“The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it,” said Henry David Thoreau.
An understanding of human character strengths can help ensure we spend our lives more wisely and well…
The conversations I have with coaching clients often turn to questions of resilience. However ambitious, successful, powerful or wealthy my clients may be – they’re still just people. At Dramatic Difference we never get tired of reminding clients that people do jobs. Let me mark that for emphasis: people do jobs. And people can run out of juice sometimes.
Part of my job as a Coach is to help people figure out what types of ‘juice’ work well for them in the pursuit of their goals. How to make more of it. How to get it from others. How to juice up the significant people around them. And, crucially, how to develop a vocabulary for effective conversations about ‘juice’.
At Dramatic Difference, we’re strengths-based practitioners, and we employ a variety of established models and psychometrics when we’re ‘jucing’. On the subject of resilience I find that the VIA Character Strengths model is particularly helpful. This model identifies 24 universal human character strengths, organised within six categories of ‘virtue’ (Knowledge & Wisdom; Justice; Courage; Humanity; Temperance; Transcendence).
Today I want to talk about strengths of Transcendence as a source of resilience. While it’s true that there are many pathways to building resilience, a growing body of research suggests that transcendent strengths offer a ‘bigger bang for the buck’.
Within the VIA model, transcendent strengths can be described as those with the ability to take you beyond the here and now. Cognitively and emotionally, they don’t all work in the same way. Some take your imagination forwards or backwards in time, to tap into positive feelings. Others simply take you ‘outside’ yourself to find a new perspective.
Here are the Transcendent character strengths:
- Appreciation of Beauty & Excellence
Appreciation of Beauty & Excellence
The picture I have used at the top of this blog is of Walden Pond in Massachusetts, USA. It was here that the 19th century writer, and transcendentalist, David Henry Thoreau built a tiny log cabin and lived for two years as he wrote his best known book, Walden: or Life in the Woods. If you can you imagine yourself here, transported to a day dream about what you would do there, how you would feel… then there’s a solid chance that this is a strength that is easily expressible for you. But this strength is not just about nature. Individuals may contemplate the beauty of the cosmos, or even mathematics! Others can get lost in music or art, or feel awestruck watching an athlete in action.
This strength is about being aware of the good things that happen to you. Never taking them for granted, and taking the time to express your thanks. Think of the “Count your blessings” advice that your granny probably gave you! Many people are surprised that Gratitude is categorised as a transcendent strength, and yet it is one of the most powerful enablers of resilience. To begin with, scanning the world for things to be grateful for is remarkably effective at re-wiring the brain out of habitual negative thinking and into a more positive mindset (the brain is very plastic, as we know). Also it reminds us that we each have a network of resources to call upon. Try this gratitude activity: Think of someone (in your present or past) to whom you feel thankful. Now write a letter or email to them, and ‘check in’ with your body to see how you feel once you have written it. You don’t have to send it (but you will make their day if you do).
Some people are naturally more optimistic than others, and there’s some research to suggest that this trait is more heritable than others (i.e., you mostly get it from your mum and dad). And of course some people are blindly optimistic in the face of every fact to the contrary! That’s not wise. A healthy expression of the strength of Hope is to imagine ‘what if…?’ scenarios, and then bring them to life. One of the unique capabilities of the human brain is our ‘flight simulator’ – we can imagine things that haven’t happened yet in very rich detail. Hanging out, and talking things through, with optimistic people can boost your reserves of positive emotion. Who are the optimists you know? Spend time with them! And pick up the phone to them to get more of that ‘juice’ whenever you feel in a funk.
In another blog I may return to this subject, because there’s so much research on the beneficial effects of laughter (including cardio-vascular health!). I’ve never met anyone who didn’t enjoy laughing, but I have met quite a few people who told me that humour is not terribly important for them. And that’s ok. And if you are someone who enjoys making other people laugh, spread that joy. Never underestimate the transformative effect that you can have on the people around you. Just be careful with your super-hero strength and don’t judge those who don’t find this strength as important as you do. They’re just different.
Many people hold a coherent set of beliefs and a process of worship, organised along lines of religious faith. They find consolation, inspiration, and a ‘design for living’ within these beliefs and practices. Other people describe themselves as ‘spiritual but not religious’; for these individuals, creating more time to be alone with houghts and reflections about that spirituality can feed your resilience. It can be difficult to put into words for other people, but it’s for you, not them!
So now what?
I promise you that this next bit is not as morbid as it sounds. We’re about to activate a psychological phenomenon known as temporal scarcity… I want you to imagine you are on your deathbed! Your mind is still sharp, you’re not in pain. You are surrounded by the people you love and you have said all your goodbyes. Now finish this sentence: “I wish I had spent more time [doing or being what?…]”.
Your answer will give you a sense of what your most refreshing ‘juice’ is. You will feel a whole lot more resilient if you behave in ways that get you more of it. So make a plan to get some juice this week. (And write to me and tell me if it made a difference.)