What Matters Most?

Using your strengths to impact well-being

Cultivate a Virtuous Circle

An example of the positive spiral of mindfulness and character strengths.

Sometimes people in the world of strengths make this comment: “I already use my strengths. Why should I bother to use them more?” Here’s a story to explain why:

Last week, I sat down and watched my mother and my wife express love to my 2-month old son who had not yet expressed verbal coos. The love they expressed was so genuine and pure. Warmth and care radiated from them as they passed this warmth on to my son. They cupped their hands behind his little head and placed their face about a foot from his face and gave him full attention. They talked to him, made noises, and encouraged him. He returned their gaze, offered an original smile, and began to coo.

This is extraordinary, actually, as he hadn't been cooing the prior 2 months. These simple loving expressions seemed to catalyze his interaction. He cooed (i.e., talked) back. They continued this process, over and over. Emanating joy and love. Suddenly, a conversation emerged! Words to coos, coos to words, words to coos. Back and forth.

Find a Therapist

Search for a mental health professional near you.

I watched this and felt inspired to use my strength of love more. Interestingly, love is perhaps my highest signature strength (signature strengths, you might recall, are those character strengths that are most core to who you are). I use my strength of love all the time, especially with my two boys. But, this doesn’t mean I use it enough. It doesn’t mean I don’t have strength “blind spots.” And, it doesn’t mean I can’t continue to improve this signature strength.

As I observe this strength of love in action, I feel inspired to mimic the behavior. Observing this love in action tunes me in more mindfully to my strengths. This leads me to then want to imitate the behavior I’m observing – or, at the very least, to tap into one of my strengths of character. As the father of observational learning, Albert Bandura has said, “Most of what we learn is through observation.”

What emerges is what I call a virtuous circle:

This mindful awareness (observing others express love) leads me to feel love (my signature character strength). This felt love then drives me to want to be more mindful (watch my own behavior closely and find more opportunities for strength expression), which leads me to be more deliberate in my behavior (consciously expressing love in the near future). This virtuous circle becomes clear: mindfulness → character strengths → mindfulness → character strengths. Each positively influencing the other. 

Lesson learned: Never take your signature strengths for granted. There’s always more to learn.

Lesson learned: Watching others can make your signature strengths even stronger.

Lesson learned: Mindfulness practice and character strengths use create a virtuous circle of goodness to benefit yourself and others.

 

Acknowledgment:

I’d like to express gratitude to Rachelle Plummer, Sue Popson, and Donna Mayerson, who inspired this blog entry because of their expression of love.

Reference:

Niemiec, R. M. (2014). Mindfulness and character strengths: A practical guide to flourishing. Cambridge, MA: Hogrefe.

Want more info on character strengths?

Learn more here.

Take the VIA Survey of strengths here.

The integration of mindfulness and strengths here.

Ryan M. Niemiec, Psy.D., is the education director at the VIA Institute on Character.

more...

Subscribe to What Matters Most?

Current Issue

Let It Go!

It can take a radical reboot to get past old hurts and injustices.