How can character strengths help you deal with problems in life & work?
We all have our ups and downs in life and work, and we all have ways of dealing with them (e.g. glass of wine, flopping in front of the TV, pretending it’s not happening, losing our temper, etc.). Character strengths are one of the better ways of dealing with life’s challenges. These personal qualities are inner resources that we can draw upon in times of adversity. They provide a framework for taking action and enable us to move forwards in way that feels positive, empowering and authentic to who we are.
How are character strengths different from other types of strength?
Character strengths are different from other types of strength such as talents (what we do well), interests (what engages our attention), and skills (proficiencies that we develop). They are ‘capacities for thinking, feeling, volition, and behaving’ that are viewed as core to our identity. They help individuals to function at their best and, when expressed in a balanced way, they promote wellbeing (Niemiec, R.M., 2014).
Using character strengths as resources
Miranda was feeling worn out because of problems at work. She felt she needed to rest in order to regain her energy and enthusiasm for life. We looked at her signature character strengths and considered which of those inner resources she might draw upon to help her address the problem and what action she might take. This is what we came up with:
Directing Kindness toward oneself
Normally this character strength is directed towards others. It’s about showing compassion, being supportive, and doing things for other people to help them. But Kindness can be directed toward oneself as well.
Miranda had commented on how beautiful the trees looked at the moment laden with their spring blossom, and how it lifted her spirits just to go for a walk in the park and take in their beauty. It made her feel grateful to be alive. She decided she would make a point of getting out for a few walks over the weekend as a way of being kind and nurturing to herself. In so doing, she would also express her appreciation of beauty and gratitude for the good things in life, and transcend the trials and tribulations of her work situation.
Using the strength of Prudence to plan & make wise choices
Prudence was also one of Miranda’s dominant strengths of character. This strength is the capacity to think through what to do next, and to plan in such a way as to minimise and manage risks and make wise choices. Miranda felt that if she could reduce her hours at work, she could take some time to focus on her job search and really concentrate on finding the right role in the right sort of environment. At the same time, the reduced hours would give her a chance to rest and recoup her energy, and help her put things into perspective, make her feel more hopeful and optimistic about the future, and motivate her to persevere with her plans.
Being honest about who you are
Miranda observed that our work together hadn’t led her to change direction as such; rather, it had affirmed that her current work as a researcher really was what she enjoyed, and that she was good at it and passionate about using research to find evidence-based solutions for clients. She recognised that this was what she should be focusing on. Unfortunately her recent work experiences had been in environments that had undermined her confidence and led her to question herself. She realised that she should now embrace her professional identity and have the courage to be true to herself. I suggested to her that she might also draw on her capacity for self-leadership to take charge over what happened next in her career.
Using Creativity to boost wellbeing
We discussed Miranda’s creative side and I asked how she might express that more fully as a further way of boosting her wellbeing. She remembered that she had an academic paper that she had been working on for a year or so with several colleagues and she spoke enthusiastically about getting back to that in the week after the Easter break. She would use her self-regulation to commit a couple of days to the work so that she could fully immerse herself, indulge her creative thinking, and know that she was doing something that would contribute to a positive outcome for the team.
Indulging a Love of Learning
Finally, I asked Miranda how she might express her Love of Learning given that this too was in her top five. She said she’d love to just sit down and read a good book, something really well written that could take her out of herself. We observed that this might also be a way to be kind to herself and would tap into her appreciation of beauty and excellence with regard to the quality of the writing.
Developing your strengths PROWess
This was a fun, easy and energising exercise to do and it’s one that you can do yourself at home with some sticky notes if you know what your character strengths are. (If you don’t, you can take the VIA Character Strengths inventory for free here: www.viacharacter.org.)
The next time you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed, reflect on the following questions:
- What’s the Problem that needs solving?
- What inner Resources can you draw upon to overcome it? (Character Strengths)
- What Options do you have for things you could do to move forwards?
- Which Way forward are you going to choose?
Or PROW for short. Like the prow of a ship: the pointed bit at the front that cuts through the waves. You’re the captain of the ship. You have the capacity – the inner resources – to weather the storm and sail forth to sunnier climes.
If you would like to discuss your career situation with me, drop me a line to arrange an initial session. Alternatively, if you would like to find out more about career coaching, download my free brochure on ‘How to Choose a Career Coach’.
Niemiec, R.M. (2014). Mindfulness & Character Strengths: A Practical Guide to Flourishing. Boston, MA: Hogrefe.