Can You Use Strengths Without Mindfulness? | August 2022: Volume 3, Issue 4

By Dr. Ryan Niemiec
character strengths briefing Dr. Ryan Niemiec

A bimonthly briefing on the latest science and practice of character strengths.

We know there are many benefits to using character strengths. But, can you truly use your strengths without mindfulness? Yes, it is surprisingly common to mindlessly use your strengths. This issue shares some interesting examples of mindless and mindful strengths use, and examines the main pathway for becoming mindful of your character strengths.


Strengths Use: Mindless or Mindful?

We are using our character strengths far more than we realize. However, the default mode of our mind is an autopilot mode. We not only drive, walk, and eat without paying attention, we can also use our strengths on autopilot. Here are some examples:

  • Curiosity on autopilot: “That’s interesting,” you passively say to your friend’s story about their day and then you start talking about your day.
  • Love on autopilot: A quick “OK, love you” as you leave home placing a kiss on your loved one’s cheek.
  • Gratitude on autopilot: An almost imperceptible, “Great, thanks,” when in conversation with a work colleague.

This mindless strengths use is pervasive and readily applies to all 24 strengths. Surely, these examples are “better than nothing” but at the same time, are poor examples of the potential that our character strengths hold to impact relationships and life in general. While there is no perfect “mindful strengths use,” here are some examples for the same three strengths in which a more intentional, attentional approach is taken.

  • Mindful curiosity: “That’s interesting. Tell me more about what happened at work. What was most impactful about what your boss said to you?” You then follow-up your curious questioning with a genuine interest in listening to your friend’s story and asking additional questions that pique your intrigue.
  • Mindful love: “I love you, Sam,” and you feel the sensation of your lips touch the cheek of your loved one. You deliberately hug Sam for an extra few seconds while feeling the contact of the warm embrace.
  • Mindful gratitude: “Judy, I wanted to take a moment to tell you how much I appreciated all the effort you made on this project. You really went the extra mile. I’m grateful to you for your hard work.”

The Central Pathway for Mindful Strengths Use

How might we develop this capacity for mindful strengths use? The central approach is Mindfulness-Based Strengths Practice (MBSP),an evidenced-based, manualized, 8-week program that infuses the best and most recent science and practices from the fields of mindfulness and character strengths. Science has revealed MBSP to be superior across numerous well-being variables over the gold-standard mindfulness program (MBSR) in 3 peer-reviewed studies (Hofmann et al., 2019; Monzani et al., 2021; Pang & Ruch, 2019), and systematic reviews of MBSP are positive (Prasath et al., 2021). Below is a table that outlines the core topics of each MBSP session (Niemiec, 2014). While 30 practices are engaged with and discussed in MBSP, one sample practice from each session is shared.

Session 1: Mindfulness and Autopilot

The autopilot mind is pervasive; insights and change opportunities start with mindful attention.
Sample practice: Mindfulness while drinking water

Session 2: Your Signature Strengths

Identify what is best in you; practice strengths spotting in each of your life spheres. These can unlock potential to engage more in work, boost positivity in relationships, and reach higher personal potential and purpose.
Sample practice: Mental subtraction of a signature strength

Session 3: Obstacles are Opportunities

The practice of mindfulness and of strengths exploration leads immediately to two things –obstacles/barriers to the practice and a wider appreciation for the little things in life.
Sample practice: Statue meditation (seeing your capacity to handle suffering)

Session 4: Strengthening Mindfulness in Everyday Life (Strong Mindfulness)

Mindfulness helps us attend to and nourish the best, innermost qualities in ourselves and others, while reducing negative judgments of self/others; conscious use of strengths can help us deepen and maintain mindful living.
Sample practice: Mindful walking

Session 5: Valuing Your Relationships

Mindful attending can nourish two types of relationships: relationships with others and our relationship with ourselves. Our relationships with ourselves contribute to self-growth and can have an immediate impact on our connection with others.
Sample practice: Character Strengths 360 (test, analysis, and debriefing)

Session 6: Mindfulness of the Golden Mean (Mindful Strengths Use)

Mindfulness helps to focus on problems directly and manage strengths overuse and underuse, while character strengths help to reframe and offer different perspectives not immediately apparent.
Sample practice: Fresh look meditation (strengths reframing)

MBSP Half-Day Retreat

Mindful living and character strengths apply not only to good meditation practice but to all daily activities and routines (e.g., listening, speaking, eating, creating, reflecting, etc.). This day is therefore, a practice day.
Sample practice: Character strength intention

Session 7: Authenticity and Goodness

It takes character to be a more authentic “you” and it takes character to create a strong future that benefits both oneself and others. Set mindfulness and character strengths goals with authenticity and goodness in the forefront of the mind.
Sample practice: Best possible self and defining moments exercise

Session 8: Your Engagement with Life

Stick with those practices that have been working well and watch for the mind’s tendency to revert back to automatic habits that are deficit-based or that prioritize what’s wrong in you and others. Engage in an approach that fosters awareness and celebration of what is strongest in you and others.
Sample practice: Pearls of wisdom discussion

JOIN US LIVE THIS FALL FOR MBSP

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Whether you are a practitioner, researcher, or educator, MBSP can bring substantial benefit. With an average satisfaction rating of 4.9 of 5, MBSP builds personal and professional well-being while enhancing one’s confidence to face and handle the suffering in life. The next MBSP experience, offered live 2 times per year, starts September 7th. Learn more and register.

Observations from participants in MBSP:

  • “MBSP influenced how I show up for life.”
  • “The real impact of MBSP is on relationships. It literally helped me build more positive relationships with my family and friends.”
  • “I now see my reactivity through a character strength filter. My stance is now one of calmness, learning, and appreciating.”
  • “I shifted in how I handle conflicts with my colleagues. My approach is to pause, turn to my signature strengths, and practice strengths-spotting in them each day.”
  • “My mother suffers from Alzheimer's disease, which I learned while in MBSP. The course helped me find ways to cope with this situation while maintaining my well-being and self-care.”

Want to help others unlock their potential with mindfulness? VIA has launched an exclusive, personalized training program for leaders like you:
MBSP Certification. Learn more and join us in the next class that begins on September 7.

References

Hofmann, J., Heintz, S., Pang, D., & Ruch, W. (2019). Differential relationships of light and darker forms of humor with mindfulness. Applied Research in Quality of Life. DOI: ttps://doi.org/10.1007/s11482-018-9698-9

Monzani, L., Escartin, J., Ceja, L., & Bakker, A. B. (2021). Blending mindfulness practices and character strengths increases employee wellbeing: A second-order meta-analysis and a follow-up field experiment. Human Resource Management Journal. DOI: 10.1111/1748-8583.12360

Niemiec, R. M. (2014). Mindfulness and character strengths: A practical guide to flourishing. Boston, MA: Hogrefe.

Pang, D., & Ruch, W. (2019). Fusing character strengths and mindfulness interventions: Benefits for job satisfaction and performance. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 24(1), 150-162. DOI: 10.1037/ocp0000144 Prasath, P. R., Morris, C., & Maccombs, S. (2021). Mindfulness-based strengths practice (MBSP) group intervention: A systematic review. Journal of Counselor Practice, 12(1), 1-22. DOI: 10.22229/asy1212021