Writing a self-report always seems fatuous but it is an important introspective skill that is required of professionals especially in the field of psychology. The idea here is that we cannot only move toward helping others, but we must also certainly be aware of our strengths and limitations and perhaps, try to work on them and enhance these skills.
The Values in Action Inventory is a psychological assessment to help individuals identify an individuals profile of character strengths. It is based upon the Character Strengths and Virtues Handbook which is seen to be the positive psychology counterpart to the DSM (Snyder & Lopez, 2007).
Upon conducting the Values in Action inventory, it was shown that my top three skills were kindness, love of learning and fairness in that particular order. Positive psychology takes a step forward by contextualising these constructs and does not leave them as merely theoretical positions.
Love of learning is an important dimension for my own life and as such, I decided to work on two activities. The first one was cycling daily and the second one was taking up a new course on Coursera that would encourage me to learn something new.
Some effort must be taken of course to try to explain how the love of learning may be translated into an activity such as cycling. During my cycling excursions, I find that the easiest way to take in information is by spending time actively observing the world around me. This means that time must be spent taking in the feeling of myself on the saddle, what it feels like to have the road underneath me, the undulating path that I followed, the sounds of the street, the various potholes that I must be aware of and avoid. Every day I practised being more aware and alert of the street and eventually, I found that in addition to improving my stride it helped increase my reaction time to the road conditions around me including modifying pace and increasing my stamina.
To increase my love for knowledge theoretically, I took up a course on Chimpanzee Behaviour offered by Duke University through the Coursera platform. The first week of the course was related to the basics of chimpanzee behaviour, the various sub-species involved including Pan troglodyte verus, elliotti, troglodyte and schweinfurthii which are spread from East to West over the Gombe reserve. The course addressed the problems of habituation of the researchers and put into perspective what precisely we could learn from chimpanzees as well. The second week of the course involved learning about the pregnancy, birth and upbringing of the newborns in the chimpanzee community.
Kindness was the next strength that I worked on. Understanding kindness is a rather difficult task. There is a combination of several constructs that lead to the formation of this construct called kindness. There is kindness that can be expressed concerning the world around and kindness may be internalized as well. Psychology has a strange way of studying kindness with experiments ranging from those in Ikigai to those performed by Masaru Emoto where water has been spoken to and examined under a microscope (Radin et al., 2006). It was shown in a double-blind trial that how one spoke to water shaped how a crystal formed.
I turned inward to try to practice kindness. One of the most important persons in the therapeutic relationship is the practitioner himself. And of course, one of the major professional hazards of practising psychology is that the therapist is prone to internalized stresses at a much higher rate than their clients. The activity that I practised to practise kindness for myself was actively listening to music as a self-care activity. This for me was something that I was able to focus on and saw myself feeling It was an interesting exercise.
The second activity that was created to establish kindness was taking care of the animals that live in and around my colony. This was to be undertaken by feeding the dogs daily and spending some time talking to them. Studies indicate that talking to animals create feelings of calmness among the people that practise it (Custance & Mayer, 2012).
The third strength that I worked on was that of Fairness. While interacting with fairness, the two activities that I planned to execute was exploring political opposition. This emerged from the events of the attack on the US Capitol Building on the 6th of January, 2021. Scholars like Steven Pinker and Johnathan Haidt suggest that we are living in the golden age of society based on the accrued data over the years. However, it would suggest (through possibly availability biases) that societies have become more politically oppositional to one another. And so I decided to read two of my favourite authors to explore their takedown of political opposition; namely Christopher Hitchens and Noam Chomsky.
The second activity that I structured was trying to objectively listen to people. This can be practised by focusing on empathic listening without disrupting the other speaker and this is something that I think is invaluable in building clinical skills as well.
Output of strengths
It is not a weakness to admit fault. One of the most important skills that a clinician may develop is being able to acknowledge the limits of their professional capabilities. What these three skills did, if nothing else, was teach me how I could find a way to identify those limitations that existed for myself.
As a learning experience, I focused mainly on the concepts of mindful awareness and flow. It was by actively being involved and aware of my life around me that I began to embody the writing of gurus such as Thich Nath Hanh and Wim Hof who have worked relentlessly to help individuals learn to turn their focus inward as opposed to being focused on the material world around them. I will attest to how I saw a gradual increase in my awareness of my body and my mind. I became aware of how I was taking in information and translating this into a sort of embodied wisdom. Through cycling, I found that there indeed was a deeper connectedness that I constructed with the world around me. By exploring opposing thoughts I became aware of sore points in my own mind’s eye that I needed to work on.
Physiologically, there was a deep sense of calm and sense of the world around me. I found that I had a lowered resting heart rate (measured through my smartwatch, unfortunately, I was unable to demonstrate this due to limitations of the app). It did not mean that I turned into a zen monk overnight but I became aware of the actions I could take to help myself feel calmer and more relaxed.