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Could You Be Overusing Your Character Strengths?

Updated: Feb 3, 2019

overusing character strengths

What are Character Strengths?

Many people find it difficult to define their strengths: we have a tendency to focus on what’s negative about ourselves due to what’s known in Psychology as ‘negativity bias’ - we’ll find something negative to every three positive things and although outnumbered, focus on the negative as it fuels our evolution because we see it as something to fix, which leads to growth.

Martin Seligman, one of the cornerstones of Positive Psychology and his team of researchers decided enough existed on what was wrong with people and decided to create a database of 24 character strengths based on 6 virtue categories: Wisdom, Transcendence, Justice, Humanity, Courage, and Temperance. With the help of The Mayerson Foundation and Dr Christopher Peterson, the VIA Institute on Character was born in 2001, as well as the Character Strengths Survey (2004), otherwise known as VIA-IS, which stands for Values In Action Inventory of Strengths.

The Science

Strengths Theory (ST) maintains that when we use our values in action - or our top strengths, we feel more energised. For example, if your top strength is humor, you will naturally make people laugh. You will be described by your peers as ‘funny’ as you exhibit this strength in all areas of your life: across work, relationships, parenting etc. and you’ll find it effortless and very enjoyable. You’ll feel something isn’t right when you can’t use this strength - for example if you were living in a country where you couldn’t speak the language, it may be more difficult for you to use this strengths and make people laugh without language and you in turn may feel tired and low.

Therefore our strengths are what make us unique. We all have a unique combination. We possess all 24 in varying degrees and the survey has been designed to give you a score of each strength, resulting in your top three. However it is advised to review your top seven as sometimes results can vary. Discussing your results with a coach can lead to enhanced insights as to how better to utilise your strengths and also to build on your bottom strengths.

For example, if your goal is to save money to buy a car, and your bottom strengths are hope, gratitude and perseverance you may want to focus on action you can take in order to actively increase these strengths. Such as writing down two optimistic statements about the possibility of reaching your goal (hope) practising gratitude for the money you already have and committing to a time-bound goal (perseverance).

Overusing Your Strengths

However, overusing strengths can have a detrimental effect on your health and wellbeing. For example, if your top strength is prudence, as careful and cautious as you are, in what circumstances may it be restricting your ability to create new opportunities, take exciting risks or move out of your comfort zone? Overuse of strengths has been linked with lower life satisfaction, less flourishing and higher depression. A ‘golden mean’ is always recommended - using all 24 of our character strengths and having the awareness and emotional intelligence to know when to apply the right one. Mindfulness practice helps to increase both awareness and emotional intelligence.

Focusing on strengths shifts the focus from ‘what’s wrong’ in your life to ‘what’s strong’ (VIA) and increases: happiness, greater academic achievement, productivity and acceptance of oneself.

Discover Your Strengths

The Strengths Survey is a validated online self-report measure comprised of 120 questions using a 5-point likert scale, with answers ranging from “5-Very much like me” to “1-Very much unlike me”. It takes about 15 minutes to complete and you can do it yourself online here.

Our coaches are trained in administering the Strengths Survey with clients as well as combining it with mindfulness sessions in the practice of MBSP (mindfulness-based-strengths-practice) Contact us here to schedule a strengths discovery session with a coach to find out your top, bottom and middle strengths and talk through ways you can rebalance your strengths usage to create your best life.

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