One of the most popular exercises in the science of positive psychology (some argue it is the single most popular exercise) is referred to as “use your signature strengths in new ways.” But what does this exercise mean? How do you make the most of it to benefit yourself and others?
On the surface, the exercise is self-explanatory:
a) Select one of your highest strengths – one of your character strengths that is core to who you are, is easy for you to use, and gives you energy;
b) Consider a new way to express the strength each day;
c) Express the strength in a new way each day for at least 1 week.
In practice, however, people sometimes find it surprisingly challenging to come up with new ways to use one of their signature strengths. This is because we are very accustomed to using our strengths. We frequently use our strengths mindlessly without much awareness. For example, have you paid much attention to your use of self-regulation as you brush your teeth? Your level of prudence or kindness while driving? Your humility while at a team meeting?
For some strengths, it is easy to come up with examples. Want to apply curiosity in a new way? Here is a sample mapping of what you might do. Keep it simple. Make it complex. It’s up to you!
Widening the scope
In some instances, you might feel challenged to come up with examples. Let me help. After you choose one of your signature strengths, consider the following 10 areas to help jolt new ideas within you and stretch your approach to the strength.
How might I express the character strength…
Bringing in psychology
You can also consider any of the 24 character strengths from the psychological perspective, since, after all, each strength is a capacity for thinking, feeling, and behaving:
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Linley, P. A., Nielsen, K. M., Gillett, R., & Biswas-Diener, R. (2010). Using signature strengths in pursuit of goals: Effects on goal progress, need satisfaction, and well-being, and implications for coaching psychologists. International Coaching Psychology Review, 5 (1), 6–15.
Madden, W., Green, S., & Grant, A. M. (2011). A pilot study evaluating strengths-based coaching for primary school students: Enhancing engagement and hope. International Coaching Psychology Review, 6 (1), 71–83.
Mitchell, J., Stanimirovic, R., Klein, B., & Vella-Brodrick, D. (2009). A randomised controlled trial of a self-guided internet intervention promoting well- being. Computers in Human Behavior, 25, 749-760.
Mongrain, M., & Anselmo-Matthews, T. (2012). Do positive psychology exercises work? A replication of Seligman et al. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 68 (4), 382–389.
Niemiec, R. M. (2014). Mindfulness and character strengths: A practical guide to flourishing. Cambridge, MA: Hogrefe.
Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification.New York: Oxford University Press and Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Proctor, C., Maltby, J., & Linley, P. A. (2009) Strengths use as a predictor of well-being and health-related quality of life. Journal of Happiness Studies, 10, 583–630.
Seligman, M. E. P., Steen, T. A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60, 410-421.
VIA Institute (the nonprofit organization)
VIA Classification (the system of strengths and virtues)
VIA Survey (the research-validated test)