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Mindfulness & Character Strengths

Mindfulness & Character Strengths

BY Michelle McQuaid

Have you tried to be more mindful or to start developing your strengths – those things you’re good at and actually enjoy doing – in the past few months? Let’s face it, lately book after book, podcast after podcast and workshop after workshop, seems to feature someone encouraging us that practicing mindfulness or developing our strengths will help to improve our wellbeing and performance.

But have you found it harder to pull off than all of this wise advice sounds?

If you’re nodding your head, I’m guessing that like me, you might have found making these behavior changes stick a little challenging. It seemed no matter how hard I tried to mindfully meditate – even in small doses – my monkey mind just kept jumping around. And despite my best intentions to start developing my strengths, I was way too busy to find the time to do more of what I do best.

Now I know how ridiculous both of those observations may sound. But I also know how common they are for many of us. So how can we get past these obstacles and start enjoying the benefits that researchers have been finding in these approaches?

We love the approach Director of Character Education at the VIA Institute, Ryan Niemiec proposes in his book Mindfulness and Character Strengths: A Practical Guide to Flourishing. He suggests that we think of mindfulness and character strengths like too great separate tress growing side by side, so that over time their branches and roots become entwined, resulting in a unique fruit that positively impacts health and wellbeing.

“Mindfulness opens the door to who we are, and character strengths are what is behind that door,” explains Ryan. “At its best, the integration of mindfulness and character strengths cannot be separated: to practice mindful breathing or walking is to exercise self-regulation; and to bring a curious and non-judgmental openness to our experiences of the present moment is to practice mindfulness. “

But how does this practically work?

In the book Ryan suggests:

  • Use your character strengths to “supercharge” your mindfulness practices – Reinvigorate meditation practices, manage or overcome common mindfulness barriers and obstacles (e.g., mind wandering) and support the principles of mindful living (e.g., reverence for life) by drawing on your character strengths. For example, the strengths of kindness and love may help us embrace a daily practice of loving kindness meditation. The strengths of curiosity or judgment may help us practice mindful walking or mindful driving. And the strengths of perseverance and forgiveness may help us establish a practice of mindful breathing.
  • Practice mindfulness to make it easier to be aware of your character strengths – By helping you to deliberately focus on what is happening in your moment-to-moment experiences, in a way that is open, curious, and non-judgmental, mindfulness can make it easier to become more aware of your character strengths, help you see ways to more effectively balance them, and give you the motivation to use them more consistently. The VIA Institute’s model of aware-explore-apply can be a great way to make this work by; taking the free VIA Survey to become aware of your character strengths; spending time exploring how you use these strengths and; applying your new knowledge to a problem, task-at-hand, or the formulation of a new goal.
  • Fuse the two practices together by creating a strengths-based, mindful ROAD MAP.
    • Reflect: Take time out to think about ways you have used strengths in your past successes and your struggles.
    • Observe: Rather than trying to spot any strength in particular, simply observe your environment and the people around you with curiosity and interest. What strengths pop up?
    • Appreciate: Tell others about how you value their strengths. Name the strength you see them express and share the specific rationale for how you saw them display the strength in action.
    • Discuss: Communicate with others about your strengths. Allow “strengths of character” to be your topic of conversation.
    • Monitor: Track your strengths use in a log or journal by monitoring and writing down your use of signature strengths, lower strengths, or particular strengths you want to enhance.
    • Ask: Get feedback from your family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors on the strengths you use. What strengths do others see that you don’t see?
    • Plan: Set a goal around the strength you’d like to display more often. The general idea is to turn your use of strengths into a routine.

In the book, Ryan also provides a step-by-step guide for practitioners wanting to set up and run a Mindfulness Based Strengths Practice (MBSP) program. Generally held over eight, 2 hour sessions the program is designed to help participants bring mindfulness to any experience, spot strengths in themselves and others and integrate mindfulness and strengths practice into daily life.

Click here to grab your copy of the book Mindfulness and Character Strengths: A Practical Guide to Flourishing or visit Ryan’s webpage for more resources on character strengths, mindfulness and positive psychology.

How might you be able to flourish at work if you started applying your strengths more mindfully?

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