- What does curiosity feel like?
- What does bravery think like?
- What does humility look like?
Mental health is about thinking, feeling and behaving in healthy ways. We can improve our mental health by widening the way we use our strengths of character. Each of our character strengths –creativity, judgment, zest, teamwork, hope – are actually capacities for thinking, feeling and behaving.
We spend a lot of our waking moments being consumed with negative thoughts – how we didn’t measure up, pondering a mistake we made, or worrying about a conflict that is arising.
We spend a fair amount of time being upset with painful emotions such as anger, sadness, guilt and anxiety. Why not balance our negativity with healthy thoughts and positive feelings? We can turn to our strengths to help.
Consider the strength of bravery. This strength conjures up images of courageous feats such as men and women going to war, saving the kitten from the burning building, or facing a personal fear. These are all behaviors. But, we don’t tend to consider: What are my brave thoughts? What goes through my mind when I am acting courageously?
- Example of brave thoughts: “I can deal with this situation. I will face my fear. It will not hold me back. I’m confident there will be a positive outcome to my actions.”
On the other hand, consider the strength of fairness. This strength tends to be more focused in the head, where you have thoughts relating to treating people fairly, giving someone a fair chance, or thoughts about the most just way to act in a situation. But, what does fairness feel like? When you use your fairness strength, where do you feel it in your body?
- Example of fair feelings: “I feel a sense of contentment when I am fair. I can feel a lightness in my chest and a looseness and relaxation rise in my face and neck.”
Considering each of these three levels of our strengths psychology helps to unite our often disconnected mind and body. Strengths become a welcomed alternative to the thinking distortions, inner critic and perfectionist thinking that pervades our mind.
Try this exercise:
- Name one of your signature strengths.
- Map out at least 3 healthy thoughts that you typically have (or could have) when you are experiencing that strength.
- Name the emotion/feeling you have when you are expressing that strength. Also make note of the sensations in your body that accompany the strength.
- Finally, what does the strength look like in action?
- To measure your character strengths and discover your signature strengths, go to www.viame.org
- To apply character strengths in your practice and life, go to www.viapros.org