The "Golden Mean"

Hi!!! And Welcome Back to Motivated Mondays! 

We’re talking about strengths. 

A quick recap of last week before we continue.

Last week, we discovered that utilizing our strengths is yet another way to bolster resilience and bounce back in the face of adversity (1, 2, 3, 4, 5)! Engaging our strengths buffers against psychological vulnerabilities that decrease well-being and drain resilience (6, 7, 8). This is particularly helpful when life gets challenging as development and use of character strengths enables perseverance and well-being in moments of difficulty.

I hope you accepted my invitation to engage your strengths tool belt in sticky situations and build resilience. Did you pause To Notice, Get Accurate, and Get Creative? If so, what did you discover? How were your strengths helpful in sticky situations?

Even though I have been working with my strengths for quite a while now, I really enjoyed engaging my tool-belt last week. I realized just how much my strengths help me persevere in moments of challenge and transition. They engage me, energize me, calm me, and guide me. They connect me to my core values and ground me in the midst of change. They are a reminder of my priorities and an actionable way to live in alignment. Pretty powerful stuff!

Life is full of transition. It comes in many forms. Some is chosen and some isn’t. Regardless, transition can be full of challenge. It’s not always easy to change, to grow. Yet, change is a frequently present, sometimes beautiful, and often unavoidable fact of life. Consider this...

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How can your strengths help you in moments of challenge and transition? 

I’ve spent that last few weeks singing the praises of strengths. So, this week, I wanted to discuss some of the limitations that arise when using our strengths in action.

Despite all of the wonderful benefits that strengths can bring into our lives, I would be remiss to say that more is always better. Things are rarely an always or never proposition. And strengths use is no different. A strength is only a strength when it is used well. Some call this the Aristotelian mean or “golden mean” (9). For Aristotle, the golden mean was a desirable average between two extremes: deficiency and excess. It was a place of virtuous impact on along a continuum between underuse and overuse. Think about it. What is the difference between bravery and recklessness? 

Context matters.

Remember, the VIA strengths represent values in action. Yet, these pathways to virtue are only beneficial when applied in the right degree for a particular situation (10). Understanding our strengths and applying them appropriately is a ongoing process. 

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I love this quote, because it points to the possible overuse of strengths.

Overuse can have unintended, undesirable negative effects. It’s one reason that strengths use is not always a more is better scenario. We’ve all seen the funny guy use humor inappropriately or in the wrong moment and make others uncomfortable. It's usually unintentional, and this sort of thing can happen to all of us in moments.  

Remember, overuse is not weakness. It is a natural occurrence of a strength that hasn’t been applied to it’s best use. It just needs a little more perspective and nuance to bring out your best. So, the next time you fall into overuse, give yourself some grace and work to modulate the intensity of your strength or leverage a different strength that may be more appropriate to the situation in order to bring balance and find your “golden mean”.

Our strengths can be “hot buttons”. 

Everyone has particular triggers or pet peeves. When tripped, our “hot buttons” can make us emotional and reactionary. Because our tool belt represents signature strengths, it is inherently a collection of virtues that we deeply value. Therefore, when our strengths are challenged by or absent in others, offense can occur. One thing to bear in mind when using your strengths tool belt is that not everyone shares your values. For instance, some folks may value kindness over honesty. While others, value the reverse.

If you find yourself in angry in the next week, check your tool belt. Has a value of yours been trespassed? If this happens, I invite you to take the opportunity to engage curiosity and aim to understand the difference in values that may have popped up. If you are seeking resolution in a moment of conflict, it can be helpful to talk strength-to-strength. Try to hear and validate the other person’s perspective while owning your personal values.

What about underuse? Well, I’m glad you asked. 

Underuse is a also a common occurrence with strengths use. This tends to happen when a strength is being applied in one domain of our lives, but not translating into another. Perhaps you show gratitude at work, but less at home? Or vice versa. Or perhaps your kindness easily extends to others but is difficult to show yourself? 

Does this resonate with you? If so, I invite you to practice engaging a strength in an area where you notice underuse. Remember, you have the skills. It’s just a matter of translating that strength into a new situation or domain of your life. So, why not make the effort to engage your strength in a new context as you seek your “golden mean”.

Another limitation that can pop up as we use our strengths overtime is adaptation. Human beings have evolved to expect the familiar. Generally, adaptation is a wonderful thing that helps us function more efficiently by automating frequent input and adjusting expectations. However, adaptation can also make us take things for granted. It may even lead to strengths blindness or the inability to see your strengths at work because they are so automatic that you aren’t aware your using them. In cases like this, it can be helpful to ask someone close to you for feedback. What do they see as your strengths? Perhaps you've missed something. So go on and ask. The answer just might surprise you!

As we’ve learned today, our strengths have limitations. Sometimes strengths use can have unintended consequences especially when they are not applied to their “golden mean” (9). I hope this helps your understand why strengths are a highly contextual phenomenon (11).

So this week, I invite you to search for your golden mean. Take a moment to consider a limitation of your strengths. Do you want to explore overuse, hot buttons, underuse, adaptation or strengths blindness? Choose one limitation this week and dive in. Draw your awareness to the situation. Be curious and discover as you go on a quest for the golden mean of your strengths.

I hope you accept this call to use search for your golden mean, and I look forward to next week as we explore finding strengths in others! 

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

References

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

2. Lester P, Harms P, Herian M, Krasikova D, Beal, S. The comprehensive soldier fitness program evaluation. Report 3: Longitudinal analysis of the impact of master resilience training on self-reported resilience and psychological health data. Anchorage, AK: TKC Global Solutions, LLC; 2011. 

3. Peterson C, Seligman M. Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification (Vol 1). Oxford University Press; 2004.

4. Reivich K, Seligman M, McBride S. Master resilience training in the US Army. American Psychologist. 2011; 66(1), 25-34.

5. Reivich, K, Shatté, A. The resilience factor: 7 keys to finding your inner strength and overcoming life's hurdles. Random House Digital, Inc; 2003.

6. Hutu V, Hawley L. Psychological strengths and cognitive vulnerabilities: Are they two ends of the same continuum or do they have independent relationships with well-being and ill-being? Journal of Happiness Studies. 2010; 11, 71–93.

7. Park N, Peterson C. Methodological issues in positive psychology and the assessment of character strengths. In A. D. Ong & M. van Dulmen (Eds.), Handbook of methods in positive psychology (pp. 292-305). New York: Oxford University Press; 2006.

8. Park N, Peterson C. Character strengths: Research and practice. Journal of College and Character. 2009; 10(4), n.p.
9. Crisp R. (Ed.). Aristotle: Nicomachean Ethics. Cambridge University Press; 2014.

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

11. Biswas-Diener R, Kashdan T, Minhas G. A dynamic approach to psychological strength development and intervention. The Journal of Positive Psychology. 2011; 6(2), 106-118.

* Special thanks to the VIA Pro Practitioner Guide, 2011.