Building Your Resiliency: Part V – Recognizing and Utilizing Your Signature Strengths

by Brett & Kate McKay on March 16, 2010 · 13 comments

in A Man's Life, Personal Development

Image from Von Asaider

This is the fifth part in a series designed to help you boost your resiliency. For the previous entries, see Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV.


When we first introduced the topic of resiliency, we discussed how it is both a reactive and an active quality, a skill that helps you bounce back and reach out.

Today’s discussion will center on the active aspect of resiliency and the path to gaining the confidence to take risks and embrace change.

Anchoring Your Resiliency in Your Authentic Self

When your self-esteem and sense of self-worth is tied to other people, your job, or any other external factors, your confidence is subject to every wind of change and lacks real stability. Any time these external factors change, your happiness and confidence go with it. Your emotional fortitude goes up and down like a roller coaster.

Tying your self-concept to external factors also keeps you from embracing adventure and approaching the world like a courageous explorer. If you base your self-concept on external things, any changes in those things will throw you for a loop, create anxiety, and compel you to cling as tightly as you can to the status quo. You become desperate to keep your life just the way it is and can’t handle change. You avoid traveling, moving, changing jobs, and getting into relationships because these steps alter the environment on which you’ve based your self-concept, leaving you feeling lost and out of control

The key to active resiliency is to build your self-concept not on a constructed self, but on an authentic self, not on external things, but on the inner, personal strengths that make you unique as a man. Your unique strengths are your special tools that will allow you to build a happy and fulfilling life. Understanding what tools you possess can give you the confidence that you’ll be able to face any challenge that comes your way. While we can’t predict the future, we can have confidence in our ability to deal with whatever happens.

Basing your self-concept on your personal strengths allows your resiliency to remain strong wherever your go and whatever happens to you.

Think of it this way, you can either live in a fort, with your only gun in the turret, or you can strap your arsenal to yourself and take it anywhere you go. The resilient man is the guerrilla warrior of life.

Finding Your Character Strengths

Those will some knowledge of psychology will probably be familiar with the “DSM”-the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The DSM classifies and lists all the psychological disorders recognized by the American Psychiatric Association.

Drs. Martin Seligman and Christopher Peterson are pioneers in the field of positive psychology. Believing that the field of psychology had spent too much time focusing on mental sickness instead of mental health, the two set out to create a list not of human disorders but of human strengths. These doctors set out to find virtues which had been prized almost universally across time, religion, and culture.

Their research yielded 6 core virtues. Under these virtues they listed 24 character strengths associated with each one. The character strengths were the avenues to living and attaining that virtue. Let’s take a look at the list:

1. Wisdom and knowledge-cognitive strengths that entail the acquisition and use of knowledge

  • Creativity
  • Curiosity
  • Open-mindedness
  • Love of learning
  • Perspective

2. Courage-emotional strengths that involve the exercise of will to accomplish goals in the face of opposition, external or internal

  • Bravery
  • Persistence
  • Integrity
  • Vitality

3. Humanity-interpersonal strengths that involve tending and befriending others

  • Love
  • Kindness
  • Social Intelligence

4. Justice-civic strengths that underlie healthy community life

  • Citizenship
  • Fairness
  • Leadership

5. Temperance-strengths that protect against excess

  • Forgiveness and mercy
  • Humility/modesty
  • Prudence
  • Self-regulation (self-control)

6. Transcendence-strengths that forge connections to other people and the larger universe and provide meaning

  • Appreciation of beauty and excellence (awe, wonder, elevation)
  • Gratitude
  • Hope
  • Humor
  • Spirituality

Before you proceed further, take 20 minutes to take the VIA Survey of Character Strengths, available free at under the heading “Engagement Questionnaires.”

Did you take the test? Good. Now look over the list of strengths given in your results.

No test is perfect, and the taker can bias the results by choosing answers that don’t describe themselves as much as they describe the person they wish they were. So you want to double-check that the strengths listed are the real you. Seligman and Peterson recommend that you evaluate the authenticity of each strength with this criteria:

  • A sense of ownership and authenticity (“This is the real me”).
  • A feeling of excitement while displaying the strength, especially at first.
  • A rapid learning curve as the strength is first practiced.
  • A continuous learning of new ways to enact the strength.
  • A sense of yearning to find ways to use it.
  • A feeling of inevitability in using the strength, as if one cannot be stopped or dissuaded from its display.
  • Joy, zest, enthusiasm, even ecstasy while using it.
  • Invigoration rather than exhaustion when using the strength.
  • The creation and pursuit of personal projects that revolve around the strength.
  • Intrinsic motivation to use the strength.

If a strength meets several of this criteria then it is truly one of your signature strengths. Signature strengths are “strengths of character that a person owns, celebrates, and frequently exercises.” If a strength doesn’t meet any of those criteria, then they’re probably not one of your signature strengths.

Using Your Signature Strengths to Enhance Your Life and Resiliency

“Resiliency comes from a discovered self, not a constructed self. It comes from the gradual emergence of your unique, inborn abilities in a process called individuation. The better you become, the more unique you become as an individual-and it never ends.” -Dr. Al Siebert

Now that you know what you signature strengths are, you can use them to enhance your life in three ways:

1. Start basing your self-concept on your signature strengths, not on external things. This isn’t some banal self-esteem affirmation where everyone is special just because. Your signature strengths are the things that truly make you unique and give you something special to offer the world. Allow yourself to feel confident in what you have to offer people. As we discussed on Monday, we may never be superheroes in the traditional sense, but you should look at your signature strengths like your unique “superpowers” that you can use as a force of good in the world.

2. Embrace your signature strengths as the arsenal of tools you have to meet life’s challenges. Unlike external things, your signature strengths can go anywhere and help you in any situation. If you get divorced, let go from your job, or move to a new place, your signature strengths are hanging around your shoulders like a bandoleer, ready to be employed to build something new. You are the Rambo of resiliency.

3. Exercising your signature strengths wherever and whenever you can. The exercise of your signature strength is the path to true fulfillment, gratification, satisfaction, and happiness. Find ways to employ your signature strengths more often in your job, relationships, families, and faith. The more fulfilled you feel, the stronger you’ll feel as a man, and the easier it will become to take risks and brush off setbacks.

The Resiliency Advantage by Dr. Al Siebert

Character Strengths and Virtues by Dr. Martin Seligman and Dr. Christopher Peterson

Authentic Happiness by Dr. Martin Seligman

Building Your Resiliency: Part I – An Introduction
Building Your Resiliency: Part II – Avoiding Learned Helplessness and Changing Your Explanatory Style
Building Your Resiliency: Part III – Taking Control of Your Life
Building Your Resiliency: Part IV – Iceberg Ahead!
Building Your Resiliency: Part V – Recognizing and Utilizing Your Signature Strengths
Building Your Resiliency: Part VI – Quit Catastrophizing
Building Your Resiliency: Part VII – Building Your Children’s Resiliency

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Nate @ Practical Manliness March 16, 2010 at 9:26 pm

I recently read an interesting book (I think it was Talent Is Never Enough) that explained an interesting fact relating to this article: Every person has two options: making weaknesses mediocre strengths or making strengths unusual greatness.

We can either focus on making our weaknesses become as strong as the average person, or we can develop our signature strengths (or talents) into true greatness.

Thanks for the great post!

2 peter March 16, 2010 at 10:42 pm

Wow! That was a long test, but it was insightful. Thanks for the article and the link

3 Nate March 16, 2010 at 11:22 pm

I agree with Peter, that’s quite an insightful test. I don’t think I found out anything about myself that I didn’t already know, but the test kind of reminds me of “Identifying your core values” from the 30 Days to a Better Man series; even if you already knew those strengths/core values, it helps to be reminded of them and see just how strong they are.

4 Dai-Yuan Huang March 16, 2010 at 11:35 pm

Thanks for the excellent article, Brett. It’s really helpful.

5 Nate March 16, 2010 at 11:36 pm

One negative thing I believe I have to point out, though, is that all of the questions related to leadership seemed to view leadership in the context of making everybody feel connected, happy, and “in”, which I don’t think is a complete picture of what leadership is. An effective leader has to make a cohesive team AND get the job done at the end of the day.

6 Tyler Logan March 17, 2010 at 5:00 am

Nice post. Personal, inner strength was a battle to create and maintain. At first I took comfort in a fake self-concept while I pieced together my own, which I may or may not have completed by now – I’ve lost track of what I constructed for comfort and what I’m constructing for real.

I really like your part on positive psychology, very interesting. I didn’t do the questionnaire but I’ve bookmarked it for later.

7 Albert Maynard March 17, 2010 at 6:11 am

Do not miss the ancient philosophers on this topic! As I am reading your series about resiliency, I often discover sentences that could be quotes from the stoics or epicureans as well.

What is called “resiliency” here is something Seneca and Epicurus where all about.
Try Seneca “On Providence”, first book, which is about the role of adversity in shaping your character.
(“[...] the assaults of adversity do not weaken the spirit of a brave man. It always maintains its poise, and it gives its own colour to everything that happens; for it is mightier than all external things. And yet I do not mean to say that the brave man is insensible to these, but that he overcomes them, and being in all else unmoved and calm rises to meet whatever assails him. All his adversities he counts mere training. Who, moreover, if he is a man and intent upon the right, is not eager for reasonable toil and ready for duties accompanied by danger? To what energetic man is not idleness a punishment?”)

And Pierre Gassendi third book of his Syntagma, “Concerning Hapiness”, which is in my opinion the best summary of the moral philosophy of Epicurus.
(“[...] it is necessary to readily endure the labors of acquiring virtue, as they must be followed by marvelous pleasure and comfort. [...] “When we say that pleasure is the end, we do not mean the sensual or the debauched kind, which terminate in the very moment of enjoyment [...].)

Those philosophers urged the youth of their age to aquire those facculties which they termed “virtues” to archieve a state of “peace of mind”, which is not so much like the mediative state of mind which we might associate with the term “peace of mind” according to the eastern philosophies , but rather like a strong backbone, that allows us to lead a good [and manly] life, or rather, is the essence of “the good life” itself.

This should allow you in every stage, in every disaster of your life to stand fast an say “Uror, sed invictus.”(Seneca) and “Si fractus illabatur orbis impavidum ferient ruinae.” (Horacius).

[You might forgive me strange & flawed grammar - I am no native speaker of the english language.]


8 Albert Maynard March 17, 2010 at 6:23 am


Another good source, of course, of which the ancients probably would have said to build your “resiliency”, if they had use this word, is to acknowledge the fundamental “offices”, or “dutys”, in a mans life.

The best source for this is Cicero “On duty”, which has been the gentlemans handbook in europe for many centuries, from the renaissance to the age of enlightment. I would even dare to say (being not alone in this) that this book was the most influential in shaping the codex of the gentleman.

9 David March 17, 2010 at 10:55 am

Hi, Albert

My latin is so poor as to be non existant. Are the phrases roughly:

1. It burns, but I am unconquered.
2. If the world falls into pieces, the fearless celebrate the ruins.

I really need to get a copy of Wenham or something. Latin is manly!

10 Josh March 17, 2010 at 12:03 pm

Hey guys, another GREAT tool out there in the same arena is the book at small test called StrengthsQuest. This is more a professional survey of your strengths, but naturally is informs who you are as a person. In reading the results of this, I really felt it hit home with it’s descriptions of my 5 main strengths. Here is a link:

Everyone in my office has taken this test and we all agree that it is pretty astounding what it say about you. Using the information is another thing entirely, but it’s nice to basically get clinically diagnosed positively and leave with 5, count ‘em 5 area where you excel.

11 Ricky March 20, 2010 at 10:28 pm

Why do I feel like the author of this post has now read too much postmodernism. It is just screaming out of every sentence.

12 Nate December 24, 2012 at 3:24 pm

@Brett, Kate

This is a really great series of articles so far, it’s just about exactly what I needed to read lately too.

Thank you! You’re inspirations!

13 Anthoney November 8, 2013 at 8:49 am

Much of this is truly inside of us. We just need a push or guide in the right direction. The great ones dont stop growing and always seem to be on the journey to find the true selves, and our place in this world!

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