Change is Possible (and Inevitable)!

I haven’t announced it on my blog until now, but there have been a lot of changes for me lately…

After an amazing five years of Clinical work at the Melbourne Sleep Disorders Centre and Victorian Counselling and Psychological Services, I have decided to finish up and take on a brand new and exciting challenge.

On August 16th, I left Melbourne, Australia, and flew to Port Vila Vanuatu, where I will be living for the next two years. I will be taking on a volunteer role as part of the Australian volunteers program, which is funded by the Australian government.

beach birds calm clouds

The title of the role is Mental Health Specialist (Clinical Psychologist), and I will be assisting the Ministry of Health in Vanuatu with the implementation of their National Mental Health Policy and Strategic Plan. While my exact role description still remains vague, already I’ve met some great people, given a talk to Police Academy cadets about mental health, substance abuse and self-care, and assisted in the facilitation of a five-day training with 60 health care professionals, service providers and community leaders from all over the Shefa province in Vanuatu.

I came over to Vanuatu hoping to put into place effective ways to increase mental health awareness, reduce stigma and increase access to effective psychological interventions for anyone who could benefit from them, and it looks like that process has already begun!

Finishing up with my clients and leaving behind my life in Australia has been hard, but it’s also helped me to really appreciate what I have in my life in a way that I maybe wouldn’t have been able to without making this move. It’s really led to me reflecting on my life, in particular my last five year and the challenges I’ve been through, the amazing experiences I’ve had, and the people I’ve met along the way. I’ve changed and grown in many ways I couldn’t have imagined, and for that reason I’ve decided to do a pre-departure assessment of where I am at on all of my favourite psychological assessments.

This article will focus on the changes to my character strengths over the last year. I’ve already compared them from 2013 to 2017. This looks at how they have changed since then. Positive psychologists believe that happiness can be sought out and fostered by discovering our natural character strengths and virtues, and then putting them into action on a more regular basis.

beach beautiful bridge carribean

My Top Character Strengths

I will present my 2018 results from 24th through to 1st, with the description from the authentic happiness website and the core virtue from the VIA character website. I will then display my previous survey rankings under each description:

24: Spirituality, Sense of Purpose and Faith

Having coherent beliefs about the higher purpose and meaning of the universe; knowing where one fits within the larger scheme: having beliefs about the meaning of life that shape conduct and provide comfort.

Core Virtue: Transcendence

2017: 23rd
Average score = 23.5.

I do think that having a belief system about how things work in life is crucial to well-being, as is having a higher purpose and meaning in life. I just don’t tend to see my spiritual beliefs to be much of a strength.

23: Self-Regulation and Self-Control

You self-consciously regulate what you feel and what you do. You are a disciplined person. You are in control of your appetites and your emotions, not vice versa.

Core Virtue: Temperance

2017: 24th
Average score = 23.5.

I do think that it is pointless to try to control my emotions, as accepting them and trying to understand them has been much more fruitful for me than trying to control them. Trying to control my appetite is a different story, however. I’d love to be able to do it.

22: Bravery and Valour

You are a courageous person who does not shrink from threat, challenge, difficulty, or pain. You speak up for what is right even if there is opposition. You act on your convictions.

Core Virtue: Courage

2017: 22nd
Average score = 22.

I wish that this was more of a strength for me, but it is something that I struggle with. I admire others who are consistently brave and courageous, and I continue to aspire towards it myself, but find myself to be more cautious than I would like to be.

21: Humility and Modesty

You do not seek the spotlight, preferring to let your accomplishments speak for themselves. You do not regard yourself as special, and others recognize and value your modesty.

Core Virtue: Temperance

2017: 19th
Average score = 15.25. Overall rank = 19th

When I was younger, I struggled to be modest due to insecurities. This improved as I sought therapy and felt much more comfortable with myself. I try to be humble, but do believe that I have psychological skills and knowledge that can be useful to others.

20: Zest, Enthusiasm and Energy

Regardless of what you do, you approach it with excitement and energy. You never do anything halfway or halfheartedly. For you, life is an adventure.

Core Virtue: Courage

2017: 20th
Average score = 20.

I would love it if this were a greater strength for me, but low energy has unfortunately been a long-term issue. Maybe this will change in Vanuatu!

19: Teamwork, Citizenship and Loyalty

You excel as a member of a group. You are a loyal and dedicated teammate, you always do your share, and you work hard for the success of your group.

Core Virtue: Justice

2017: 21st
Average score = 20.

I have played competitive sports since the age of five, and I am always happy to do what is needed to be done to help the team win. Even though my agreeableness and co-operation are extremely high, I probably don’t always see this as a key strength.

18: Prudence, Caution and Discretion

You are a careful person, and your choices are consistently prudent ones. You do not say or do things that you might later regret.

Core Virtue: Temperance

2017: 17th
Average score = 17.5.

My cautiousness levels are usually really high. Taking the risk of moving to Vanuatu is a big one, but I spoke to a lot of previous volunteers before I left, and they all seemed to love it here. So far, I do too.

17: Perspective Wisdom

Although you may not think of yourself as wise, your friends hold this view of you. They value your perspective on matters and turn to you for advice. You have a way of looking at the world that makes sense to others and to yourself.

Core Virtue: Wisdom

2017: 12th
Average score = 14.5

This has gotten worse, but this could be related to me doubting how much I can pick up on how people are really feeling. I like to try and see things from others perspectives, but prefer to clarify what someone is thinking rather than assume that I already know.

16: Perseverance, Industry and Diligence

You work hard to finish what you start. No matter the project, you “get it out the door” in timely fashion. You do not get distracted when you work, and you take satisfaction in completing tasks.

Core Virtue: Courage

2017: 10th
Average score = 13.

This has dropped a little. I do try to persevere with projects that are important to me, but my low energy and fatigue can get the better of me sometimes.

15: Gratitude

You are aware of the good things that happen to you, and you never take them for granted. Your friends and family members know that you are a grateful person because you always take the time to express your thanks.

Core Virtue: Transcendence

2017: 11th
Average score = 13.25. Overall rank = 17th

My gratitude has dropped, but not because I don’t value it. Gratitude practice can do wonders for some people. For me, I try to do it whenever I am getting too caught up in all the little details of life or catastrophizing about something.

14: Leadership

You excel at the tasks of leadership: encouraging a group to get things done and preserving harmony within the group by making everyone feel included. You do a good job organizing activities and seeing that they happen.

Core Virtue: Justice

2017: 16th
Average score = 8.75. Overall rank = 5th

Leadership used to be a key strength back in the day, but now I try to work in a much more collaborative way and seek first to understand where others are coming from and what they want rather than just telling them what to do.

13: Hope, Optimism and Future-Mindedness

You expect the best in the future, and you work to achieve it. You believe that the future is something that you can control.

Core Virtue: Transcendence

2017: 18th
Average score = 15.5.

I’m glad that this has improved as much as it has over the past 14 months. Optimists tend to take more risks in life and experience better health in general. Sometimes caution is good, but not if it stops you from doing the things you really want in life.

12: Capacity to Love and Be Loved

You value close relations with others, in particular those in which sharing and caring are reciprocated. The people to whom you feel most close are the same people who feel most close to you.

Core Virtue: Humanity

2017: 6th
Average score = 9.

It’s interesting to see this drop so much over the last year. I wonder if it has to do with the guilt I felt at leaving clients and family and friends in Australia when moving to Vanuatu. I would like it to go back up next time.

11: Appreciation of Beauty & Excellence

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.

Core Virtue: Transcendence

2017: 9th
Average score = 10.

I do try to appreciate the natural beauty of life, and love visiting national parks and going hiking. All the beaches and sunsets in Vanuatu are beautiful too, and it’s nice to sit on the balcony of where I live, and have a great view of the water.

10: Social intelligence

You are aware of the motives and feelings of other people. You know what to do to fit in to different social situations, and you know what to do to put others at ease.

Core Virtue: Humanity

2017: 13th
Average score = 11.5.

This has improved too, but it is particularly tough stepping into a new culture with Ni-Vanuatu, French, Chinese, and many other people in Port Vila too. Engaging with them all on a regular basis without fully knowing what their cultural norms and mores are is challenging, and I’m sure I’ll offend people without meaning to, but hope to become more familiar with all of this over the next two years.

9: Honesty, Authentic and Genuineness

You are an honest person, not only by speaking the truth but by living your life in a genuine and authentic way. You are down to earth and without pretense; you are a “real” person.

Core Virtue: Courage

2017: 8th
Average score = 8.5.

Authenticity is something that I value a lot. I strongly believe that more genuine and authentic people tend to live happier and more fulfilling lives, and being honest is so much easier than having to keep remembering what you said and who you said it to.

 

8: Forgiveness and Mercy

You forgive those who have done you wrong. You always give people a second chance. Your guiding principle is mercy and not revenge.

Core Virtue: Temperance

2017: 14th
Average score = 11.

It’s nice that this has improved. I do want to be able to forgive those who have erred and have done wrong towards me, as I understand the benefits of this type of forgiveness.

 

7: Fairness, Equity and Justice

Treating all people fairly is one of your abiding principles. You do not let your personal feelings bias your decisions about other people. You give everyone a chance.

Core Virtue: Justice

2017: 4th
Average score = 5.5.

Being a middle child influenced my focus on fairness and equality growing up, as I always felt my older brother could do more than me, and my younger sister never had to do anything. I remember creating rules to make sure that things were as fair as possible and have continued to stand up for people that are not given equal treatment or legal rights since then.

 

6: Creativity, Ingenuity and Originality

Thinking of new ways to do things is a crucial part of who you are. You are never content with doing something the conventional way if a better way is possible.

Core Virtue: Wisdom

2017: 7th
Average score = 6.5.

Being original and non-conventional was quite important to me while growing up, but took a back seat when I got married and bought a house in the suburbs. I realised the traditional life was not right for me, and I strongly advocate for you to do what is right for you rather than just going along with familial or societal pressures.

 

5: Judgment, Critical Thinking and Open-Mindedness

Thinking things through and examining them from all sides are important aspects of who you are. You do not jump to conclusions, and you rely only on solid evidence to make your decisions. You are able to change your mind.

Core Virtue: Wisdom

2017: 2nd
Average score = 3.5.

This has decreased a little bit since 2017, but is ahead of where it was in 2013. I am glad that it is still in my top 5, as I do value being able to change my mind over time, especially when there is evidence contrary to what I previously believed.

4: Humour and Playfulness

You like to laugh and tease. Bringing smiles to other people is important to you. You try to see the light side of all situations.

Core Virtue: Transcendence

2017: 15th
Average score = 9.5

I love stand up comedy and have always wished that I was a bit more playful than I have typically been. It’s so refreshing to see how much this has jumped over the past year, and how it is now one of my key character strengths.

3: Kindness and Generosity

You are kind and generous to others, and you are never too busy to do a favor. You enjoy doing good deeds for others, even if you do not know them well.

Core Virtue: Humanity

2017: 5th
Average score = 4.

Doing the random acts of kindness challenge in January 2018 was a nice way to increase this. Volunteering is also a way to be kind and generous with my time and clinical skills.

 

2: Curiosity and Interest in the World

You are curious about everything. You are always asking questions, and you find all subjects and topics fascinating. You like exploration and discovery.

Core Virtue: Wisdom

2017: 3
Average score = 2.5

This has never been a key character strength for me until 2017. Over the past few years, I have become less concerned with my personal issues and much more interested in how I can make a lasting difference on a larger scale.

 

1: Love of Learning

You love learning new things, whether in a class or on your own. You have always loved school, reading, and museums-anywhere and everywhere there is an opportunity to learn.

Core Virtue: Wisdom

2017: 1st
Average score = 1.

This was definitely NOT a strength of mine back in school. Up until 3rd grade, I loved learning new things. Then I stopped reading for fun and put my energy into sport and video games. Once I began studying my Doctorate in Clinical Psychology, I re-found my love of learning new things, and haven’t stopped since then!. I’ve read over 70 books already this year, and my thirst for new knowledge on how people can improve their mental health and overall well-being seems insatiable.

photo of a man standing in the cliff

Can Our Key Strengths Change?

A key strength is what you would put in your top 5 strengths. Fairness, equity and justice has dropped out of my top 5, and humour and playfulness has climbed in. I became more hopeful, forgiving and socially intelligent over the past year too, although these are still not considered key strengths of mine. If all of this means I am getting back to being a little less serious and having some more fun over the past year, then I’m pretty happy with the changes I’ve made and the overall direction that I’m heading!

My Top Virtues

Based on my 2018 findings, my top virtues are as follows:

Wisdom – 1st, 2nd, 5th, 6th, 17th. Average score = 6.2

Humanity – 3rd, 10th, 12th. Average score = 8.33

Justice – 7th, 14th, 19th. Average score = 13.33

Transcendence – 4th, 11th, 13th, 15th, 24th. Average score = 13.4

Courage – 9th, 16th, 20th, 22nd. Average score = 16.75

Temperance  8th, 18th, 21st, 23rd. Average score = 17.5

My transcendence scores improved the most, with my wisdom dropping slightly over the past year but still holding onto the top spot. I’d love for courage to improve more by the next time I do the test.

boy wearing orange shirt blowing on dandelion

Does It Matter Which Strengths We Have?

Maybe. What is most important I think is that we are aware of what our individual key strengths are and that we can put these character strengths into action as often as possible.

Seeing that our strengths can change over time, however, it is worth looking at if some character strengths predict a higher level of well-being than others. In the excellent book ‘Curious: Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life’, Dr Todd Kashdan (2009) found that curiosity was one of the five strengths most highly associated with:

  • meaning
  • engagement
  • pleasure
  • satisfaction in one’s work, and
  • happiness in life.

In research conducted by Seligman and Peterson (2004), the only strengths that were rated higher than curiosity for being substantially related to satisfaction in life were hope, zest and gratitude. The other strength in the top 5 was capacity to love and be loved.

Only curiosity is in my top 5 (at #2), so either I try to build more hope, zest, gratitude or love in my life, or I accept that this is currently what my strengths are and aim to put them into practice on a more regular basis.

animal animal world bark city park

What do you think? Should we all try to have the same strengths that have been linked with increased life satisfaction on average, or should we put our own unique strengths into action more?

Even better, why don’t you find out what your key strengths are by taking the VIA Survey of Character Strengths at the VIA character website, and then let me know what your key character strengths are and if you would prefer for other items to be in your top 5!

 

Dr Damon Ashworth

Clinical Psychologist

25 thoughts on “Change is Possible (and Inevitable)!

      1. You’re most welcome. That’s cool, I thought it would be the first time. I left my country to do my Psychology PhD 3 years ago. I’m about to leave soon again to make volunteer work and more creative work as well, hopefully in Africa and Asia. I hope you keep us updated 🙂 You already brightened up my day without knowing it.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Wow, thank you Damon for sharing this. Your honesty when talking about your new chapter and in assessing your own character really inspired me to take a look at myself. You’ve certainly given me some things to think about!

    I took the VIA survey and my top 5 character strengths are; Hope, Humour, Fairness, Love and Forgiveness which make me sound like the Dalai Lama! I would love to increase my Leadership (11), Curiosity (13) and Love of Learning (14).

    Thanks again for the food for thought and best of luck in your new adventure!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Congratulations on your new adventure and thank you for sharing the Character Strengths Study. I did the test and my first 3, 1 Gratitude, 2. Honesty 3. Spirituality I would expect these. I am sure you will be a great enhancement to the team where you are now. Best of luck.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Damon. First of all, congratulations on the move and all the best for your endeavours. Given your commitment, I’m certain you’ll achieve a lot of wonderful things for the community.

    Also, this was a great post. I have been wondering on what my strengths and weaknesses are (and not just for purposes of preparing for job interviews) and this character test will be very helpful. Can’t wait to take this test. 🙂 Thanks for sharing your knowledge and insights.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. What an excellent practice you have taken. I your gift for self-honesty. I have a feeling, though, that your spirituality progress is more than you think. To me, spirituality ties in to the other traits. Best of luck in your new vocation.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m also a big fan of self-assessment, but yours seems like a standardized test you might use with your clients. Is it? Good for you re’ following your heart and taking the next adventure. Very best wishes!

    Liked by 1 person

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