"I don't have time to work on my strengths."
"I don't have any good strengths in me."
"I don't see the point of working on my strengths."
Do any of those statements sound like you? If yes, keep reading. This post offers simple strategies you can use to grow your strengths that can make a big difference.
The emphasis here is intrapersonal uses of strengths. These are ways you can use your strengths on your own that don't involve others. You might be alone at home, at work focused on a project, or simply going about the routines of your typical day. In contrast, interpersonal uses of strengths involve expressing your strengths with others or spotting the strengths in others, which are covered in another post ("10 Ways to Use Strengths-Spotting").
While each of the 24 VIA strengths (e.g., creativity, gratitude) has specific ways to build them up, here I offer six intrapersonal strategies that can be applied with any character strength. To start, take the free VIA Survey to identify your best qualities and help you understand this full language of strengths you have within you. Next, choose one character strength to focus on. Finally, take action with one of the following research-based modes of action:
- Self-monitor for the strength: observe yourself in various situations. Write down when you use the strength and when you don’t. Track what happens just before you use the strength, and how you feel and think while you use it. Track the circumstances in which you overuse the strength and when you forget about it or underuse it. For this exercise, some people carry a small notebook with them to track these various points.
- Write or journal about the strength. Pour your thoughts and feelings out on paper or onto your computer or smart device. Explore how you've used the strength at difficult times, how it causes you trouble, as well as how the best things that have happened in your life are due, in part, to this strength. Your journaling could turn into a formal letter to someone, such as a gratitude letter to properly thank someone important to you, a forgiveness letter to someone who wronged you, or a spirituality letter to a person sacred to you or to a divine entity. Whether or not you choose to actually give the letter to someone is a separate practice to consider.
- Use the strength in a new way. This is the classic strength-building exercise shown in research studies to boost happiness and lower depression. The premise is to take action with one of your top strengths by conceiving of one new way to use or express the strength each day. Typically, this strategy involves using curiosity as you seek novel and new ways to do things, creativity to generate new ideas each day, or perspective to see the bigger picture as to what might be both interesting and useful for you.
- Emulate a paragon, role model, or exemplar of a particular strength. Much of our learning occurs through observation. Practice acting or thinking the way a role model for one of your strengths would act or think. If you’re wanting to build up leadership and fairness, emulate the best qualities of Gandhi; if it’s bravery and honesty, turn to Atticus Finch (named as the greatest movie hero of all time); if it’s kindness and humility, turn to a family member who exudes those strengths. Keep in mind that often the most powerful role models will be those in your daily life and those who have served as mentors to you.
- Practice using the strength as a routine. Use it at the same time each day. Perhaps you'll give yourself 15 minutes each morning to read new blog posts (love of learning), list three funny things that happened to you at the end of each day (humor), or make one phone call to someone important in your life at every lunch period (social intelligence). The practice here is to make the strength a routine, simply part of your daily existence. Once the strength becomes a habit, it will feel more like the real you.
- Imagine using the strength in the future. If you want to build up the strength of perspective, image yourself at a time in the future in which you take the wider view of an issue, you see the bigger picture, and you tap into your inner experience of accumulated wisdom.
Niemiec, R. M., & McGrath, R. E. (2019). The power of character strengths: Appreciate and ignite your positive personality. Cincinnati, OH: VIA Institute on Character.
Niemiec, R. M. (2019). The strengths-based workbook for stress relief. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.