Appreciating Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence – the strength booster!
“That is a strength? I never thought of it that way…” that is what one workshop participant said when we debriefed character strengths. Her top strength of Appreciation of Beauty & Excellence is not something she had ever identified as a strength or even special. And yet, as she explored that strength further, she started to recognize that (a) not everyone experiences appreciation as deeply as she does (b) this strength is her go-to strength to create balance, perspective, hope and happiness.
For those of you who have not read about Character Strengths before, here are five facts to know:
The Cream of the Crop
My top character strengths – my signature strengths – consistently include Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence, Curiosity, Fairness, and Gratitude. Others wander in and out of my top five, but my top 10 -12 stay pretty consistent too…
My #1 strength is always Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence (hereafter Appreciation!). It is core to who I am. I cannot imagine a day without it. But what does having a top strength of Appreciation mean?
Appreciation is ranked as a top strength (in the top five out of 24) by approximately ¼ - 1/3 of the population[i]. After 20 years of research into character strengths, we have not yet discovered much about Appreciation. It is not one of the five happiness strengths (which are Hope, Curiosity, Gratitude, Zest & Love)[ii]. It is not strongly correlated with any of the seven team roles of Idea Creator, Information Gatherer, Decision Maker, Influencer, Energizer, Implementer or Relationship Manager. It does not particularly support lower stress or higher self-esteem. All in all, we don’t have much to say about Appreciation as a strength and what it might be helpful for. I could find only one positive reference to Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence[iii] which as about how it contributes to an appreciation of life and to post-traumatic growth. The same research that identified the happiness strengths highlighted Appreciation (along with Judgment, Humility, creativity, and love of learning) as being the least correlated with happiness!
And yet, as important as my other strengths are to me, I would be nothing without Appreciation. In my mind, it is the supercharger for all my other strengths. Curiosity is so much more gratifying when I sprinkle in appreciation of the research, the skill, the work that has gone into a research paper or a new gadget. As I ask, “what does that do?” I am also thinking, “who came up with that? It is amazing that someone could think of that!”
As I am trying to be fair and take the interests of all parties into account, I cannot help but think about, the way in which each person got to where they are, their unique experience of life, the unique path they have followed and to appreciate that they are special.
When I am feeling grateful, it is magnified by being specific about what I am grateful for – appreciating the skill of a musician or … my dentist! The beauty of the surroundings at my house or during my walk. Or the opportunity to appreciate the clouds from a plane. It is so much easier to feel gratitude when I have Appreciation to shore it up!
Appreciation of Beauty & Excellence - seeing the best in people and things around us! VIA Institute on Character defines Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence as “you notice and appreciate beauty, excellence, and/or skilled performance in all domains of life, from nature to art to mathematics to science to everyday experience.
Research shows that Appreciation has three components.
There are three types of "goodness" for which individuals high in Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence are responsive to:
The Power of Appreciation for Project Managers
Appreciation can help us as project managers in several ways. It can lead to a general sense of wellbeing - for example, lifting our mood when we take a walk outside or feeling excited by a virtuoso performance.
And at work, this strength can be really helpful when it comes to noticing and highlighting the good work – and strengths - of others. Using appreciation makes it easier to provide recognition when someone goes above and beyond, and we are more likely to feel comfortable showing recognition in front of others, sharing their accomplishments and downplaying our own - supporting the strength of humility. When team members feel their efforts are acknowledged and appreciated, they tend to give more discretionary effort to project tasks. And people who give discretionary effort are engaged, and get more done!
Other strengths that are closely related to Appreciation are Gratitude, Curiosity, Love of Learning, Kindness, and Creativity[iv]. You may want to focus on one of these related strengths to help boost your strength of appreciation. You can practice using appreciation by looking for experiences that create a sense of awe, admiration, elevation, and inspiration. As you identify those experiences, you will hone your skill with appreciation.
I am an avid strengths spotter. I will point out the strengths I see in people wherever I go, whoever they are. I trust that my strength of Appreciation will guide me wisely and make my feedback feel authentic and warm. This strength gives me the confidence to speak up when I might otherwise observe and say nothing. I will give you an example.
"A Rose by any other name would smell as sweet" Juliet in Romeo & Juliet, William Shakespeare
The other day I was riding my bike through our neighborhood. Every day I have been exploring because we only moved to our new location a few months ago. As I was riding on this particular day, I noticed that one front yard had the most amazing display of roses. It reminded me of the rose garden at a historic home I used to visit with my parents when I was growing up. In that historic garden, the perfume was intoxicating. I found myself wondering whether the blooms in this particular garden had that same wonderful perfume – so many flowers seem to have no smell at all these days. I moved closer to the garden, took some photos and leaned in to smell. The aroma was at once sweet and aromatic. The perfume was beautiful and rich. Taken aback by the beauty of the flowers and the wonderful smell, I wanted to express my appreciation and gratitude. How could I let the owner know that in some small way they had made a difference to someone else’s day? I wanted to knock on the door to express my pleasure, but the unwritten rules of neighborhood living, social mores that make approaching strangers at best risky and for some people downright threatening, made me pause, but then I thought about how I would feel if I rode away without saying anything.
I climbed off my bike, took off my helmet and sunglasses, and walked to the front door and knocked. I could hear a dog barking inside and appreciated the way it was warning its owner of a stranger at the door. A woman came to the door looking puzzled through the glass. She opened it tentatively, and I immediately apologized for disturbing her and for if what I was about to say seemed like a thing a stalker would do but told her I wanted her to know how much I appreciated the sight and smell of the roses in her garden. She beamed with pleasure and took me out to show me the different roses, explaining that they are her husband’s pride and joy. In that moment, we two strangers were united in our enjoyment of a simple pleasure.
That day my Appreciation boosted my Bravery and Gratitude.
When talking about Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence, one of my favorite clips to share is from The Journey of Purpose - (Google "TJOP - Follow Your Heart"). The images show great feats of expertise and skill. And they make me smile and I feel a great sense of awe at the feats that we can accomplish when we dare to try.
I feel equally moved when I see a blue lizard on the path in front of me, beautiful intricate bark on a tree, all the shades of green on a hillside. Another favorite video of mine is an amazing musical group's performance of the Eagles' classic song Hotel California. (Google "Hotel California Cubanos Acapella") I feel admiration for this band as they make this beautiful music with no musical instruments except their amazing voices! And I feel inspired to try my hand at new things. I am also moved by movies – the bravery, perseverance, social intelligence, self-regulation, love, and kindness in my favorite movie, V for Vendetta, and the richness of the costume and the music, the creativity, love, kindness, humor, forgiveness, and self-regulation in Moulin Rouge.
June 1st marks the 25th anniversary of my immigration to the US and I have just reached 150 consecutive days of meditation. To celebrate I am starting a daily Appreciation post! In it, I will share an example of Appreciation every day. As photos will be the best medium for this, I will share on Instagram and on Twitter - check my profile for details at https://www.projectmanagement.com/profile/ruthpearce/. Twice a month I will use appreciation to explore another strength because as I mentioned earlier, I believe appreciation boosts my other strengths like no other strength in my profile. Those posts will be longer, and I will share those here.
Why not share your experiences of appreciation whenever the mood takes you? What gives you a sense of awe and wonder, what inspires you? Who or what do you admire?
Share your experiences using the hashtags #appreciation and #sbpm and #mbpm
[i] McGrath, R.E. (2017). Technical Report: The VIA Assessment Suite for Adults: Development and initial evaluation, Cincinnati, OH: VIA Institute on Character
[ii] Park, N., Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Strengths of character and well-being. Journal of Social & Clinical Psychology, 23, 603–619.
[iii] Posttraumatic growth in various dimensions corresponds with particular character strengths: improved relationships with others (kindness, love), openness to new possibilities (curiosity, creativity, love of learning), greater appreciation of life (appreciation of beauty, gratitude, zest), enhanced personal strength (bravery, honesty, perseverance), and spiritual development (religiousness; Peterson et al., 2008; Tedeschi & Calhoun, 1995). 1. Peterson, C., Park, N., Pole, N., D’Andrea, W., & Seligman, M.E.P. (2008). Strengths of Character and posttraumatic growth. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 21 (2), 214–217. 2. Tedeschi, R. G., & Calhoun, L. G. (1995). Trauma and transformation: Growing in the aftermath of suffering. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
[iv] Niemiec, R. M. (2018). Character strengths interventions: A field guide for practitioners. Boston: Hogrefe. p141
Creativity is intelligence having fun
~ Albert Einstein
It was a Friday night. I was just settling down for a movie when I received a panicked call. “Nothing is working” the voice said. “We are completely stuck. We cannot reach anyone to make a priority call. There is so much work planned this weekend. We have everyone coming in tonight and the rest of the weekend – twenty two people. Every downstream data consumer needs something. We have deadlines. It is not going anywhere.”
Clearly stress levels were high, frustration levels even higher.
Fortunately I did not have a job in an ER or an OR, or anywhere where lives are on the line. I was working in Information Technology, on a large program building new software, so I had the luxury of any decision being “safe”. Only timelines were on the line. Nevertheless, there was much stress and anxiety in the mix, and it was hard to make sense of the issues. After a few minutes we were able to make a tactical decision on how to move on. We agreed to get “the real experts” (about eight people) on a call the next morning to discuss a more comprehensive plan. I set about lining up the right people for a 10am call.
On Saturday, everyone showed up as requested. They are a good team – dedicated and professional. They had been primed with the necessary information and the call started. First we went through a few minutes of “how did we get here?’ analysis. Sometimes the discussion veered close to “how could you have done that?” as frustration flared again.
After a few minutes I brought them back to the task at hand – getting from where we were to where we needed to be.
The team members started throwing out ideas. Every suggestion made was countered with “that doesn’t work because then we cannot do…..” The next suggestion would suffer the same fate. No set of moves was good enough. Nothing was going to work.
About ten minutes in, I said “Everyone is doing their best, and clearly we cannot do everything that was planned. Something has to give. I am happy to communicate that to management. Don’t worry about that. We can only do what we can do.”
I felt rather than heard the collective sigh over the phone. Voices lowered. The pace of the discussion slowed. Comments were more thoughtful. Each suggestion was evaluated and elaborated as people partnered to move things forward. The focus became what was right with each suggestion rather than what was wrong. It was a total transformation.
In ten more minutes we had agreed the order of the activities. We had adjusted the original plan only minimally. There was a virtual high five as everyone on the phone agreed this was a solid plan and the best one possible. The end result of this problem solving session? Every downstream consumer would get what they needed from the team at the time they needed it.
We took the stress out of the equation and then we had fun working together to come up with a solution. Communicating potentially bad news – “we cannot do what we said we would do” or “you cannot have what you need” was a real worry. How would management react? Would the team be blamed or punished in some way?
As soon as the specter of having to face questions and challenges was no longer in front of this team of capable, experienced, dedicated technical staff, they were free to play to their substantial strengths, and the creative juices were able to flow. The focus was no longer on what we would not have; it was on what we could accomplish. It was not on the goal but the journey – what steps would we take? Who would take on which task? And the goal materialized as we worked.
The team identified and evaluated about four different scenarios, and adjusted and discussed them until the best plan was hatched. It was actually simple, elegant even. It was a step by step plan that got us from where we were to where we needed to be, unfettered by the constraints of delivering a potentially unpalatable message to management.
Unexpectedly we got from impossible to possible, from feeling frustrated and anxious to feeling accomplished and optimistic. The team felt good. The whole process had taken 25 minutes.
And the best moment of all? It was when one of the team on the line said, “And this is not on you. This is a collective decision and we all believe it is the best decision. We have your back.” That alleviated my stress too and liberated me to write this blog!
More and more we are hearing the benefits of mindfulness and meditation. All through my life I have been intrigued by the apparent magic of meditation - it can quite literally reconfigure your brain! But throughout that time, have come back many times to the opportunities and also challenges of meditation.
I have also developed a particular fascination with strengths – one of my top strengths is curiosity and another is appreciation of beauty and excellence. Despite reading and hearing about those positive effects on the brain, mood and the immune system, meditation is still not part of my daily practices. No matter how hard I try, it just does not hold my attention.
Then last week an unusual thing happened. For once I was early for an appointment to meet a friend. I was waiting on the top floor in a retreat center looking out of the window. It was a crisp, cold day. The previous day we had had a small amount of snow that still rested clean and white on the ground and on the trees. With nothing to do but wait, I stared out of the window.
I looked for any hints of color in a largely grey and white landscape. As my mind settled and became focused on the challenge of hunting for every innocuous detail however small, I noticed the tiniest single icicle hanging from the window frame. It was solitary and small, but clear and perfect, suspended from the metal frame.