We don’t know what this coming year will bring, but the one thing we can do is to develop our ability to face the inevitable challenges and not let our values crumble when things get hard. “Character,” says Dr Henry Cloud, “is our ability to meet the demands of reality." This year I’m challenging myself to be more mindful of my values and more deliberate in developing my character. If you’d like to join me, read on!
“Positive Psychology” is an academically grounded field based on understanding the human psyche in terms of our potential not our pathology. One of the most important findings to emerge from this field is that we are happiest when we’re playing to our character strengths.
So the first step towards developing your character is to take an inventory of yourself. You may have a good sense of your character strengths already. Perhaps you’re naturally Curious, or Prudent, Enthusiastic, or Kind. If, like me, you would like some kind of external measurement you can take the VIA Survey of Character Strengths on the University of Pennsylvania department of Psychology's Authentic Happiness website. The 240 questions took me about an hour.
Developed by two of the pioneers of positive psychology, Martin Seligman and Christopher Peterson, the Character Strengths and Virtues framework is like a table of elements for the human character. You can have a look at the table below to get a sense of the system.
Developing Your Character
The thing about character is that it's not a fixed state. We can develop our strengths through deliberate practice.
Inspired by Tiffany Shlain's Science of Character short film and resources, I have been focusing on a particular character strength every week for the past three months. Practices for this have included identifying the focus value for the week (for example, Integrity), and then keeping a daily journal about how well I’ve faired in practicing that value.
I have found this tremendously enlightening and inspiring. It’s something I’d like to continue, and to share with others. If you would like to join me, here’s the process.
Identify: Take the character strengths survey to identify your strengths
Commit: Pick one of your key strengths that you’d like to work on for a week.
Practice! Start every day for the coming 7 days with a reflection on the practice of your value. You can journal about it (like I do), meditate on it, draw it, photograph it, paint it - whatever works for you.
Share the love. If you enjoy and get value from this exercise, induct someone else into the #characterscience movement. You’re welcome to forward them this post:)
Oh, and here’s a bonus resource. I actually printed this out and had it laminated for easy reference 🤓