Using character strengths to live your best life

It has been that time of year again in the salon when we carry out the annual appraisals, like all other businesses we use these to improve efficiency in the salon and make sure everything is running smoothly.  They hopefully show us how and where we may make some changes but they also give us a clear insight into how our team are performing and if they are making the most of their unique talents and potential.  This year we tried something different which I can honestly say made me look at the whole process in a completely different light. 

Before I met with each member of the team I asked them to take the VIA Character Strengths Survey they were all a little sceptical and wondered what I was doing but it helped me, and I think them also, to understand why we all respond to situations and also to each other in a totally different way.

What are character strengths?

Character Strengths are positive traits that are common in all people.  People use them every day.  They are aligned with positive outcomes both for yourself and for others. 

Some of these strengths come naturally to you or are innate, and others you can develop.  Everybody has a unique combination of these character strengths.  For example, your best friend might have the character strength of ‘hope’ more highly than ‘fairness’ or ‘creativity’ – but you may not have the same combination as your friend.  The 24 character strengths are independent of each other, a person who is compassionate is not necessarily also creative or knowledgeable about other cultures, just like a person who likes to be around others is not necessarily also funny and kind-hearted.  Everyone has different combinations of character strengths that make up their life story and personality in a unique and fascinating way.

Knowing your character strengths can change your life

Knowing my character strengths (love of learning, gratitude, hope, humour and curiosity) helps me to understand myself better and work more effectively with others. Now that I am aware of my own signature strengths, I can use them to make myself more effective in my relationships with others.  I can also use my strengths to help my team achieve their goals, whilst also achieving the things that are important to me.  
It takes effort to master a character strength and use it well in your life.  Just as it takes effort to learn and practice any skill, it takes time and practice, regularly engaging in the activity that favours the development of particular character strength.  
This is one reason why most people don’t automatically recognise their own strengths or aren’t able to answer that well-worn interview question ‘so what are your strengths.  We will all reach a point where we can easily identify our weaknesses because we have spent so much time working on them, we are all hard-wired to accept negative bias.  We spend far too much time trying to fix something that isn’t broken.

When you know your strengths and use them in ways that are meaningful to you, you'll feel a sense of purpose and happiness. These character strengths are what make each person unique and special. They're the best part of who you are, and they motivate your thoughts and actions throughout your life. So it's crucial to figure out which character strengths are most important to you—and then work on developing them even more!

Here's how to discover what your signature strengths are:

  • Part 1: Learn about the Character Strengths. Read a brief description of just a few of the character strength below and see if they sound familiar or like something one of your friends might say about you.
  • Part 2: Take the Character Strengths assessment online or get a friend or family member to help you identify your signature strengths by asking them questions based on Part 1. Make sure they understand that their answers must be truthful because your results can only be as good as their input!

Curiosity

Curiosity is an essential quality because it doesn't just help you succeed in life, it's also the key to living a fulfilled existence. Once you understand that, everything becomes clearer. Curiosity is what innovators like Steve Jobs and Ernest Hemingway used to drive them towards their goals. It's what motivated people like Ben Franklin and Einstein, who got their start by asking questions and then turning that information into discoveries and inventions of great value to humankind. No one knows it better than Henry Ford: "Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it."

Love of learning

Learning is all around us. I'm not talking about the kind of learning that you're forced to do in school. Instead, I'm referring to the type of learning that we all do every day, even if it's just for fun. It might be through a book club or attending a conference, but most likely it's the end product of pursuing a passion and finding out everything you can about it.
You can exercise your love of learning even when you have only small bits of time available, such as during your commute or while waiting for an appointment or meeting. If you have thirty minutes to spare before your doctor's appointment begins, consider pulling up an article online and reading one on a topic that interests you. When planning a trip abroad, read up on the culture and traditions so that you understand them better once you arrive at your destination—and perhaps even make some new friends! By putting small chunks of time toward learning something new each day, soon enough we've got ourselves another degree under our belt (metaphorically speaking).

Perspective

When was the last time you looked at life from a new angle? If you want to try, use your strengths for perspective:

  • Can you change the situation? No? Then focus on how it's benefiting you. What will this experience teach you?
  • Is there a positive side to the situation? What could be good about it? How can you make the most of it?
  • Are there some aspects to the situation that are better than others, and what can they tell you about your next move? What parts of this decision would have a positive effect on your life and what are the negatives?
  • Is there something else in your life that could benefit from your attention instead of focusing on this problem that can't be changed right now or at all.

Bravery

Bravery is a character strength that can really help you overcome the challenges in your life. If you have the bravery and character strength, it means that you are not afraid to use your strengths, even when there’s a risk of failure. You love doing new things and aren’t afraid to try them, even if they scare you.

So how can this character strength help you?
Think about what scares you or makes you nervous and try something—anything—to get past it.

Here are some examples of ways to do just that:

  • Ask for help with something that intimidates you.
  • Try a new hobby or class that pushes your boundaries.
  • Sign up for a race or other challenge (like a 5k, triathlon, or hot sauce eating contest) where the fear of failure can motivate you to prepare and do well on race day!

Perseverance

Perseverance is the ability to keep going when things are tough. Perseverance is such an important character strength, and how it can be used in your life.

The Importance of Perseverance

Everyone goes through difficult times, whether personal or professional. Persevering through the hard times lets you know that you are strong enough to overcome obstacles, and shows others that they can count on you to follow through with commitments. Also, in a world where people don't always take responsibility for their actions, persevering shows patience, integrity and honesty. Knowing When You Need to Persevere

You may need to persevere if:

  • you've experienced a setback or failure;
  • you're pursuing a goal or working on a project that's taking longer than expected; or
  • there is the distance between yourself and your goal (whether physical, emotional or intellectual)

Honesty

An honest person is able to be open and sincere with others, and they carry themselves with integrity. They are trustworthy, reliable and accountable. People who score highly in honesty strive to be authentic and genuine. Their word is their bond, and they say what they mean. Honesty is considered by many to be the best policy in most situations. Being honest with yourself can help you live a more meaningful life, as well as being an effective way of building trust, especially in relationships.

While honesty may not always be easy—especially if it threatens to ruffle feathers or cause conflict—it will prevent you from living a life full of little white lies that could one day unravel into a tangled web of deceit.

Honesty lays the groundwork for a strong relationship built on mutual respect and trust: it’s the basis for any successful partnership because it builds strong communication channels between partners. If your partner struggles with telling the truth, then your relationship can never grow into its full potential without this foundation of trust and safety at its core.

Zest

Zest is the strength that produces enthusiasm, hopefulness, energy and excitement. Zestful people love what they do and they show it to others! They're motivated, passionate, spirited and excited.

There are three main ways to build your zest:

  • Seek out more excitement in your day-to-day life. If you often find yourself in the same mundane routine with very little variety or change, try something new even if it makes you a little nervous. Try rock climbing, salsa dancing or cooking a new dish for dinner tonight!
  • Keep active and keep moving. Being physically active is one of the best ways to enhance your zest so set aside time each day for exercise whether it's going for a run or taking an exercise class at the gym. The more you sweat (and get out of breath), the better your energy will be throughout the day!
  • Feel gratitude every single morning before getting out of bed and count down 5 things that you're grateful for this week so far (and add on another 5 things right before bed too). You'll be surprised how much better life feels when you're grateful instead of constantly thinking about what's missing in your life!

Kindness

As you've probably guessed, kindness is one of the core character strengths. As a society, we value being kind to others and acting with compassion. We admire people who are helpful and generous with their time. We aspire to be tolerant of others' weaknesses and forgiving when they make mistakes.

There are many ways to show kindness on a daily basis. Here are just a few simple ideas:

  • Spend some quality time with an elderly relative or friend who may not get much company
  • Offer to babysit for free so parents in your community can enjoy a night out
  • Volunteer at the local soup kitchen or help deliver meals for Meals on Wheels

Social intelligence

Social intelligence is the ability to read and understand other people's perspectives and intentions. By observing, taking in, and considering what others are saying, you can better predict their actions and more easily handle situations with them. And conversely, by understanding your own weaknesses even as they inform your actions, you can become a better actor in all situations.

As an example of how social intelligence can be vital in a professional context, consider how it would go if you were interviewing for a job. If you showed up confident but unprepared for the task at hand or unwilling to listen to the employer's questions or concerns—I know it sounds like something out of a movie—you'd likely be dismissed just as quickly as you entered the room. If on the other hand you come prepared with solid questions for which information is gathered before the interview begins—I know it seems like common sense that one should practice prior to an interview—you'd have a much better chance of getting hired.

Self-control

gratification and resist temptation. Self-control can be strengthened over time with practice, but it can also be weakened by stress and other circumstances.

If you want to increase self-control, try focusing on increasing willpower. Willpower refers to your determination to achieve long-term goals by resisting short-term temptations, such as the desire for instant gratification. If you have a strong sense of willpower, then you are likely able to build a strong sense of self-control.

Self-control is closely linked to grit, which involves persevering in activity over the long term despite setbacks or challenges. People who persevere through challenges are more likely than others to achieve their goal.

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