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Lean Into Your Strengths

May 9


About This Episode

(Season 5, Episode 20)

Character strengths are your unique pathways to those positive goals people pursue in life. They can help us amplify positive things in our lives, like self-acceptance, autonomy, goal progress, and more.

In this episode, we continue our conversation about character strengths, a strengths-based approach to identifying the positive traits behind our thinking, feeling, and behaviors. Jessica Beckendorf guides us through a practice for leaning into our character strengths.



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Bob Bertsch: Character strengths are your unique pathways to those positive goals people pursue in life. They can help us amplify positive things in our lives like self-acceptance, autonomy, goal progress, and more. Hi everyone, this is Bob Bertsch and welcome to this week’s Practicing Connection Practicast where we highlight a specific practice you can use in your life and work.

In today’s episode, we are continuing our conversation about character strengths, a strengths-based approach to identifying the positive traits behind our thinking, feeling, and behaviors. My Practicing Connection co-host, Jessica Beckendorf, will be guiding us through a practice for leaning into our character strengths in just a few minutes. First, let’s explore character strengths a little more. Hi, Jessica. Can you tell us how leaning into our strengths helps us amplify the positive things in our lives?

Jessica Beckendorf: Of course. Our strengths are so natural to us, using them just feels right and it gives us energy, particularly with regard to our top strengths, those that come easiest to us. One of the best pieces of evidence that I’ve seen about how strengths can amplify the positive things in our lives is actually in workshops I run where I have people bring to mind a character strength that really resonates with them. Then I asked them to imagine that they couldn’t use that strength for a month.

If your strength was humor, you couldn’t make any jokes, you couldn’t make anyone laugh and you couldn’t find anything amusing at all. What would life be like? How would you feel if you could not use this strength? Most of the answers I get are things like, life would be depressing. I can tell you the mood of the room shifts and it becomes sad and depressing as well. Most of the answers I get are like, life would be depressing, I would feel empty, or oh, that would be sad, very sad, I would feel sad.

I have to follow up the activity with something uplifting because it really is such a mood-buster. Just imagining being without one of our top character strengths was literally depressing to people. What if we leaned in even more to understanding and using our strengths? In fact, researchers have found that simply using one of our top, or they call it signature, in a different way every day for a week can increase feelings of happiness and decrease feelings of depression for up to six months.

Additionally, several studies have found connections between employees’ use of their top or signature strengths and higher employee retention and satisfaction. I think one of the keys there is that the employee’s supervisor also needs to recognize the strengths and call them out in the person like, I see this strength in you. That’s actually part of that besides just the employees being able to use their strengths.

Interestingly, many people don’t know their strengths or they don’t recognize them as strengths because they’re just so easy to use for us. There are several areas that character strengths can help us with. That’s why it’s so important for us to recognize this. The areas that they can help us with that produce those positive things is things like they can help us make the most of our talents. Character strengths can be the fuel for how we approach our talents.

In one of the character strengths classes I took, researcher, Ryan Nemec, shared that one of the reasons people don’t make the most of their talents is because they haven’t tapped into character yet. Basically, a lot of us are sitting on untapped potential. Character strengths can help us master skills when we lean into them as an approach to our learning. Start with what’s strong about us and use that to consciously lean into it and help us learn.

Character strengths can also help us connect with others. Developing our ability to spot strengths, and you can– we have a previous practicast all about how to do this. Developing our ability to spot strengths can help us see, recognize, and appreciate people for who they are. How often do we not really see the people that we interact with? Strengths can help us create a moment of connection with them.

They can help us explore our interests and what lights us up in new ways. We’ve talked about what lights us up on this podcast a few times. We can ask ourselves if it’s true that love of learning is a top strength for me, then what else is true? How can I dive into this strength even more? Finally, they can help us live our values. Think of values as living– values live in our thoughts and feelings, and character strengths live in your thoughts, feelings, and behavior. They’re the way that you can put action behind your values.

Bob: That’s awesome and really, really helpful. It seems like we’re only talking about the positive, but maybe this is just reflecting my character strengths somewhere. I’m always thinking, “Well, what about the negative, right?” If there are character strengths we aren’t particularly strong in, aren’t those weaknesses that we should be strengthening? Is that how to look at it?

Jessica: Human beings really do love thinking about and improving on our weaknesses. Self-acceptance is really hard. I say that because the strengths that don’t come as naturally to us, those that are close to the bottom of the list, if you took the VIA Classification Survey. You could think of those strengths at the bottom of the list as strengths that you already possess, but they take a little more thought or energy to express.

Our character strengths tend to be somewhat stable, but they are capable of changing. If there is a strength that you want to work more on, any strength, you can. I think what you want to avoid is living in all of the strengths that are difficult for you, those at the bottom of your list. You don’t want to live there for too long. You want to also really be leaning into your strengths that come naturally to you.

I think where strengths can end up being a bit of a challenge though, doesn’t necessarily lie in how low the strength is on our list, but actually more in whether we might be overusing or underusing a strength, even a top strength for us. What we’re really seeking is balance to avoid overusing or underusing strengths. I think that’s where we have more challenges.

Let me explain that a little bit. Underuse is an overall loss of awareness, like we’re on autopilot. It can also stem from a fear of bringing our best selves forward as well, like a lack of courage. Overuse is a lack of perspective. We get lost in the strength. If humor is a strength, you’re making inappropriate jokes at funerals, you’re overusing that strength. While there’s an assessment to help us determine our character strengths, there is no assessment that can help you determine if you’re overusing or underusing a strength.

Self-awareness and being mindful of our behaviors and thoughts and feelings will be key here. You can also ask people you trust what they’re observing regarding your behavior, particularly as it relates to overuse. Underuse is harder for other people to see. What we’re striving for, again, is to express the most appropriate combination of character strengths to the most appropriate degree and at the most appropriate time. I know that that sounds complex, but it’s really not. I think it’s really just a lot of self-awareness on whether you’re overusing or underusing strengths.

Bob: Can you give us an example of how being mindful and aware and leaning into your character strengths has helped you?

Jessica: Yes, absolutely. It was actually really hard to pick one. As you may have figured out by now through all of our side conversations, as we’ve been planning for this, I love talking about character strengths. I would say that overall, leaning into my character strengths has increased my self-acceptance and my confidence. You and I talk a lot, Bob, about how important knowing ourselves is. What good is knowing yourself if you’re not accepting and loving who you are as well?

I have found character strengths to be a way for me to focus those efforts of self-acceptance, which has had effects on my confidence and just being able to show up, pretty authentically or just plain authentically. I also just like myself better. Noticing strengths in others has helped me approach them with more empathy and telling them about the strengths that I’m noticing in them has helped me build some trustful relationships and has helped me deepen relationships. I really love validating people and I always go around telling people we need to validate each other more and share the things we appreciate about each other more.

Bob: You have a practice that can help us lean into our strengths, correct?

Jessica: I do.

Bob: I’d love to hear about it.

Jessica: This is a practice that I have used and gone back to over and over again. Sometimes I’ve used it with strengths that are in my top 10 and other times I’ve done it with strengths in the middle and once or twice I’ve done it with strengths that are at the bottom. For this purpose, I would love for you to choose a strength that’s in your top 7-10 and I would really start there. The next time you do it, I wouldn’t go right down to the bottom again. I would keep choosing different strengths that are in your top 7-10.

When I say top 7-10, if you didn’t take the VIA Character Strengths Assessment, that’s okay. You can also take a strength that you know you have or a strength that you listed during the You at Your Best activity in the previous Practicast. I want you to choose a strength and reflect on all the ways you already use that strength. If you’re making a physical list, set a timer for no more than 10 minutes.

Once you’ve got a list in your mind or on paper, I want you to brainstorm at least seven new ways to use that strength. If you’re having trouble thinking of this, you can find a resource for this for all of the different VIA Character Strengths at a link we’ll provide in the show notes. It’s a resource that has a list of different ways that you can use the strengths.

The reason I asked you to brainstorm at least seven new ways to use that strength is because you are going to use that strength in a different way every day for a week. Include some new ways of doing it that you have not already tried or that you haven’t tried in a long time. You can either reflect daily or at the end of the week or both. I recommend both, but I know people are busy. Reflect on how it felt to use this strength mindfully every day. That’s it.

Bob: Thanks so much for guiding us through that.

Jessica: You are so welcome. I really have used this activity over and over again and every single time I find it really helpful.

Bob: That’s it for this episode. Thanks for joining us. If you enjoyed this episode, click the Share button in your podcast app and share it with a friend. We’ll be back next week with a practice for finding balance within your strengths. Until then, keep practicing.

Announcer: The Practicing Connection Podcast is a production of OneOp and is supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, US Department of Agriculture, and the Office of Military Family Readiness Policy, US Department of Defense under award numbers 2019-48770-30366, and 2023-48770-41333.


[00:13:07] [END OF AUDIO]


May 9
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