Character strengths are the building blocks of positive psychology approaches (Peterson & Seligman, 2004). Instead of focusing on one’s shortcomings and dysfunction, an awareness is cultivated of using and developing their strengths to stimulate the helpful behaviour and attitude required for productive change (Niemiec, 2017).
Although others also count, the character strengths of creativity, perseverance, forgiveness, self-regulation, and hope play a determining role in successful and sustainable habit change.
#1 - Hope
Firstly, the motivation to pursue a habit change is inherently based on hope, and optimistic future-mindedness that provides sufficient incentive and expectation of a reward to invest effort in achieving it.
#2 – Perseverance
By definition, habits are routines or patterns of behavior that are ingrained and difficult to change. Most often, they are attached to their own incentives, such as avoiding discomfort or pain, seeking distraction, and looking for external validation. Therefore, success requires perseverance and the ability to moderate and control one’s impulses and emotions (self-regulation).
Persistence in overcoming obstacles and restarting after failures is the mainstay of any worthwhile change process, while resisting the urge to give up and revert back to one’s old ways.
#3 - Forgiveness
Acceptance and forgiveness of one’s weaknesses is vital when facing and managing setbacks, relapses, and sticking points. Without the capacity of self-forgiveness, building and sustaining new habits is onerous and less likely to succeed. In other words, self-forgiveness gives us the capacity to pick ourselves up, face criticism, and defy the odds.
#4 - Creativity
While other character strengths may also play a role in building healthy habits such as perspective, honesty, zest, kindness, gratitude, and social intelligence, the fourth and final strength highlighted here as integral to most instances of personal change is creativity. This means to be adaptive and inventive when identifying and trying new solutions to old, established problems, like unhelpful habits. By seeing and doing things in different ways, one can circumvent or break through sticking points and blocks and “trick” the mind to adopt the new habit more readily.
By doing a few simple exercises every day, a person can develop the character strengths that will enable them to form and sustain habits more successfully. Research has shown that regular practice of just one activity from the list per character strength will have a significant impact on each character strength, with an amplified effect on habit formation.
If you do some of these things for a few weeks, you are highly likely to notice the positive change in your character strengths of Hope, Perseverance, Forgiveness, and Creativity. Together, in harmony, your ability to introduce and sustain new habits will also increase and you will be more adaptive and resilient to changing external demands.
Linley, P. A., Maltby, J., Wood, A. M., Joseph, S., Harrington, S., Peterson, C., Park, N., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2007). Character strengths in the United Kingdom: The VIA Inventory of Strengths. Personality and Individual Differences, 43, 341-351. DOI: 10.1016/j.paid.2006.12.004
McGrath, R. E. (2014). Character strengths in 75 nations. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 10(5), 407–424. DOI: 10.1080/17439760.2014.888580
Niemiec, R. M. (2017). Character strength interventions: A field guide for practitioners. Boston, MA: Hogrefe.
Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. New York: Oxford University Press.
Swart, J. (2020). What do the character strengths of coaching students tell us? Wisdom Magazine, 2. Retrieved from URL.
Amritha is a Forensic Scientist-turned-certified Health and Habits Coach. She helps working professionals break bad habits and build new sustainable ones. They learn to stop procrastinating and take small consistent actions towards managing their time and productivity.
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