Do you long to be more creative? Wish you had more humor? Want to be more self-regulated? In my experience after completing strengths assessments like the free VIA Survey people often find there are one or two strengths they'd love to have more capacity in. But can we really change our strengths?
Whilst our strengths -- those things we're good at and actually enjoy doing -- exist within us they are also shaped by the situations we find ourselves in. As a result, some researchers believe our strengths are buildable and changeable so with enough practice, persistence, good teaching, and dedication, any strength could be developed.
So how can you develop different strengths?
Shannon Polly, co-editor of Character Strengths Matter: How To Live A Full Life suggests that by acting "as if" we have a particular strength we can start to realize and embody it.
For example, psychologist Alfred Adler advised his clients who had trouble speaking assertively or responding with some measure of empathy, to act "as if" they were assertive or empathetic several times a day. He believed that as people began to act differently and to feel differently, they became different.
Building upon Adler's work, social psychologist Daryl Bern, found that just as we form conclusions about others by observing them, the same is true of ourselves. By acting 'as if' we give ourselves the opportunity to create new stories about our lives and what we're capable of doing. It helps us to get past our resistance to change by reducing the risk so we can try on new ways of being.
Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky described this process of venturing from who we are right now into who we are not yet, but could be, as our zone of proximal development. He found that this process of acting "as if" expanded our ideas about what was possible for each of us.
When it comes to the strengths you long to develop, can you act "as if"?
"Improvisational theater would tell you to make it up. You have probably observed someone acting in that way in your lifetime. Take that next meeting of yours and try acting "as if" you have that strength," recommends Polly.
She suggests that another way to act "as if" is to read out loud a piece of literature or a speech that embodies that strength. Not only does this help to sharpen your focus and connect you to your emotions and imagination, it also creates space for you play with how the strengths you want sound, feel and look. It pushes you into your zone of proximal development and helps you to try on alternative strengths.
For example if you'd like a little more gratitude try acting "as if" and reading aloud this speech "Farewell to Yankee" by Lou Gehrig:
"I have been in ball parks for 17 years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement. Look at these grand men. Which of you wouldn't consider it the highlight of his career to associate with them even for one day?
When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, sends you a gift, that's something. When everybody down to the groundskeepers remembers you with trophies, that's something.
When you have a father and mother who work all their lives for your education, that's something. When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed, that's something.
So I close in saying that I might have had a tough break -- but today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth."
For a selection of poems and speeches that can help you act "as if" for the character strengths you most want to develop grab a copy of Character Strengths That Matter: How To Live A Full Life, edited by Shannon Polly and Kathryn Britton. Or for more ideas on how you can act 'as if' for different strengths visit http://bit.ly/BuildVIAStrengths.