If you are like most people, willpower and self-regulation may not exactly be among your top strengths. E.g., for most of us, self-regulation is located pretty close to the bottom of the list when filling in the VIA questionnaire on 24 character strengths – which is based on Seligman´s and Peterson´s book Character Strengths and Virtues.
But then, breaking or making habits is one of the most important tasks when trying to succeed at a personal change project. So lo and behold! There´s help on the way. In earlier days, people would tie a knot in their handkerchiefs to help them remember things. These days, people don´t use handkerchiefs that much – but most of us do have a smartphone (or two…). And of course, there´s lots of apps around that strive on the fact that our spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.
On New Year´s Eve, I´ve decided I´d like to become a “nicer” person this year. It´s not that I´m an asshole right now – I just thought I could put a little extra effort in it. Probably a “side effect” of being in the MAPP program…
OK. The Good Habit Maker is a nice little (free) app that does only one thing: at pre-selected intervals over the day, it’ll push one sentence to your smartphone´s screen, e.g. your personal change mantra. Helps a lot to bring your mind back to what you want to achieve during busy schedules.
The app Balanced is a little more refined, it´s a sort of task manager. You can enter specific tasks that you want to accomplish, and the quantities/intervals you intend to fulfill (e.g., “watch a TED talk once a week”). The app will then continuously remind you to complete those tasks until they are done. It also keeps track of you levels of completion and timeliness. There´s a demo version that is limited to a small number of tasks – the full version comes at $ 2.99.
And finally, the Grid Diary: as the name suggests, it´s a nice and clean diary app. The useful twist: you can pre-select (or enter your own…) specific questions. So instead of having to think about what to write each and every evening, the app will make you respond to the prompts that you specifically chose to be given. By way of example, I use it as a gratitude journal, which is one of the pre-eminent interventions in Positive Psychology. It´s free but offers some in-app purchases.
Enjoy! Keep it going! And for some extra energy, power up your Sisu!
I really don´t have time to write to today – but I want to want to write something. So instead of composing a longer text, I´d just like to point you to two great TED talks by Barry Schwartz, Professor at Swarthmore and guest lecturer in the MAPP program. The first one is about decision-making and how having too many choices can make us miserable. The second one is about Barry´s conception of practical wisdom. He has also written books on both topics.
While psychology for the first hundred years of its existence as an academic discipline has very much focused on the negative spectrum of human emotions (fear, guilt, anger etc.), positive psychology looks mostly to the favorable end of that range. On the very far side of the positive sphere lies an emotion which hasn´t really gotten a lot of attention – until one of our MAPP lecturers, Jonathan Haidt, came along. This is emotion is awe. You can see what awe looks like on the face of the Little Guru. It´s a picture I took while he was watching his first display of fireworks ever. You can sense the unique blend of joy, fascination – and fear.
The element of fear marks the crucial difference compared to my wife´s facial expression: she´s seen a lot of fireworks in her life, so she´s just delighted; the angst is missing. Here´s what Haidt has to say on awe in an academic paper on that subject:
Two appraisals are present in all clear cases of awe: perceived vastness and a need for accommodation, defined as an inability to assimilate an experience into current mental structures.
Furthermore: “Awe is felt about diverse events and objects, from waterfalls to childbirth to scenes of devastation. Awe is central to the experience of religion, politics, nature, and art. Fleeting and rare, experiences of awe can change the course of a life in profound and permanent ways”. In addition, Haidt lists five appraisals that account for the “hedonic tone” of the awe experience:
So obviously we can experience awe e.g., via beholding forces of nature, a beautiful piece of art, Roger Federer playing tennis, by experiences such as might have happened to Paul (a.k.a. Saul), and also by witnessing acts of great virtue – as in this video of Team Hoyt (get a Kleenex first if you´ve never seen this before…).
If you´d like to learn more: Jonathan was featured on Oprah a while ago – and he also gave a TED talk touching these issues by the name of “Religion, evolution, and the ecstasy of self-transcendence”:
Since the onset of psychology as an academic discipline at the end of the 19th century, it has been functioning on the premise of a disease model: most psychologists were mainly interested in what´s “wrong with people” – and then finding cures for all those wrongs. Which is fine, but … just not the only way looking at humankind. It took psychology about a hundred years to take on the opposite perspective: trying to find out what´s right with people. Together with a colleague, the late Christopher Peterson, Martin Seligman published the book Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification about ten years ago, which scientifically classifies and describes 24 human strengths based on six broad virtues.
In order to make their list, a character strength had to satisfy most of the following criteria. Character strengths should be:
- intrinsically valuable;
- not the opposite of a desirable trait;
- trait-like (stable over time);
- not a combination of the other character strengths;
- personified by people made famous through story, song, etc.;
- observable in child prodigies;
- absent in some individuals;
- and nurtured by societal norms and institutions.
The six virtues and 24 character strengths are:
Wisdom and Knowledge
(strengths that involve the acquisition and use of knowledge)
- love of learning
- perspective and wisdom
(strengths that allow one to accomplish goals in the face of opposition)
(strengths of tending and befriending others)
- social intelligence
(strengths that build healthy community)
- active citizenship
(strengths that protect against excess)
(strengths that forge connections to the larger universe and provide meaning)
- appreciation of beauty
- humor and playfulness
What are my signature strengths?
Why should anybody be interested in his/her strengths? The rationale for finding out what our real strengths are is rather simple: Using our so-called signature strengths in daily life and work makes us happy – and most likely: successful. It makes us feel good about ourselves. It invigorates and energizes us. It´s the real deal…
You can find out what your signature strength are by taking a comprehensive scientific test on Martin Seligman´s website: the Signature Strengths Questionnaire. I´ve taken the test about a year ago – my main character strengths are:
Curiosity and interest in the world
You are curious about everything. You are always asking questions, and you find all subjects and topics fascinating. You like exploration and discovery.
Love of learning
You love learning new things, whether in a class or on your own. You have always loved school, reading, and museums-anywhere and everywhere there is an opportunity to learn.
Zest, enthusiasm, and energy
Regardless of what you do, you approach it with excitement and energy. You never do anything halfway or halfheartedly. For you, life is an adventure.
Humor and playfulness
You like to laugh and tease. Bringing smiles to other people is important to you. You try to see the light side of all situations.
Capacity to love and be loved
You value close relations with others, in particular those in which sharing and caring are reciprocated. The people to whom you feel most close are the same people who feel most close to you.