Starting Your Virtue Strengthening Team

A virtue strengthening team is a group of two or more people who plan to mutually support one another in strengthening one or more of the skills that contribute to a thriving, beneficial life.

Peer-to-Peer Life Coaching, the Free & Easy Way

This page describes a five-step process you might consider adapting in the course of forming your team.

It’s important that your process be appropriate to your unique individual needs. This outline is just a suggestion that may serve as a roadmap. If anything doesn’t seem to fit, or seems to be in the wrong order, or seems counterproductive, figure out something else to put in its place. If anything’s missing, add it.

Choose your teammate(s).

You might find someone you already know and are comfortable working with, or you might want to step outside of your comfort zone (in part this might depend on which virtue you want to work on, so you may want to give a little thought to that first). Some of these processes may involve openness and vulnerability and trust and commitment, so also consider that in choosing your teammate(s).

Set up a meeting.

Maybe this is something you can do over chat or phone, but a face-to-face meeting has advantages.

See “Your First Virtue-Buddy Meeting” for some tips on how to make your first meeting go well.

Choose your virtues.

Take turns, working together to choose which virtue(s) each of you wants to work on first. (You might want to each choose a single one, rather than a bunch, because it will be easier to tackle. But some virtues are closely-related and there may be a good reason to work on some as a bundle. It’s your call.)

Interrogate your virtue together.

What is your current relationship with this virtue? Are you bad at it and want to get good, or good and want to get better? What seems to be holding you back? What does it feel like when you try to practice it, or want to practice it, but don’t do as well as you’d like to? What do you think it would it feel like if you were practicing it fluently? What would it look like to other people who observe you? Can you think of other people who are good at this virtue — what do they look like as they are practicing it? Is this a “golden mean” virtue where you can go wrong by overdoing or underdoing it, and if so, which side of the balance do you usually err on? How will your life and/or the world around you improve as you get better at this virtue? How will you know you’ve got it? How does it relate to / interact with other virtues? Which of your current strengths might you be able to leverage to improve at this virtue?

Take your time in this process. Reassess if necessary.

You may find that as you think over and talk over a virtue, you’ll come to realize that there’s some other related virtue that you might want to work on first. For example, if the virtue you want is trust but what’s holding you back is fear then maybe courage is a more fundamental virtue that would make a better starting point. Or if you want serenity but find that most of the turbulence in your life comes from anger then maybe forgiveness or good-temper is a more precise way to get what you want. If you need help with the vocabulary of virtues or in getting a birds’-eye view of the virtue landscape, take a look at this “mind map” where we’ve been trying to catalog some of the virtues.

Decide on a curriculum.

For some virtues, this will be fairly straightforward. For example, if fitness is the virtue you have chosen, an exercise regimen of some sort is probably in order, or maybe you need to quit smoking. For other virtues, this may be much more difficult to imagine. You may need to do some outside research, or ask for advice from people outside of your team. Rather than trying to work on the virtue itself, you may need to identify some of the obstacles that are getting in the way of you practicing it and work on those instead. The best sort of curriculum will be one in which you regularly and frequently practice the virtue itself or some important component(s) of it. The goal is to make the virtue habitual through practice so you become confidently competent and it becomes a part of your character.

Anticipate and appreciate failure.

You are deliberately choosing something outside of your core competency and comfort zone. You should expect that you won’t get it quite right the first time (or the second or third). Failure means you’re doing it right. Failure is how you learn. Prepare yourself for it and be ready to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, congratulate yourself on your successful failure, and try again.

It can be helpful to anticipate obstacles ahead of time. What will make it difficult for you to fulfill the goals you have set for yourself in your curriculum? Is there anything you can do ahead of time to make it easier to meet those obstacles?

Use tools creatively.

Would it help to keep a journal? To set an alarm on your phone? To put a reminder in your calendar? To begin every day with an affirmation or prayer? To tape a note to the bathroom mirror? Do all the things!

Consider using a “keystone”

One way of establishing a habit is to take some ordinary action you already do habitually, and then attach some new behavior you want to make habitual to it. For instance “after I brush my teeth, I will \[say five things I’m grateful for, or think of one new thing I’m curious about that I’ve never looked up before and look it up, or clean my room, or do 25 sit-ups, or…\]”

Decide how you will help each other stick with it.

Peer accountability is key to this process. You may want to schedule frequent check-ins where you talk with each other about whether you have been successful in following your curriculum, and if not, what’s holding you back. These can be opportunities to make changes to your game-plan and to get feedback and advice. These check-ins are also incentives that keep you accountable and on-target.

Keep looking for opportunities to learn about the virtue you chose and the virtue your teammate(s) chose

Notice a relevant podcast, support group, self-help book, psychological study, blog post? Shout it out!

Expect to make more progress at some check-ins, less at others

Your progress will be uneven, and breakthroughs may sneak up on you when you don’t expect them.

Try to set specific goals for your next check-in

Ask your partner what they plan to do towards their goal of establishing a new habit between now and your next check-in. Consider using the WOOP process. This way, you have something to measure progress against. If your partner is unable to carry out their plans, you can ask what got in the way and try to create exercises for overcoming such obstacles. If they are able to carry out their plans, you can ask them how it went.

Be encouraging, and give positive feedback

Positive feedback is important when trying to form a new habit. When you hear your partner say that they tried to practice the new habit they’re trying to form, try to quickly give them positive feedback for doing so (even if it didn’t turn out all that well).

When it’s time to move on…

When you feel competent at your chosen virtue, pick another and start the process again.

Don’t forget to stop and redefine yourself! Maybe before, you said something like “I’m not very hospitable” or “I’m kind of a pushover.” Now pause to say “I’m a hospitable person,” or “I’m comfortable being assertive,” or whatever is appropriate to the virtue you’ve acquired. Integrating your virtue into your self image may help it to stick.

You may decide that you want to partner with someone else for your next virtue, but please continue to be the accountability buddy for your original partner for as long as they need to practice the virtue they chose when they originally partnered with you.

Help us improve our processes

Along the way, send some notes to our group to help us improve our processes and to keep us in the loop about how you’re doing. Especially if things don’t work out for some reason. Just as each of us individually needs to be prepared to learn from our failures as we learn the virtues, our group as a whole needs to learn from our failures as we improve our processes, and we can only do this if we’re aware of them.