I have been working on this list since at least 2001 when I retired from full-time teaching at the University of Washington. It has evolved quite a bit since I started. In 2001 I had a list that was far less elaborated. I created the original Top Ten using index cards, each with a possible strength. I accumulated cards over a few weeks until I had 90 or 100. I spread out all the cards and grouped them into ten groups based on their similarities. In the years since then, I have reordered and elaborated the strengths over and over again. This is a snapshot, but it will never be a final list.]
Jerald Forster’s recent “Top 10 Self-Articulated Strengths”
My strongest strength is my overall mental/emotional health. Since Positive mental/emotional health is a rather abstract concept, it needs to be elaborated by examples of components which help to develop the general concept. The primary idea is the ability to deal with the problems and issues which cause personal concern for me. Every living being faces situations and events which are likely to be threatening to normal living. It also applies to situations which are just bothersome. Being able to deal with these threatening or bothersome situations so that they do not cause continued feelings of pain and threat, is the personal strength that might be called: Positive Mental/Emotional Health. It is the ability to remain positive and cope with whatever comes up. There are many descriptors of abilities that allow a person to successfully deal with these personal trials. A few articulated strengths which allow me to be positive and capable of dealing with problematic situations, include:
(1) self-acceptance, (2) wisdom, (3) a positive perspective, (4) open-mindedness, (5) being non-judgmental, (6) high self-regulation, (7) skills of facilitating others to feel more positive about themselves and skills of facilitating small group discussion, (8) a solid understanding of human psychology, (9) acceptance of impermanence, (10) able to articulate new feelings and strengths associated with those feelings.
These qualities help me deal with challenges and adversity with feelings of equanimity and well-being. I elaborate on these qualities below:
- Self-Acceptance: I accept myself as I am. I regret very little about what I have
done in the past that did not work out as I expected. I am aware and accepting of
many weaknesses. I have not continued to focus on these short-comings. Instead, I have
focused on the many strengths that I feel I have. I have been this way for as long as I
can remember, and I am grateful for this strength. I do not know where the strength
came from, but I think my mother had a lot to do with it.
- Wisdom: I feel that I have the wisdom that is described in The Serenity Prayer, which is the
wisdom to differentiate between (a) situations when I can make a change that I feel
should be made, and (b) situations when I do not have the abilities nor the resources
to make a change that I would like to make. I know when to accept “what is,” even
though I sometimes prefer that “things would be different than they are.” I
acknowledge that I sometimes wish things were different, but I realize my limitations
for changing what I don’t like. Wisdom is different from being intelligent. It’s a broad and deep observation of the processing that is happening. I ask myself, “What’s in my mind right now? What am I experiencing? How am I feeling as a result of it?”
- A Positive Perspective: I have a natural propensity to attend to positive
aspects of external and internal stimuli that exist in my spectrum of awareness at any
given moment. Reflecting on things, I realize that the current period is the best time of my life.
(Examples: If considering the future, I am more likely to be focused on the
positive possibilities that could happen; if focused on the present, I am looking for
those aspects that I want to savor, when remembering the past, I am focused on those
experiences that gave me, and continue to give me, a feeling of well-being.)
I feel grateful for everything that has led up to my current lifestyle. I really feel fortunate about the place I live and the people I live with, and the life I have, and the things I do every day.
Even when I sometimes get concerned about the future getting worse, I have the strength of recognizing that I will be able to adapt and remain positive about the present and the future.
- Open-mindedness: I partly attribute this quality to a constructivist-approach to reality.
I hypothesize that I acquired this approach during 50 years of engaging in the
Psychology of Personal Constructs (PCP), started by George Kelly. This approach
helps me realize that I am constantly constructing my own reality. This turns out to be
a big deal in terms of flexibility and openness to experience. I am usually aware that I
am interpreting and constructing rather than recognizing what is going on within and
around me. I am aware that these interpretations are based on my beliefs. I hypothesize that my beliefs profoundly influence my interpretations. I realize that I do not have a corner on the market of truth, which probably results in my relativistic thinking. I also hypothesize that this way of thinking results in more tolerance for diversity and different belief systems. I hypothesize that subjective views of reality are the only reality that humans can grasp or know. I am liberal in my beliefs which is a sign that I am open to new possibilities.
- I am non-judgmental: this means that I am mostly accepting of people whom I
encounter in life. I have very little desire to hurt, punish, or get revenge on another
person. Fortunately, I do not recall experiences where another person has seriously
threatened my safety or my wellbeing. I believe that people are not born evil, and I
generally feel that their bad behavior has been caused or influenced by factors beyond
their control. Basically, I believe that everyone deserves my respect and my compassion.
I nearly always try to think of ways I could help a person live a life where they could thrive.
I think kindly of most people and I am not likely to be prejudiced about those who are
different from me. As mentioned in #3, I have a positive perspective on people.
- I have high self-regulation, or what might be called will-power:
This is a strong ability to be in control of my feelings and actions when faced with
temptations that have some likelihood of being harmful to my long-term health and
my sense of well-being. I eat and drink in ways that are healthy and nutritious. I try
to get all of the sleep I can get and I stay away from places where people get out of
control. I am fairly good at controlling my mind and my emotions. I tend to think
ahead to potential situations that might be dangerous and uncertain.
- I have the desire, personality, and skills to facilitate others to become more
positive about themselves: This may be my primary purpose in life. I believe that
anyone who is alive, and not hurting others, deserves to feel good about themselves
and to feel good most of their waking time. I try to develop methods, written
guidelines, practices, and various opportunities which will help interested people feel
good about themselves and their lives. Fortunately, I found the right career path to do
this. My main employment, as a Counselor Educator at the University of Washington,
allowed me to follow my desired purpose. Since my retirement from full-time
employment, I have continued to devote much of my time to this purpose. During the
remainder of my life, I plan to continue activities which will encourage others to feel
good about themselves and what they are experiencing.
For example, I feel that I have strengths for facilitating small group discussion and conversations with individuals. I have been a member of many small groups during the last half of my life, and I can keep track of how individual participants are reacting, and how the group flow is progressing. I know how to encourage more participation of some and to keep others from dominating. I have done a good job of developing and facilitating an on-going program called Appreciating Elderhood. I am able to articulate good discussion topics that will lead to sharing positive thoughts about ourselves. This is the primary purpose of this group, and I feel that I am good at preparing topics that will enable it to happen. I am also good at initiating one-on-one conversations that lead to mutual sharing of complex feelings and thoughts. Many of my most fulfilling experiences during the last 20 years have been hour-long conversations with persons with whom I share similar interests and passions.
- I have had an opportunity, during my past sixty years, to develop a deep
understanding of human psychology: I am fortunate to have been studying and
teaching at two major universities with excellent scholars and practitioners in my
general field of study. I have specialized in a psychology that is anchored on a
humanistic base. Most of my reading and most of my strongest interests have been
focused on psychological matters. I realize that I focus on people and their
motivations most of my waking hours. However, I really do enjoy my life and my
interests, so I accept this over-focus on psychological matters. Life is very interesting
to me, and my driving motivation is to learn everything I can about facilitating personal growth. I accept that I have been more of a practitioner/teacher in psychology than a scholar. I feel good about what I did to prepare counselors and psychologists for their careers. I also feel good about developing written materials and practices designed to facilitate the personal development of others. One of my most important contributions is a book, co-written with Jennifer Rose, published in 2020. That book, and the website related to the book, offer an opportunity for practitioners to develop a life-long practice designed to articulate their positive identities. Building on the book’s practice, I have articulated a way of becoming more aware of feelings and putting them into words. I am more aware of what my feelings are expressing as a result of the practice. I am good at talking about topics such as the meaning of feelings and how different they are for each person who gives them their own names when they try to articulate them.
- I am comfortable and accepting of the impermanence that characterizes all human
life: I realize that there is constant change in all of our lives from birth to death. I
have a comfortable acceptance that I am going to die someday. This acceptance will
enable me to face the last years and months of my life with peace and a feeling of
thankfulness for my good fortune during earlier periods of my life.
(Example: This sense of acceptance was what happened to me during a 2-week
period in 2007, between an initial (incorrect) diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, and
subsequent surgery, removing the bile-duct cancer that I actually had. I had a similar experience with melanoma since then. This time a new immunotherapy treatment has been prolonging
my life since 2014 [It’s now 2023]. I am quite sure these feelings of acceptance about my inevitable death, and gratefulness for living on borrowed time, will continue as long as I live.)
- I have increased my ability to recognize feelings and to articulate what may be causing the feelings: This ability is described in the First Step of the Practice described
in our 2020 book, mentioned in Strength #8. In this 1st Step, the task is to become aware of Positive Moments (PMs) and then to recognize & articulate what is causing these feelings. I have become more aware of my present feelings, and I can articulate what is causing these feelings, which is the key to the Practice described above.