A Common Language

Hi!!! And Welcome Back to Motivated Mondays! 

We’re talking about strengths. 

A quick recap of last week before we continue.

Last week, I argued against the popular cultural belief that you can be anything you want to be. Instead, I supported the idea that you can be a whole lot more of who you already are (1). We recognized our bias to spend time developing weaknesses (2), and acknowledged that doing so can actually limit our potential (1). Additionally, we learned that most of us underutilize our personal strengths in our daily lives (3). Therefore, there we have great potential for beneficial outcomes if we adopt a strengths perspective and actively engage our strengths more frequently. 

Remember, time is a limited resource, and what we water - grows.

Strengths are considered the building blocks of human flourishing (4). The first step to developing our strengths is cultivating awareness. So, I invited you to celebrate your strengths and and consider the question - What do you do well? I hope you took my invitation to write a story about a time you were at your best. If you did, how did it feel to spend time thinking about your strengths? Was it uncomfortable? Was it energizing? Did anything surprise you?

There are a number of ways to think about and identify personal strengths. This week, I want to introduce you to one way of identifying your character strengths. In 2000, the Mayerson Foundation created the Values in Action (VIA) Institute. One of their primary goals was to develop a common language around strengths as way to help identify and cultivate what it is best within us (5). Having a common language to talk about strengths helps us understand and own what we do well.

So, a team of scholars set out to create the VIA Classification of Character Strengths and Virtues. They actively differentiate strengths from talents and define strengths as trait-like pathways to fulfillment (5). After careful consideration and collaboration, 24 universally preferred character strengths were identified that are valued across cultural traditions and supported by both historical and philosophical traditions (5). That said, not all cultures value each core virtue equally in action. For instance, while justice and humanity are consistently valued in action across cultures, transcendence ranked as a higher value in traditions where meaning and purpose are a core value.

Character strengths are pathways to virtue (7). 

It is important to note that all 24 character strengths matter (7) and that this classification is not intended to be prescriptive (5). Rather, it is intended to be a descriptive “manual of the sanities” (6). A common language. Like all good science, this classification is open to thoughtful change and growth. So it is possible that this list could shift over time. Time will tell! 

Without further ado, I would like to introduce the VIA Character Strengths! 

VIA 3.png

Check out this beautiful pie chart! 

As you can see, VIA identified 6 core virtues to help categorize the 24 character strengths: Wisdom, Courage, Justice, Humanity, Temperance, and Transcendence. Think of the character strengths listed in each category as a potential pathway to the core virtue it is listed beneath. Take a minute familiarize yourself with this chart. 

Do any strengths jump out at you as something that is a personal value? 

Using self-identified strengths that feel authentic is both natural and energizing (8). Research supports the use of strengths can positively impact both well-being (9), life satisfaction (10), and performance (11). Wowza! That is great news and makes the use of character strengths a wonderful tool when the goal is to increase well-being and performance simultaneously (12).

Like many of the topics we discuss here, these benefits are not without caveats. Merely identifying character strengths can actually lead folks to under preform (13). So it bears repeating that the active use of strengths is what leads to the beneficial outcomes I am discussing. In fact, folks who believe their identified character strengths are stable traits may not exert effort in developing them (14). Therefore, maintaining an growth mindset (or the view that core aspects of one’s self are capable of development) helps us engage and develop our strengths while supporting beneficial outcomes (13). 

It is not enough to know what you do well, you need to use and develop your strengths in action! 

While we are all capable of using any of these strengths, everyone has a tendency to utilize certain character strengths more than others. So, let's dig in and discover!

This week, I invite you to think about the highlight story you created last week and identify which character strengths were at work in your success story. Identify at least three strengths that played a role in this success and why. Write them down! Think of them as your personal constellation of strengths. Then, spend some time thinking about other moments in your life when these particular character strengths were helpful to you. Do you see a pattern? 

I hope you all enjoy writing about your character strengths, and I look forward to continuing the conversation about strengths next week!

As always, gratitude for the expertise of the following resources.


1. Rath, T. StrengthsFinder 2.0. Simon and Schuster; 2007.

2. Rozin, P., & Royzman, E. (2001). Negativity bias, negativity dominance, and contagion. Personality and social psychology review. 2001; 5(4), 296-320.

3. Buckingham, M. Go put your strengths to work. New York, NY: Free Press; 2007.

4. Wedding, D., & Niemiec, R. Positive psychology at the movies: Using films to build

virtues and character strengths. Cambridge, MA: Hogrefe; 2008.

5. Peterson, C, & Seligman, M.. Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification

(Vol 1). Oxford University Press; 2004.

6. Easterbrook, G. (2001, March 5). I’m OK, you’re OK. The New Republic, 20-23.

7. Niemiec, R. (2013). VIA Character Strengths: Research and Practice (The First 10 Years). Well-Being and Cultures: Perspectives from Positive Psychology, 11-29. 

8. Seligman, M. Authentic happiness. New York: Free Press; 2002.

9. Gander, F., Proyer, R., Ruch, W., & Wyss, T. (2012). Strength-based positive interventions: further evidence for their potential in enhancing well-being and alleviating depression. Journal of Happiness Studies, 1-19.

10. Seligman, M., Steen, T., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60(5), 410-421.

11. Dubreuil, P., Forest, J., & Courcy, F. (2014). From strengths use to work performance: The role of harmonious passion, subjective vitality, and concentration. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 9(4), 335-349.

12. Seligman, M. Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being. New York: Free Press; 2012.

13. Dweck, C. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Random House.

14. Hong, Y. Y., Chiu, C., Dweck, C. S., Lin, D., & Wan, W. (1999). Implicit theories, attributions, and coping: A meaning system approach. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77, 588–599.