Strength building is a common approach used across education and the workplace. Identifying our strengths can be helpful, especially if this helps us to flexibly achieve our valued goals. We have been testing out strengths work for the last few years in the clinic, schools and workshops. We’ve now created a beautiful set of cards to help with identifying strengths and are offering the cards free for download.
Lets take a look at how you can use strengths consistently with mindfulness work for young and adult clients. This strength work fits inside our DNA-V model, but can be applied equally across all mindfulness approaches.
Strengths are behaviours we use all the time, our purpose is to help people use them to build valued living.
We use strengths to refer to behaviours that help us engage in valued activities. By way of contrast, other approaches use them as self attributes (e.g. I am kind, I am courageous). We see this as problematic because of the way humans use language – if we give people more “I am” labels, they’ll also derive more “I am not” labels. The more labels we attach on our self, the greater the chance that self criticisms will pop up whenever we don’t live up to the tag line. Our alternative is to focus on holding labels and concepts lightly, so we use strengths as behaviours that people engage in that help them with value. Just like values work, strengths are verbs, not nouns.
We use the strength cards in a sorting fashion. First choose your top 5, then next 5, then the rest. You can even choose the 5 you most want to work on. While you are choosing, watch the Advisor (inner critic) come to the party. The inner battle inevitably shows up — recall when you’ve been asked to look through a personality test for your attributes: “Are you kind? Are you honest? Are you a team player?” etc. Instantly your Advisor (inner voice or inner critic) jumps in to remind you of all your inconsistencies and failures. For example, when I try choosing strengths from a list like this, my inner voice says things like, “Well here you are choosing teamwork as one of your strengths, but what about yesterday when you were gossiping about a colleague.” On, and on, the Advisor goes. Together we work to reveal this sneaky Advisor behaviour as we do the strength work, “That’s just what Advisor’s do, we get to decide if the advice is worth listening to.”
We then want to help people see how they are using their strengths, because we want to use them to build valued living. For example, I’d say one of my strength behaviours is ‘kindness’ and a key value I hold is connection and relationships. So I try to use my ‘kindness strength’ for the purpose of building my value, for connecting with others and giving love. But sometimes, my kindness is nothing more than historically shaped contingent behaviour, that is, I say yes when I really want to say no. Or my kind behaviours are disguised pliance rules, “I must be kind to be a good person.” And at other times, my kindness behaviours result in too much work and I end up neglecting the values I care about the most. Of course, kindness can also be a value too, there can be overlap between what we call a strength and a value. For our purposes, we are using strengths to build value.
Try the sort yourself. As you work though the cards, think about how you have been using your strengths:
- Is your strength persistence? Does your persistence always build your values, or are you sometimes like a dog with a bone, unable to give up?
- How about forgiving? Do you know when your strength of forgiving helps you with valued living, and when it becomes a default ‘should’ behaviour. Do you ever suffer from abuse because you are forgiving someone who is harming you?
In DNA-V strength identification is one of the key discoverer steps, but spotting can just as easily be used in any mindfulness work. We have been using strength cards in this way for a few years now and found them pretty useful for helping people to connect their strength behaviours to building value.
Simple instructions are included in the cards. More instructions on their use in: Hayes, L., & Ciarrochi, J. (2015). The thriving adolescent: Using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and Positive Psychology to Help Young People Manage Emotions, Achieve Goals, and Build Positive Relationships. Oakland, CA: Context Press
We love them so much we are providing them free for our colleagues.
Note: We ask that members do not reproduce or sell these. In the near future (just waiting on printing) the cards will be printed professionally and sold to raise money for charity, just as we have been doing with our values cards for the past 5 years. We will notify the list when they become available for purchase on www.thrivingadolescent.com, or www.louisehayes.com.au
Click to download the cards here (Note the file size is large to give you the highest possible resolution; the download may take awhile. You can print on business cards, or print one you like as a poster. Adapt as you see fit”)