strength (or "strength of character" in a healthy, positive way) - something which, if we've been through hardships, we may never have been taught. It is developed through learning how to build and maintain:
- A positive outlook
- Healthy relationships
- The confidence to be proactive (and knowledge that we can make a difference)
- Motivation (including self-discipline...different to "discipline" alone, which is often placed upon us)
- Resilience - our ability to survive crisis, rebuild though exhausted and not just bounce back, but bounce higher and flourish!
- A love of learning for its contribution to the development of the self
- A connection with a form of spirituality (not necessarily religion, but something that connects us to the universe and most importantly, to ourselves eg. practising Mindfulness)
It is what positive psychologists refer to as living our "Values in action" - not just knowing what is fundamental to our ability to thrive, but actively engaging with it. Doing so firstly provides a buffer to the dips of life's roller coaster, a different perspective to finding solutions, and an inner strength to keep going - knowing it's tough, but you'll be ok; and secondly - when we have overcome - that vigour, that reserve - that character (as Duckworth uses the term) drives and supports us to thrive.
As such my previous articles have spoken about how that "character" can help you overcome procrastination, and also why I use character-building work in my coaching - the articles also include some practical tools.
Seligman, the founder of Positive Psychology has gone a step further and in his book "Flourish" identified 24 character strengths or "values in action" which can be used to target strength development even more effectively. (You need to create an account, but it's free and they do not spam. The "VIA Character Strength" test is 240 questions long, so set aside time - or try the brief one).
The 24 character strengths of positive psychology (Seligman)
As I say on the notes above, this deeper appreciation of what might come naturally to us can help us begin to build that inner reserve. For example, while I have been using "gratitude affirmations" in the morning, since discovering my top strength is "zest" rather than "gratitude", I have tweaked it:
Rather than "I am grateful for today", I say "I'm excited for today's adventure". It may not seem like much, but it makes a difference to my own energy.
Practical ways to build your character strengths - in yourself and others:
- Positive affirmations or "setting intentions" for the day using them eg: if "Curiosity" is a top strength, you might say to yourself "I wonder what could happen..."...rather than "I'm dreading this..." if facing a potentially negative situation; or rather than a focus on gratitude, if "creativity" is what you value most, try something like "I welcome the opportunities to create today".
- The Geelong Grammar School builds its curriculum on character education. For example, Team sports are analysed in terms of "Did you take the opportunity to use "Zest""; and a focus on forgiveness first for someone who did not perform well, freeing the mind to look at how to improve. English texts are also discussed in terms of the "Resilience and Perseverance or Social Intelligence" of the characters; Geography looks at the differences in wellbeing in the world not just the global problems. This practice can be applied to the workplace - when designing perhaps ask "does this include appreciation of beauty & excellence?" or "have I missed the chance for being brave?"...you may wish to go one step further and ask "Will this elicit a sense of "hope" in my audience/client/reader?" or "Have I inspired curiosity or a love of learning through this work?"
- Or simply appreciate the value of showing your character strengths (not JUST your knowledge and achievements) in the world. This beautiful poem (please click link) by Ryan M Niemiec is a wonderful reminder.
Simple tools to build your character strength daily:
- Choose a strength a day (either from your top 5 or from the full list) and do one thing daily that demonstrates it in action.
- Find new ways of engaging with your top strengths. For example, I use "zest" to teach, but I am now trying to use it to shape my brand through colour. I am also engaging with my "love of learning" to ensure I add links to the things that have inspired me to write
- Use the "Losada ratio" - try to have at least 3 positive thoughts to 1 negative one (for couples to flourish, try to work on 5 positive interactions for every 1 negative one).
- Identify which activities you already engage in allow you to use your character strengths (and which ones don't). Then do more of the former, less of the latter. (I realise now the reason I'm happier off facebook as a personal tool is because I wasn't getting a sense of enthusiasm, gratitude nor optimism (my top 3 character strengths) from my personal page interactions). Now I focus on texting, phone calls and personal interaction off the platform and feel far better - BUT that is personal to me - if you are experiencing what you need, don't let me, nor "The Social Dilemma" put you off!
- Try leading with your character strengths - either in general interactions, or as a professional or leader.
- Build the "through-strengths" such as "kindness", "gratitude" and "optimism" through choosing them as part of a response (rather than reacting with immediate emotion).
- Look at others who use the character strengths you may struggle with and learn from them. My husband has "humour" as his 3rd strength, it is my 17th - I'm learning to take things he says less seriously, and he is learning to use optimism (my 3rd strength) rather than humour at times too.
The value of positive psychology
The aim of positive psychology as a practical approach to life is to build your character to enable you to achieve - recognise the achievement and maintain or keep growing it. Its tools can enhance traditional approaches to mental health (ie. you can do any of the above along with CBT, DBT, or any form of therapy), and used outside sessions will help you to learn to thrive. It is about preparing for the times when who you are far outweighs what you know. As I have said before, flourishing is not about "getting on with it despite..." - that "cure" or "management" is the traditional approach of therapy. It is simply asking...why stop at normal?
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilienceFor coaching tips and tools including positive psychology: click WORK WITH ME or SKILL PILL and here for Media appearances or Psych Q&A. Twitter/IG @draudreyt