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Psychological Character Strengths for a Work-life Balance | Interview with Positive Psychology Coach Anda Klavina

Positive psychology coach Anda Klavina gives her views on psychological strength, developing mental skills,and how we can craft a healthy work-life balance to avoid burnout.

Conversations about work-life balance have been thrust into the forefront of the dialectic in society in recent years. Concerns have been raised about the sustainability of working conditions, both as how it impacts the productivity of businesses in the 21st century and the mental well-being of the employees working in these businesses.
We spoke to positive psychology coach Anda Klavina to get her view on psychological strengths and how we can craft a healthy work-life balance.

How would you define psychological strength?

Positive psychology speaks about character strengths. These are inborn qualities; talents like humor, kindness, perseverance, teamwork, and creativity. We each have a handful of traits that we’re naturally adept at working with. Research has shown that using our personal psychological strengths gives us energy, inspiration, and joy.
The VIA classification of 24 character strengths

Would you say all character strengths have their place in a person’s successful career?

We have all 24 character strengths in us, but some of them are stronger in us than others. By taking a free VIA online survey, one can discover their top 24. Those five that are at the very top are considered to be the core of our positive character. The combination is unique for each of us, like the DNA of our personalities. They are our superpowers! The more aware and creative we are about their use, the more successful and happy we can be.
No quality is better than the other. For instance, Steve Jobs created his universe by focusing on his strength of creativity, whereas Richard Branson has built an empire while prioritizing his qualities of humor and optimism. We each can be happy and successful in our own unique way.

What are the most important personal skills that modern business leaders should develop within themselves?

A recent study done by the VIA Institute on Character in the US found that the best decision-makers are those who have one or more of these qualities in their Top 5:
  1. bravery
  2. perseverance
  3. zest
  4. leadership
  5. hope
But, when I shared these results in a seminar in Switzerland, someone objected that they find the quality of humility much more important in a leader.
Humility is a quality to allow others to flourish and succeed by not rushing to take a center stage oneself. The Leader as a coach is an approach more and more business organizations prefer today and humility is a pivotal skill in making this approach work.
So, the question shouldn’t be “which skills are most important for leaders?”, but “how can I leverage my naturally strong traits to become a leader?”.

Do you think business leaders should focus on developing themselves or their teams?

Change and growth happen faster if the leader takes his or her team along in their development journey. Becoming aware of each other’s strengths in a team can foster internal understanding and cooperation tremendously.
For instance:
  • allowing those who have curiosity and creativity as their top strengths to lead the brainstorming meeting
  • putting those with bravery and perseverance as the team leads for an especially challenging task
  • involving those with spirituality and hope to inspire the team when the times are rough.
If the leader knows how to activate team members’ personal resources in addition to their professional skills, it’s a recipe for success.
The good thing is we don’t need special and expensive training to learn our strengths. We already have them in ourselves! All that is needed is a little introduction to the subject to raise our awareness and some practical training on how to apply them.

What methods would you recommend for people to develop their personal strengths?

The key thing is to be aware of the strengths we have and to become active in using them in novel and effective ways. Research shows that if we commit to using our top 5 strengths in a new way for only a week, our sense of well-being increases substantially and the effect remains for up to six months.
I recommend this exercise as a starter exercise. Once you observe that applying your strengths indeed increases energy, inspiration, and joie de vivre, you will be motivated to continue.
If you want to develop some particular strength, read its definition on VIA Institute’s website to get a clearer idea of what it includes. Then, you simply need to exercise these skills. If you want to develop leadership, you could start organizing group activities at university with your friends and family. If you want to improve your natural gratitude, then find time in your day to reflect on the things you’re grateful for.
Another effective method is to be around people who have the quality you want more of. We have a natural tendency to copy the behavior of people we spend time with.
The important thing here though is to remember that our greatest strength is in our natural talents, not in our learned traits. So, while it can be beneficial to spend time focusing on any of the 24 character strengths, as they are elements of positive personal growth, you’ll see the greatest benefits if you focus on your top five strengths. It is here where your added value and unique edge are.

How would you promote a healthy work-life balance?

Positive psychology uses the SPIRE model to define the five most important spheres in our lives that need to be fulfilled in order for us to be in balance. It speaks of five core needs:
  1. spiritual
  2. physical
  3. intellectual
  4. relationship
  5. emotional
As the Wholebeing Institute explains, “Through coming to know yourself better and being in a like-minded, supportive community, you can tap into SPIRE wholebeing as a way to expand””to reach toward stretch goals and to realize aspirations for what you can accomplish and who you can become.”
By prioritizing our top 5 strengths, we can regularly take care of ourselves across each of these spheres.
For instance, if one of your top qualities is humor, you can strengthen yourself spiritually by observing how lightheartedness gets you through the challenging times in life. You can stimulate your mind by reading humorous literature, or you can rejuvenate yourself after a hard day’s work by watching a movie that makes you laugh.
The key is to understand what gives you energy. Then you will be able to keep your life in a balance which improves your feelings of fulfillment both in and out of work.

What suggestions would you offer young businesspeople to help create a sustainable work-life balance and reduce the risk of burnout?

Understand what gives you energy even in small things: having a call with your friend or mom, taking a short run in your favorite park, or playing a musical instrument in the evening. Become conscious of these resources and cultivate them deliberately. Even when you can allocate only 15 minutes a day to do what you like and enjoy, that small amount can create a big change. The aim is to create a life where most of the things you do give you energy.
Don’t be afraid to look for an environment where you can be your true self. If you can use at least four of your top five strengths then it’s a good sign that an environment is a good place to be. If not, be brave and go out in the world looking for the best opportunities for yourself.
I’ve heard countless stories where people, after some search, have found a team, a company, or a business activity where their character strengths are appreciated and they feel in alignment with themselves.
Anda Klavina is an art critic and a positive psychology coach. More about her offer for teams and individuals can be found here: