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  • Tamra Wright

Signature Strengths and the Art of Shameless Self-Promotion

Do you know what your signature strengths are? According to Martin Seligman and other positive psychology researchers, being aware of your core character strengths and intentionally deploying them is one of the keys to well-being. One of the most popular positive psychology exercises involves asking participants to fill in a short survey to determine their scores on 24 different virtues, and then to deliberately use one of their top strengths in new ways every day for a week.

It sounds like a great idea, but here’s a confession: the last time I tried this, in the long-ago pre-COVID times, I rebelled. I decided it would be much more fun to choose one or two items from the bottom end of my strengths report, and work with those instead. This was partially because I was miffed that humour appeared so near the bottom (the quiz creators had clearly not acknowledged my carefully curated collection of witty philosophical anecdotes), and partly because the assignment to use humility, on which I had scored highly, in novel ways seemed both dull and perplexing at the same time.

Humility means accurately evaluating your accomplishments. It’s easy to describe what humility is not — it is not bragging, not doing things in excess, not seeking the spotlight, not drawing attention to yourself, not viewing yourself as more special or important than others. On the other hand, it is not bowing to every wish or demand of another person and it is not being highly self-critical. Truly humble people think well of themselves and have a good sense of who they are, but they also are aware of their mistakes, gaps in their knowledge, and imperfections. Most importantly, they are content without being a center of attention or getting praised for their accomplishments.

A common misconception is that humility involves having a low self-esteem, a sense of unworthiness, and/or a lack of self-focus. However, true humility involves an accurate self-assessment, recognition of limitations, keeping accomplishments in perspective, and forgetting of the self.[i]

No doubt there are good techniques for deliberately “forgetting the self”, thinking well of oneself at the same time as being aware of mistakes, and being content without a lot of attention or praise, but the assignment to consciously do these things, in novel ways, was somehow not very appealing. By choosing to work on humour instead, I found myself speaking up more than usual at meals with friends and other social gatherings (remember those?), and if not quite “seeking the spotlight”, occasionally occupying it for a while.[ii]

At this point, it is tempting to write “But enough about me!” and return to the main aim of this blog. As I wrote in my first post, my goal is to provide a resource that will help you, the reader, take useful and inspiring ideas from positive psychology and other disciplines, and turn them into behaviours you can easily implement in your own life, using the Tiny Habits approach. Yesterday, however, I realised that something akin to humility was getting in the way of this project.

Let me explain: I don’t have robust evidence to back this up, but I believe that the best way for many – if not most – people to learn and implement Tiny Habits is to participate in the free five-day online programme, or otherwise work with a coach. Reading BJ Fogg’s book is a great starting point for people like me, who want to explore the ideas and the evidence before committing to the process. But the five-day program provides structure, input, and accountability in a way no book on its own can do and, I believe, makes it easier and therefore more likely that people will actually design tiny habits recipes and, following the simple instructions, transform them into automatic behaviours.

What does all this have to do with faux humility? Yesterday, as I composed an email promoting my Captain Tom 100 Tiny Habits challenge, I looked through the feedback from past participants. I intended to choose some key quotes about the programme in general, and about my qualities and successes as a coach. The first part was easy, the second, much less so. In fact, I finally sent the email without including any of these wonderful testimonials:

“Tamra was brilliant! She was supportive but not pushy. Made you feel supported but not pressured!”

“I have already recommended a friend to Tamra’s Coaching for next week.”

“I appreciated talking to my coach this week when I was finding it hard to celebrate my habits.”

“Enjoyed the experience and Tamra was great!!”

Nor did I mention that everyone who filled in the survey would either definitely or probably recommend me to a friend, or that participants had this (unedited, so excuse the typos) feedback:

What did your coach do well during the week?

  • Offered useful advice and positive support

  • Tamra helped me to be more specific with my anchor moments and to help me be aware of my body’s feelings during these anchor moments.

  • Positive encouragement, making me feel good about small achievements

  • specific feedback and some really good advice

  • Encourage and explain

  • very attentive

  • Emailing each day

  • Gave good feedback

  • Communication

  • encouraged me in creating tiny habit

  • encouragement, suggesting tiny tweaks, generous with time, and offering excellent insight on how to make the habits stick

  • Feedback to adjust habits to make them manageable

  • Very helpful in ensuring the setting of realistic and specific goals and offering support and encouragement towards achieving them xx

  • Regular check ins and encouragement

  • Tamra helped me to refine my habits to ones that are more achievable

  • Excellent. Provided direction feedback and encouragement

  • Daily check in and replies to my queries

Back to (genuine) humility, as described by the experts: “Truly humble people think well of themselves and have a good sense of who they are, but they also are aware of their mistakes, gaps in their knowledge, and imperfections.” I am not the world’s best, or most experienced, Tiny Habits coach, but I would humbly suggest that there is a good chance I can help you too.

[i] See the Via Institute on Character website for more information about the different strengths and to take the test. These two paragraphs are quoted directly from the website. [ii] A note for anyone reading this who doesn’t already know me personally: I’m an academic with over two decades of experience in speaking to large and small audiences. By its nature, this work often involves being in the spotlight, and I don’t generally try to avoid it. I am also a card-carrying introvert, and contrary to popular misconceptions, there is no contradiction here.

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