Nurturing Seeds of Strength in Others

    The strength of curiosity has been found in research studies to build intimacy (Kashdan et al. 2011). It’s easy to let curiosity for your partner erode. The truth is, there will always be so much we don’t know about our partner. Why not try to keep the curiosity kindled? How might you use your curiosity for your partner more? It’s special to have positive rituals that you and your partner can reliably do together, like an annual couples retreat, a monthly date night, or reading in bed together before sleep. What are your positive rituals? If you can’t think of any, talk with your partner about creating a shared, meaningful, positive experience.
    How might you use your character strengths to help your relationship focus on the good? This might be the “greater good” of helping others, your neighborhood, or society in some way, or it could be goodness in terms of finding ways for you and your partner to stay focused on expressing your character strengths, the best parts of yourselves, in the relationship. It’s human nature to complain when things go wrong, but it’s empowering for your relationship to reflect on what goes right. Make a regular date—over Monday-morning coffee or a Sunday-night recap session—to talk with your partner about what went right in the past week. No matter how bad the week, there are always positives to discover and strengths that were used. Set a plan to take regular action with your partner to spend time reflecting on what’s right: Learn. Practice. SHARE. Creating positive and healthy relationships by using your own strengths and championing the strengths of others is a rich and deep area of exploration. Spend some extra time studying and practicing the activities in this chapter.
    As you review, what stands out most to you? Who will be the first three people with whom you can practice some of these relationship-building activities?
    Here’s an experiment you can try right now. Go to your kitchen cabinet and get a clear jar (or clear cup) with a lid. Fill the bottom with an inch of dirt or mud. Fill the rest of the jar with water. Seal the jar and shake well. Notice what happens. The water becomes cloudy and difficult to see through, right? Place the jar down for a few moments. The dirt eventually settles and the water becomes clear again. Our mind is like the jar. Stress is the dirt or mud. When stress builds and builds and you don’t use your strengths or other tools to handle it, your mind becomes cloudy, overwhelmed. You become unfocused, short-tempered, tense, disengaged, upset, and more susceptible to your bad habits and vices. Mindfulness offers a counterbalance. Mindfulness means to see things clearly—to see things as they are. To notice the details of your present moment, to experience your senses, to actually “be” here as opposed to “do, do, do.” If you breathe and focus your attention on the present moment, your mind becomes clearer and steadier, yet active and engaged. This clarity means you are seeing through the water in the jar and you are seeing the mud that remains in the jar. It’s not about siphoning out the mud (or stress) to eliminate it. Rather, you are seeing the whole picture with fresh eyes. Character strengths also lead to such clarity. They give us perspective, authenticity, and energy to transform the moment—to understand the water while not getting lost within the dirt. We tap into our strength of self-regulation to manage our impulses in the present moment, curiosity to see things differently, creativity to build the new, and kindness and humility to attend to others at any moment. This chapter brings together these two powerful concepts of mindfulness and character strengths. Research is showing this to be a powerful synergy (Niemiec 2012, 2014; Niemiec,
    Rashid, and Spinella 2012) that generates numerous benefits for well-being and positive outcomes (Ivtzan, Niemiec, and Briscoe 2016; Niemiec and Lissing 2016; Pang and Ruch 2018). As your mindfulness grows in the present moment, so too will your confidence to handle challenging moments. Consequently, your resilience, your capacity to bounce back from future stressors, builds. In order to engage your mindfulness and character strengths more in the present moment, you first need to consider what kinds of experiences you have during your day. These can be categorized into three broad types: pleasant experiences, unpleasant experiences, and mundane or neutral experiences. Each presents an important opportunity for growth, so let’s explore them a little closer, including an activity and a strengths-based meditation for each. The Pleasant: Noticing and Growing Your Positives with Perspective Blind spots are part of life. We all miss details when it comes to knowing ourselves and what’s best in us. I refer to this as strengths blindness, and it can be an underlying stressor because we don’t know what we don’t know. If someone doesn’t realize they’re a particularly angry person or that they never seem to smile—and if no one points this out to them—they have no idea how many people have noticed this and avoided them or trusted them less or felt less comfortable around them. We’re very sensitive to our weaknesses and the criticisms of others and want to keep improving on any blind spots we have about our problems. But we seem to be less focused on becoming aware of the blind spots we have about our positive qualities and pleasant experiences. Mindfulness has been shown to be an important mechanism in overcoming blind spots in how we see ourselves (Carlson 2013). It’s an opportunity to deepen our self-awareness and, in turn, our well-being in and connectedness to the world around us. A common blind spot around the positive is the struggle to receive compliments from others. Are you mindful of the good things people say about you? Awareness of compliments can be especially insightful and offer you opportunity for growth. Chances are, if you’re feeling down or low in self-confidence, you either don’t notice a compliment someone gives you or you are quick to discount or minimize the importance or meaning of the compliment. In other words, you may render the compliment useless. Mindful awareness of compliments is about clearly seeing and hearing what others say. Rather than listening to only the inner negative critic, you can learn to hear the good too.
    Mindfulness of Compliments The following short activity has been shown in research studies to not only boost confidence and resilience, but also to build feelings of security in one’s relationship over both the short and the long run (Marigold, Holmes, and Ross 2007, 2010). Although these questions originally applied to intimate relationships, you can also answer them with a boss or friend in mind. Name a compliment you received from an important person in your life: Why did this person admire you? Describe what the compliment meant to you and its significance for your relationship with them: What specific character strength(s) was your partner seeing and appreciating in you with this compliment (even if they didn’t use the exact language of the VIA Classification at the time)? Mindfulness of This Moment and the Immediate Future Moment Another way to take more notice of the pleasant experiences in life is to slow down, pause, and breathe. It’s amazing the amount of detail we begin to take in when we come to our senses and breathe in the present moment. There’s a story of a young woman who jogged every day up one side of a slightly sloping hill and then down the other side. Week after week, she jogged with a green valley along her right or her left. One day, her ankle was bothering her so she had to walk instead. On that walk, she suddenly noticed all these tiny purple flowers growing up and down the hill she’d never seen before. What else wasn’t she seeing? Only by slowing down did she have the chance to notice the wider reality of her present moment. There are times when you need to run through life (multitasking to get things done), but there are times when it’s best to walk through life too, to stop and breathe. You’ve had many moments where you’ve experienced pleasure—alone and with others. Mindfulness gets you in the doorway to notice the pleasure. Then it’s your character strengths that widen your perspective to stay with the pleasure and experience it further or shift to something else. To help you solidify this combination of mindfulness and character strengths in pleasant moments, I suggest you use a gatha, which is a short verse or poetic expression that brings your attention fully into the present moment and to the immediate future moment. Here’s a popular gatha I often use to deepen my awareness of pleasurable experiences, such as watching my children play or eating a nice meal. It was created by the luminary mindfulness teacher Thich Nhat Hanh (1979): Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in this present moment I know this is a wonderful moment. As you say these words with attentiveness (with eyes open or closed), you’ll probably notice a physiological benefit (from focusing your muscles on breathing and smiling), a psychological benefit (from the statements of well-being), and a sense of perspective building (from the reminder of “dwelling” in the moment, which is a “wonderful” moment). Another gatha specific to your character strengths (Niemiec 2014) may reveal similar benefits for you: Breathing in, I see my strengths. Breathing out, I value my strengths. Dwelling now, in my strengths, I express myself fully.
    Wadifa Club
    writer and blogger, founder of Dog food planet .

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