At SongwritingWith:Soldiers we use collaborative songwriting to build creativity, connections, and strengths. Why? Because writing songs can change lives, and being creative, feeling connected and using our strengths is good for us.
Creativity broadens our view of what is possible (builds hope)
Connections build community (strengthen bonds, combat loneliness)
Strengths build confidence and resilience (allow us to grow, inspire and support others)
Each of these items are critically important during challenging times, like now, as we deal with the coronavirus. And, one in particular, strengths, can feed the others. Research shows that when we use our strengths we boost positive emotions – and when we do that, we feel more energy, more inspired, more favorably about life. In other words, strengths fuel us forward.
So, let’s zero in on ways we can intentionally use our strengths to help ourselves and those around us. Here are some ideas, framed around the 24 VIA Strengths. Take a look at the list below. Try any of the suggestions for yourself. Share the list with family and friends. We have much to gain by combating this challenge with an infusion of our strengths. (And, read to the end to see what coincidence occurred when I finished writing this piece!)
24 Ways to Use Your Strengths
Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence: Go on a beauty hunt wherever you are. Look at or think of your favorite masterpiece – a painting, a building, a song, a garden, a flower, your dog’s eyes, your clean bathroom. Revel in the beauty and excellence! Whenever you need a boost, look around, or look within. Discover the awe.
Bravery: Bravery comes in many forms. Sometimes it is summoned like a warrior. Other times, like a shy child it needs a nudge from within. Look for ways that you, or those around you, are leaving a personal comfort zone, pushing boundaries for a purpose you believe in.
Love: Think about someone you care about. If possible, let them know you love them, now! Take time to write a note, give details about why you love this person and care about them. Deliver it to them, or read it to them. In return, when others are giving you love, kindness, accept it with an open heart — as you would want them to do with you!
Creativity: Make something by hand today. Whether it is a meal or a birthday card, create something new. If ideas come easily to you, push yourself in a new direction. Right before you are about to do something, consider if there is a different way it can be done. Have fun with this approach. Filled with ideas? Consider this list of strengths and come up with more applications for yourself and others. Share them.
Curiosity: What is something you have always wondered about? Make a list of your questions and then dive in! Search for answers online, or better yet, ASK SOMEONE who might know the answer. Watch a documentary about something new to you. Feed your curious mind!
Fairness: Do you have a cause that speaks to your heart? Write about why it matters to you. How can you help bring more awareness to this cause? Need inspiration? Read a biography of one of your activist role models, or watch an old courtroom drama like “Perry Mason” with short, compelling legal trials.
Forgiveness: Take some time and think about this. Is there someone you are ready to forgive? If so, send them a note. If YOU are the one who needs self-forgiveness, this is a good time to give yourself props for the things you have done well, for trying hard to do what is right, for all the things you have done for others. It is important to give ourselves genuine love and care, too.
Gratitude: What/Who are you SO grateful for today? What would you really miss if it were not around? Make a list – in writing or in your mind. Think about all of the people involved in getting you what you need. Take time to appreciate how many things we have that have been created and cared for by so many people working hard. Think about your body and all it does for you – how hard it works for you.
Honesty: Try saying only what you really mean. Is it easy? Difficult? Watch a movie about one of your heroes. Look for ways that they are true to themselves. Or watch a movie like Being There about a man who is 100% honest, yet others only hear what they want to hear from him.
Hope: What makes life worth living? This is one of the great questions of the ages. What examples do you see around you? In history? Literature? Music? Find examples of how things have gotten better after tough times? What books, movies, songs inspire you? Make a list. Share it with others. Ask others for their list. Keep it handy!
Humility: Act for the action’s sake, not accolades. You work behind the scenes, keeping things running smoothly. What do you see that needs tending? Someone needing help who is afraid to ask? Find ways to help them get what they need with minimal exposure.
Humor: People need to laugh and lighten up, even in heavy times! If humor and playfulness come naturally to you, you have a lot to offer others to help find some release. Share jokes, ask your friends or others in the community about their favorite comedies. Watch them. Play games, like Charades, that get you moving. One of the benefits of learning to not take ourselves TOO seriously is laughter, which is GOOD for our bodies and our souls.
Judgment: Facing an issue, a challenge? What’s the first answer that comes to mind? What’s the next? What might be missing in your assumption? Find another way to view the situation. Need inspiration? Watch a movie like “Sliding Doors” that takes multiple viewpoints.
Kindness: Is there someone in your house or neighborhood who could use a little help? What can you do for them? Large or small. If no one comes to mind, try an anonymous gesture like allowing someone to go ahead of you in line at the gas station.
Leadership: Is it time for you to step up and take the lead? Are you good at guiding others to step out and take part? Whether at home, at work or in a public setting that calls for action (or calm) leaders are needed. “Be the change you want to see in the world,” said Gandhi. If you are in a position to lead, you can help others do what they need in these challenging times. Organize volunteer chains, facilitate open discussions, help others set and achieve goals. Share your tips with others. Celebrate team victories.
Love of Learning: Do a deep dive into something you are passionate about. Learn more! (This is different than curiosity, which can jump from one thing to the next without judgement; this is diving into one topic and learning much more about it.)
Perseverance: Is there a project or something else you have been meaning to finish? This is the time to devote to it! Set the timer and finish one of your items on your To-Do list. Or, if diligence is a natural strength of yours, combine this strength with kindness and help someone else finish their task!
Perspective: Is there an area that you know well and feel confident sharing? Do you have insights or resources that might help others? Is there a forum where you can share your perspective with others? Find a place to share this experience and expertise with others who may benefit. You might also find some new people to share this interest with!
Prudence: Aha! In this time of coronavirus, it is extremely valuable to use the strength of prudence and caution. What are those extra steps you need to protect yourself and others? Read guidelines from global experts. Share what you learn. If these strengths come naturally to you, find ways to make it super easy to be clean and careful. Help others be mindful, too. Think of the long-term reasons why caution pays. Share your insights.
Self-Regulation: This strength is one of the most challenging for many of us. Set reminders on your phone so you remember to do what is good for you like washing your hands, drinking plenty of water, meditating for stress relief. Be sure to add time for the things that feed your mind/body/soul to keep your entire being in good shape. Share your ideas and tools with others.
Social Intelligence: Read the situation. Who is around you? How are they doing? Are things running OK? Is there anything you can do to assist if help or changes are needed? If all is smooth, feed this strength of yours with a novel or movie with complex characters. Harriet the Spy is a young adult novel with a heroine who misreads many of the people around her. Juno is a movie about a 16-year-old female who reads those around her with astute maturity.
Spirituality: Take time to look at the bigger picture. Think about how we are all part of something bigger than ourselves. What gives you comfort? Religious texts? Meditation? A nature walk? Find time to connect with your soul and whatever makes you feel connected to others, to life and/or God.
Teamwork: Pitch in. Share. Encourage those around you— or far away – who are needing support. This is a time for connecting and working together to build strength and hope. Enjoy being part of a team working for the greater good.
Zest: Put your energy to use! Combine your pleasures. Choose a few of your favorite songs, play them, dance! Ask others around you to do the same and have a happy dance party — gather together on a video sharing platform like FaceTime or Zoom. (Thank you for this idea, Josh Geartz!) Always take time to DO something that makes you feel good – that good feeling is contagious!
Remember, we each possess all of these strengths. We use some more naturally than others. These are considered our signature strengths and when we intentionally use them we feel more energized. Now, there’s a win/win.
We need all the energy and positive action we can get these days. If you would like to learn more about strengths and identify your own Signature Strengths, take the free VIA Survey and get a list of your 24 strengths in order, based on your personal values and responses. Then, get busy putting them to work!
I put my own strengths to work in writing this piece. The title, “Strengths in the Time of Coronavirus” is a play on Love in the Time of Cholera, a novel by Gabriel García Márquez, whose works I find incredibly Beautiful and Excellent. My curiosity led me to open the book and on the first page I discovered this quote by Colombian composer Leandro Díaz:
“The words I am about to express: They now have their own crowned goddess.”
What?! As a former Spanish teacher, I knew that the word “Crown” in Spanish is “Corona”… So, every time I heard “coronavirus” I thought of crowns. My love of learning strength pushed me to find out more, especially why this quote was used in the book. I learned the following:
Leandro Díaz is a famous Colombian composer of vallenato, a genre of music that originated in the city of Valledupar in northeastern Colombia (coincidentally, the same region that serves as the setting for the novel). Vallenato got its start when cattle-farming minstrels used song as a means of transmitting news and stories from town to town. (Italics mine.)
Again, What?! At SongwritingWith:Soldiers –we use songwriting to share stories and bridge communities. What I see here now, through writing this piece is a wonderful dance of strengths joining us all together in magically realistic ways. Ah!
Please, all, stay in tune and active with your strengths. Share your stories!