Using Character Strengths as Pathways to Goals | VIA Institute

Using Character Strengths as Pathways to Goals

By Ruth Pearce

Goals. We all have them – things we want to achieve or acquire. We have big goals and small goals. We have short-term goals and longer-term goals. The thing they all have in common is that they require some sort of plan of action to reach them.

All too often we focus on planning the “what” – the tasks, the dates etc. – and forget the “who”. We forget to consider who we are at our core, what attributes we have that will help us achieve a goal and which attributes may create an obstacle. Character strengths play a big part in achieving goals! Here’s how.

Linking the "who" to the "what"

One of the biggest challenges that we face is making the goal so big that it is overwhelming and not linking our goal to who we are as a person. James Clear in his book Atomic Habits explores how making incremental changes builds new habits that lead to achievement of big goals.

So, what might this look like?

We have an example in Mary who had taken her VIA Character Strengths Survey and was so excited by what she learned she wanted to bring it to others in her workplace where she had observed that people seemed disgruntled and disengaged. Her top strengths were curiosity, kindness and self-regulation. And she used all of these to help her with her goal.

Her initial goal was “to increase engagement in the workplace”. She thought about this for a few days and felt more and more overwhelmed!

Turn a Big Goal into Smaller Goals

Then she took a workshop on character strengths and one of the exercises that was shared in the workshop was the practice of noticing a character strength in one person in any meeting she was in and then telling them about it afterwards. She was nervous, because she thought she might get it wrong, but she decided to set herself the goal of spotting one strength in one person a day for one week. This meant she might only have to notice five strengths all week! She took the list of strengths with her to every meeting and watched and listened carefully so discover a strength in a colleague.

She found this was a great first step because she could use her curiosity to look out for the strength in the other person, she could use her kindness to give them the positive feedback and she could use self-regulation to stick with her plan even when she was uncomfortable.

Unexpected Consequences

This is what Mary noticed:

  1. Because she was being so attentive in meetings, she was hearing more of what was said and colleagues noticed.
  2. Telling one person one strength was a little nerve wracking the first time, but once she had done it once she was hooked. They were so pleased to hear her feedback, and no one said she had it wrong! (Her workshop leader had already reassured her that you cannot really get it wrong because we all have all the strengths!)
  3. By the last day of the week she noticed that other people were starting to show more appreciation. They were not always using the language of strengths, but they were taking time to express appreciation to each other.
  4. Once she formed the daily habit it was easy to keep it going.
  5. By focusing on her signature strengths, she maintained her sense of purpose and motivation as was able to overcome some potential obstacles such as nervousness.
  6. Over a few weeks the mood in the office seemed to lift and people seemed to be smiling more.

By setting the smaller goal of giving strengths feedback to one person she made it manageable for herself and inadvertently made progress toward her original big goal of increasing engagement in the workplace! And by focusing on who Mary is by taking into account her top strengths and how to align them with her goal, she made it easier to accomplish.

There are so many ways to use strengths to achieve your goals. If you want to know more about goal setting using strengths, check out the ACCOMPLISH GOALS module of the new VIA Intro Course: Start with Strengths.

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