Strengths of the Heart and Mind and Other Strengths Topics
May 2, 2012 by Dr. Ryan Niemiec ·
“I work with employees (or students or clients) and I want to help them tap into their strengths, what’s the next step?”
These are the most common questions the VIA Institute on Character receives about strengths from people around the world. We have taken so many steps to thoroughly answer these questions that they are becoming moot. VIA offers a staggering amount of resources on strengths: Various workshops, in-depth reports, questions for exploring strengths, scholarly and non-scholarly articles on using strengths, best practices from pioneer practitioners and links to videos of experts discussing strengths. That just scratches the surface.
Online workshops are one of the best ways to answer these “Now, what?” questions. Let me tell you a bit about one of our workshops through the lens of various core topics that will be discussed in the course.
These are just a small handful of the topics and issues discussed in our flagship online course called “Character Strengths at Work”.
Strengths of the Heart-Mind-Self-Others
This graph shows how character strengths lay out in terms of whether they are more dominantly strengths of the heart (feeling-oriented) or of the mind (thinking-oriented). It also shows strengths that are self-oriented (intrapersonal) and other-oriented (interpersonal). Each character strength is multidimensional so can be viewed from any of the four angles.
For example, it is very interesting to take a “heart/others” strength like gratitude and first, take note of how you have used gratitude to express yourself deeply and with other people. Second, consider how gratitude might play out in terms of “mind” and “self,” for example:
- What are your grateful thoughts? What does gratitude “think” like?
- What is it like to personally take on a mindset of gratitude in your life?
Finding the Golden Mean
One character strength area that has captured the interest of practitioners around the world is the concept of a “golden mean of character strengths.” This comes originally from Aristotle and was later discussed by UK researcher Alex Linley. It refers to finding the right combination of strengths, used to the right degree in the right situation.
For example, the level of creativity you show at work will be expressed differently if you are supervising someone or being supervised, as well as being brought forth differently with your spouse and with your child or friend. Those strengths you use along with creativity will vary as well – perhaps curiosity in one situation and leadership in the next.
To find the golden mean in a given situation, the individual must be acutely aware of the fact that it is very easy to overuse or overplay a strength, as well as to underuse or underplay a strength. Thus, when we speak of a golden mean, we are speaking about having a mindful awareness of ourselves, an attunement to others, and looking for a balanced expression that fits the context.
Expressing Your Best Self
After you complete the VIA Survey to identify your top strengths, be sure to confirm which strengths are your personal signature. Ask yourself these questions about those strengths that are at the top of your list:
- Is this strength the real me, authentic to who I am?
- Is this strength energizing and uplifting for me to use?
- Is this strength easy and natural for me to express?
- Do most of my family, friends, and co-workers think this is a strength that’s strong in me?
- Do I express this strength across settings in a way that is appropriate for the given situation?
If you can answer a very strong “yes” to each of these questions, then perhaps you have discovered one of your signature strengths!
Expressing Your Whole Self
While a focus on your signature strengths might bring you the greatest benefit, there is also value in boosting up your other strengths, even those that are your lowest strengths. Research has found there is benefit in both approaches.
There are a multitude of ways to deepen your strengths work as you attempt to make any one of your strengths a positive habit. Consider the comprehensive approach for exploring strengths offered by the acronym ROAD-MAP. Choose any strength: Reflect on past use, Observe the strength in your interactions, Appreciate the strength in others, Discuss the strength, Monitor your daily use of it, Ask others for feedback on your use of it, and Plan an approach for building it more in your life.
Help Others Be Their Best!
Aristotle. (2000). Nicomachean ethics (R. Crisp, Trans.). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.
Linley, A. (2008). Average to A+: Realising strengths in yourself and others. Coventry. CAPP Press.
Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. New York: Oxford University Press.
Rust, T., Diessner, R., & Reade, L. (2009). Strengths only or strengths and relative weaknesses? A preliminary study. Journal of Psychology, 143(5), 465–476.
Seligman, M. E. P., Steen, T. A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60, 410–421.
Diagram copyright: VIA Institute on Character. All rights reserved.