And on and on my thinking would go.
Sometimes people in the world of strengths make this comment: “I already use my strengths. Why should I bother to use them more?” Here’s a story to explain why:
Last week, I sat down and watched my mother and my wife express love to my 2-month old son who had not yet expressed verbal coos. The love they expressed was so genuine and pure. Warmth and care radiated from them as they passed this warmth on to my son. They cupped their hands behind his little head and placed their face about a foot from his face and gave him full attention. They talked to him, made noises, and encouraged him. He returned their gaze, offered an original smile, and began to coo.
This is extraordinary, actually, as he hadn’t been cooing the prior 2 months. These simple loving expressions seemed to catalyze his interaction. He cooed (i.e., talked) back. They continued this process, over and over. Emanating joy and love. Suddenly, a conversation emerged! Words to coos, coos to words, words to coos. Back and forth.
I watched this and felt inspired to use my strength of love more. Interestingly, love is perhaps my highest signature strength (signature strengths, you might recall, are those character strengths that are most core to who you are). I use my strength of love all the time, especially with my two boys. But, this doesn’t mean I use it enough. It doesn’t mean I don’t have strength “blind spots.” And, it doesn’t mean I can’t continue to improve this signature strength.
As I observe this strength of love in action, I feel inspired to mimic the behavior. Observing this love in action tunes me in more mindfully to my strengths. This leads me to then want to imitate the behavior I’m observing – or, at the very least, to tap into one of my strengths of character. As the father of observational learning, Albert Bandura has said, “Most of what we learn is through observation.”
What emerges is what I call a virtuous circle:
This mindful …
Then, consider one way you will bring greater mindfulness to the habit or vice and one way you will use one of your strengths with it.
Finally, apply the strength and mindfulness to your autopilot mind as you do the activity.
This exercise is called “From Mindless to Mindful”
When I am at play with my 2-year-old son, I realize how precious time is and so I attempt to be as present and mindful as possible in each activity. This mindfulness spurs my strength of curiosity as I await each word and reaction from him. Curiosity brings me to want to express other strengths such as humor/playfulness to make him laugh. Not wanting to overdo my goofy humor over and over, my mindfulness increases to tune in closely to him and the other possible character strengths that might benefit him, such as love as I provide him with positive feedback, teamwork as we work together on building blocks, or zest as we jump into an upbeat activity together.
Hence, round and round mindfulness and character strengths go – each influencing the other in a positive way. This is a virtuous circle.
Until recently, mindfulness and strengths have been treated as separate areas of practice and research. My argument is that these robust areas of well-being are inseparable.
What follows is my rationale for why it is beneficial to integrate these areas.
Of course not. But as viewers we don’t get to see what happens next in these formulaic Hollywood films. There are exceptions.
Enter Before Midnight, a new romance-drama starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, and directed by auteur filmmaker, Richard Linklater. This is the third installment of films made about 10 years apart and follow two characters, Jesse and Celine, after their original chance encounter on a train heading to Vienna (see Before Sunrise and Before Sunset).
These films are known for engaging dialogue. Conversations that are “real,” poignant, and interesting. Characters share themselves, their ideas, and their opinions openly. They attack, praise, cajole, and surprise one another. We are carried through love and intimacy, thoughts about their relationship origins and life philosophies, the fruits and challenges of long-term commitment, and tense arguments.
Before Midnight is a quintessential “dialogue film.” This helps it be an outstanding “teacher” of positive relationships.
I’ve had the privilege of leading hundreds of mindfulness groups over the years as well as retreats and all-day mindfulness workshops for professionals and the general public. When I ask participants and people in audiences questions relating to these points below, I end up straining my ears to hear a response. Each of these 11 observations and findings is important so hopefully this blog entry will dispel some of the silence.
Following the bombings in Boston, people rallied in bunches, offering support and care. The Red Cross received so much help they had to turn people away. Stories of bravery and kindness flooded the news and social media. Such expression of character is not an isolated event. People similarly rallied after 9/11, after recent natural disasters, and after tragic mass shootings.
Said another way, people are touched by the suffering of others and then take action. This action involves the expression of their own character strengths (e.g., kindness, leadership, bravery) to bring benefit to others.
Research has documented how tragedy seems to elevate what is best in us.
LeighAndria Young, student and poet
School for the Creative and Performing Arts
These are the refreshing words of high school student, LeighAndria Young, that describe her shift toward a deeper self-acceptance of who she is. She embraces all her inner qualities – her strengths and foibles – realizing that it is her uniqueness and her capacity to “just be” that is most crucial in life.
Watch a 3-minute video of LeighAndria performing her poem, “6:58,” at this link here.
I’m a bit of a “strengths” junkie. I study character strengths. I read about them, e-mail about them, teach and write about them, and study them. It seems that I’m thinking about character strengths much of the time – which one’s I’m using, how strengths work together, how they can hurt me, and how they can help me be my best.
So, it was no surprise when my mind started rattling off the character strengths I was using while playing online chess.
Life is what happens between monotony and miracles, as one sage put it.
Indeed, our lives are a collection of moments in time – some mundane and routine, some extraordinary, and many others. I’m not sure that we are shaped by every moment and every event of our lives, but certainly there is potential in each moment to impact us.
After a stagnant and difficult first date, I recall walking out of the Mexican restaurant with my date and saying to myself, “Give it one more try.”