Your Habits: Who You Are Is What You Repeatedly Do

    Read this again once or twice: Who you are is what you repeatedly do. Let that thought really sink in. In your own life, what do you spend your time doing? Are you a professional television watcher or a person who tries to help others as much as possible? If the latter, then your actions speak to who you are (kind). How do you respond when you get hit hard by stress? Do you get angry, frustrated, and blame others? Or do you call upon your perspective to see the bigger picture of the stress and feel thankful for the opportunity to grow that it allows you? If so, your actions speak to you being a wise and grateful person. Our patterns of behavior reflect who we are. For me, whenever I think of this philosophical idea of our repeated actions defining who we are, it serves as a wake-up call. I can “repeatedly do” strengths. It hits me like a ton of bricks that it is my actions in life that matter most. What I spend my time worrying about or thinking about does not matter as much as what I do. It’s how I treat people, how I initiate, how I spend my time with people. It’s my actions that count. It’s my actions that tell others who I am. I cannot be perfectly kind or creative, but I can repeatedly move in the direction of those strengths. These observations bring me to realize that strength, virtue, and goodness are all within our reach. They are trainable. With practice, good habits can be created (just like bad habits are). You can practice gratitude, teamwork, perseverance, and curiosity. You can make them stronger. Research studies show that when you play to your strengths (that is, make them stronger), your stress management and coping improve (Harzer and Ruch 2015; Wood et al. 2011). The key is to prioritize your strengths. You can commit to learning and growing your strengths—using them when your child is crying, when your partner is complaining, and when your boss ignores your good work. You can bring forth your strengths in a wide range of ways, like calling on your bravery when someone is unhappy with you. Or expressing perseverance to endure an extended period of stress or self-regulation to calm yourself and let it go. Each character strength is highly versatile and packed with potential. With greater understanding and regular practice, your strengths habits will grow. This chapter will focus on making room for habits to grow, but also on tapping into research-based ways to create strength behaviors throughout your day. You’ll practice by weaving strengths into your typical routine. You’ll start your day strong by priming your strengths for upcoming stressors, then you’ll work on increasing your versatility with strengths use by applying some unique practices, and finally you’ll end your day on solid footing with a gratitude practice. After you’ve had a chance to experiment with some of these strengths practices, you’ll have a better idea of a plan you might set forth. We’ll conclude by looking at the essential elements of making a strengths plan, including setting intentions, enlisting support, and discovering new ways to receive positive reinforcement for strengths use. Strong Beginnings: Tune Your Day to Strengths Use It’s a truism to say that breakfast is the most important way to start the day. There’s no doubt it gets your metabolism running and your energy up, which can have a helpful effect on stress. But think about these questions: • What if you could start your day with a more direct effect on stress? • What if you attached character strengths to your morning routine? • How would it feel to know that your biggest stressor of the day was under control? While you’re eating your breakfast, you can think ahead to managing your stressors. Then, with confidence that you’ll be tackling your stress, you can let go of the extra worries and tensions and focus on enjoying your day. Here’s a bit of background on an approach to try. A group of counselors was asked to think about their clients’ best strengths for a few minutes just before they counseled them. For example, one counselor thought about the client as very loving and kind, another recalled a story the client had told the previous week of how they’d used perseverance and bravery to help a stranger they didn’t know, and yet another thought about the client’s creative use of wordplay and humor. This group was compared with a group of counselors who simply did their counseling as usual, not thinking about client strengths first. The researchers examined what happened, including the potential impact of this approach. The results of this study showed that the clients who received counseling from counselors who thought about their strengths ahead of time benefited in a number of ways over the other group—namely, they made more progress in their counseling session, experienced higher activation of strengths and a greater sense of accomplishment in the session, and enjoyed a stronger relationship with their counselor. This approach of thinking about strengths first is known as resource priming (Fluckiger and Grosse Holtforth 2008; Fluckiger et al. 2009). There’s a lot of wisdom in this study. It tells us that there is an advantage to setting ourselves up for success with our strengths. If you think about your strengths, you can quickly create intentions—and a will—for action. You begin to see more clearly that your strengths can turn stress around, and when you’re acting from strength, you increase your chances of success. You can apply this approach by looking ahead in your day—to the to-do list you have to complete, the errands you need to run, the meetings you have to attend, the places you have to take your kids, the demands your supervisor might place on you, and the people you’ll likely encounter. You can consider the challenges of each before you even encounter them: Who might be most difficult to interact with? At what point might your anxiety rise? What situations could elicit your frustration? As you choose one potential stressor, your mind is likely already imagining details, conversations, scenarios. But it’s unlikely that your mind is automatically playing out the multiple ways your character strengths can be used to handle or overcome the stressor or even thrive within it. You can practice directing your mind to take that approach! Use Strengths Priming to Prepare for Stressors To establish resource priming as part of your regular strengths practice, download this worksheet at and fill it out daily. Name an upcoming stressful event, difficult conversation, or problem you will likely be facing today: Think about your signature strengths. How might you use them with this stressor? Play out your strengths use in your mind. What specifically will that action look like?
    When it comes to the time in your day when this situation is about to occur, don’t forget to first prime yourself with your strengths. What might you do to help you remember to reflect on your signature strengths for about five minutes prior? Do you need to set an alarm on your phone? Give yourself a bit of extra time for preparation? What will best help you? Now that you’ve started your morning off thinking about your strengths and how they can help you handle some of the stress of your day, let’s enhance the versatility of your strengths so you’ll be ready to turn to them at any moment. Getting Versatile with Your Strengths To see the full force of your strengths, you need to get comfortable working with all 24 of them. We’ll examine how each character strength is quite dynamic as you practice very different ways of expressing it—toward other people and toward yourself. To start, consider these two scenarios: Scenario 1: Andy took a class on strengths and noticed he is high in honesty. He says: “I use my honesty strength regularly in my life. This mainly comes across by telling people the truth when they ask me questions. Sometimes the truth is difficult for people to hear, but I share it anyway.” Scenario 2: Nolan took a class on strengths and noticed he is high in honesty. He says: “Being honest is who I am. It is part of everything I do. It drives my interactions with family, friends, and coworkers. People always know where I stand on a problem, a social issue, or a burning question because I am clear and direct with my feedback and opinions. I tell it how I see it. I work hard on being honest with myself too. I cherish others’ honest feedback about me and my behavior. I try to sift through my biases and stereotypes—to really see myself as clearly as possible. I know it’s a lifelong journey, but for me, that’s an essential part of it. I also try to live my life in an honest way, with integrity. If you had cameras up in all the rooms of my house and watched my interactions with my wife and kids behind closed doors, you would see the same thing there as you would when I’m out at a restaurant or at a park. I am who I am. I try not to put up a facade. When things get tough, I turn to honesty. When people are sensitive about a topic, I still turn to honesty. When things are going great, I turn to honesty. Some people say that I am too honest, and I simply respond with more honesty! I listen carefully to them and then share with them that I’m striving to find ways to be truthful while also being considerate of their feelings.” Both scenarios show positive strengths use. But Nolan’s scenario shows the many ways he uses his signature strength and how important it is to him. It’s not just that his explanation is longer, it’s that he’s tapping into different levels of depth with his strengths use, using it across contexts, with both others and himself, and showing he is open to continuing to grow the strength. As I read Nolan’s words, I feel confident that he is not only well versed in his top strength, but that he would likely be quite adaptable and versatile in expressing the strength at times of stress. This versatility is also seen in each of the 24 character strengths. Each can be used in many different ways and for different purposes. An important general concept that we see in the example of Nolan is that character strengths can be turned inward or outward. In other words, we can focus the strength on another person to help grow that relationship or we can focus the strength on ourselves as we go about our day. Nolan turns his honesty inward in his self-analysis, and he expresses it outwardly in his relationships. Some of the character strengths are obviously more inward or outward directed; for example, love and gratitude are typically expressed outwardly, while curiosity and creativity are more commonly directed inwardly, when you’re alone, exploring a new topic or developing something new. It can be particularly interesting to do the opposite of what’s expected. Kindness is generally viewed as doing something nice for someone. But what happens if you turn your kindness inward and are nice and compassionate to yourself? Or consider forgiveness. What might it look like to be forgiving toward yourself? Likewise, you could take a typically self-directed strength like curiosity and point it toward others; instead of expressing it when you’re by yourself searching on the Internet, you could explore a new pathway of group learning, try out a new recipe on your family, or ask a loved one an unexpected question. The following table shows specific examples of inward and outward expressions of ten character strengths.
    Wadifa Club
    writer and blogger, founder of Dog food planet .

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