Thursday, January 28, 2010

Improving Personal Strengths - How You Make It Happen

In my previous two posts, I gave my definition of "personal strength" and listed over 40 examples.

The question is, what do you have to do to develop a personal strength? How do you focus on something like Patience or Courage and make it stronger?

First, I'd like to say one more time that personal strengths aren't passive qualities, virtues, attributes or characteristics. They're behavior patterns. This means that over time we developed neural pathways in the cortex of our brains to enable the pattern. In a real sense, we're hard-wired to behave that way. That doesn't mean that we can't choose to behave in some other way. For example, in a special situation a timid person could decide to perform an act of courage. But most of what we do doesn't happen that way. Most of the time we behave without thinking consciously about it, without making decisions about what to do. We fall back on our comfortable patterns and do what we usually do.

From the perspective of how the brain works, a behavior pattern is no different from a habit or a skill. We do something so often that the brain rewires itself. The brain cells involved in the behavior grow dendrites to form new connections among the cells involved. When the pathway is complete, the behavior no longer requires concentration. It becomes something comfortable you do without thinking about it, i.e. a behavior pattern....

Aristotle wasn't a brain scientist, but he knew what was going on 2,500 years ago: “Whatever we learn to do, we learn by actually doing it: men come to be builders, for instance, by building, and harp players by playing the harp. In the same way, by doing just acts, we come to be just; by doing self-controlled acts, we come to be self-controlled; and by doing brave acts, we become brave.”

And that's really how it works. Kids learn to be fair by being fair. They learn to be honest by telling the truth.

Adults develop personal strengths the same way. Age has nothing to do with it. If you want to be optimistic, you consciously consider the positives in your situation. Over and over again until the neurons form the enabling pathways, and you feel comfortable seeing things from a balanced, realistic perspective.

Yes, it can be a lot like pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps. If you don't have the habit of persevering, and you'd like to grow stronger in that way, your current behavior pattern is to give up too soon. So how do you get yourself to exercise perseverance more often in order to change the pattern?

I didn't say this was easy. You have to really want to change the pattern. It has to matter to you so much that you do the hard thing - you decide to act differently. It helps to be given wisdom. It helps to have coaching. It helps to have encouragement. It helps to get in touch with your own motivations. It helps to reflect on your successes and your shortfalls.

But if you want it badly enough, you can do the hard things. You can consciously choose to behave differently over and over again until the new pattern becomes comfortable to you.

You can learn how to SCUBA dive. You can learn to be more open-minded. You can learn a better way to serve a tennis ball. You can learn to be more compassionate. You can learn to hit a golf ball out of a sand trap. You can improve your self-discipline.

You can work on becoming a stronger person. If that's what you really want to do. Until the day you die.

Tomorrow I reveal why you'd want to go to all this trouble...


Anonymous said...

Thank You!

Anonymous said...

Very informative