Here, in part two, is my argument for why non-avoidance of one’s strengths of character is important:
- The use of character strengths is connected with many benefits including increased well-being, engagement, life meaning, achievement, and decreased depression, to name a few.
- Our brains are wired for the negative—to find what is wrong. In fact, research has found that bad is stronger than good. For example, bad health, relationships, and parenting have stronger effects on us than good health, relationships, and parenting, respectively. Thus, we desperately need strengths use, strengths discussions, strengths exploration, and strengths appreciation. These help counterbalance our natural wiring toward the negative.
- How you share your strengths is critical. The purpose of discussing strengths is not about seeing yourself as better than others. When you share strengths—or anything else for that matter—the demands of the situation are important. It matters what you say, when you say it, and how you say it. It’s true that it is immodest if your approach is to directly or indirectly present your strengths as better than other people’s strengths or that because of your strengths you are a better person than others. It is not immodest, however, to name and share your strengths.
- The process of sharing good things about yourself is beneficial. Research has found that there are positive benefits experienced by people when they share good things that happen to them—these are experienced by the listener and the speaker. This process is called “capitalization,” as in, capitalize on your good experiences and positive stories. This research has found that the benefits are both intrapersonal (e.g., you feel happier) and interpersonal (e.g., you improve your relationship with the other person). In addition, the wider the range of sharing, the more benefits you experience. Adding in strengths—an often neglected area of sharing—is a logical way to capitalize.
- Don’t deprive others of knowing who you are. When we do NOT share our strengths, good qualities, or positive experiences, we are depriving others of learning about us. Instead, others see a façade. They only see a piece of your personality but not the full view. This can place a limitation on relationships.
I have a friend whose highest strength is humility. Just as all of us overuse our character strengths from time to time, she overuses her humility. The result is people do not get a chance to know her. I tend to not know about her many accomplishments and positive experiences (or I end up finding out about them from others) because she does not readily share them. Thus, I feel as if I don’t know her as well as my other friends.
- Try this experiment: If you hold back from talking about your strengths, explore this question: What are you neglecting or avoiding by not saying something? As discussed in Part 1, the hallmark of anxiety (and many other problems) is avoidance. It is easy to avoid things, especially those that seem uncomfortable…or those things that might be difficult…or those things that are unpredictable. Many people tell me they avoid sharing their strengths because they are afraid of what other people will think of them. They don’t want to be criticized or ostracized.
- Re-educate your memory and attention: When we share positive experiences it increases our memory for the positive events which helps to explain why there are good benefits to sharing. This makes sense—you share how you used one of your strengths at work today and you are digging into the positive memory, thinking about the details, and re-experiencing the positive emotions that came with it. You are rehearsing your memory of the strengths. Or, another way to think about this is you are, as researcher Tayyab Rashid has said, using the positive intervention to re-educate your memory and attention.
- Know thyself: It’s about self-awareness. Discussing strengths aloud brings it out of our heads, where we tend to live most of our days, and we learn about ourselves. It puts it out there, making it more real. If we keep our observations and good qualities on the inside, we miss an opportunity for deepening our self-awareness.
What I’m not saying: