How your favourite anime character can help to overcome obstacles
In school, we all had to analyse various book protagonists. As adults, most people started to just “enjoy” books and movies. And if it’s cartoons or anime we enjoy, we’re childish. And if we dare to have a shelf full of posters, figures and pins of one specific character, a desktop wallpaper, pillows and even a cosplay, then we’re freaky otakus.
Of course that’s applicable to every fictional character, not only anime. Although you probably rarely see this kind of dedication for e.g. Netflix original series. Fantastic fiction on the other hand definitely belongs here. Looking at you, hundreds of Legolas and Snape cosplayers…
Now imagine you could not only enjoy your favourite anime show but use it to develop your own personality.
But first, what is character, what are strengths and why bother thinking about it?
Character, as opposed to personality, is an old concept. In the Culture of Character the ideal self is described as serious, disciplined, and honorable. What counted was not so much the impression one made in public as how one behaved in private. Whereas in a Culture of Personality, people care about how they are perceived by others 1.
Character strengths are capacities for thinking, feeling, volition, and behaving. They are viewed as the pathways to the great virtues of wisdom, courage, humanity, justice, temperance, and transcendence 2, and as the basic building blocks of goodness that are at the core of who we are (our positive identity). Just knowing your strengths will influence your life in a positive way. And conscious application will improve your life satisfaction, your motivation at work will rise and your relationships will start to flourish as well. Watch this outstanding TEDx talk on the power of character strengths by Dr. Ryan Niemiec, one of the leading researchers in this field.
There are several ways to find and apply your strengths. Here you find over 300 suggestions on how to use your strengths in creative ways.
Unfortunately, humans suffer from a negativity bias, meaning that it’s much easier to spot weaknesses and shortcomings in oneself and others, than to focus on positive traits. Most people are overly critical and fail to identify personal strengths that friends and family spot easily.
Science comes to the rescue!
The scientific way to find out about your strengths is by taking an assessment, e.g. the VIA Survey by the nonprofit VIA Institute on Character.
Another, and much simpler, way is to answer following questions:
- What are the things you love to do? Where you forget time and space? Also think of your childhood!
- When do you feel most energized? What comes very easily to you?
- When do you get the feeling that you can live out your true self?
- What do others say is typical for you?
Knowing your own character strengths is the most important first step, which is highly beneficial on its own.
And here is where your favourite fictional character comes in. When you (consciously or not) declared this character as your number one, two things might have happened.
This is me with four years. I was a tomboy and never cared about girly things.
Three years later the first animes appeared on the screen and I was hooked. In the course of time, I felt the urge to express my love for Japan and anime in the open, not just by drawings in my school books. But I had no internet, no community and no friends to share my interest.
Life as a teenager is hard by itself. But especially hard when you decide to look differently: there are peers and parents who think that wearing checked skirts, knee-high socks and pink ribbons might be considered not kawaii (Japanese for cute) but everything else. Anime fans would have seen where the inspiration during my teen years came from… if I knew any!
So I often struggled with doubts and the fear, whether it’s really worth it to live out my true self, knowing that others won’t like it.
By chance or fate, my number one manga character came along: Mikako Kouda from the manga Gokinjo Monogatari by Yazawa Ai. She’s a high school student who always felt like colourful candy in between an army of rice balls (their school uniform was white with seaweed-green coloured highlights).
Holy guacamole! That’s exactly how I felt! When other teenagers wore brands and wanted to feel cool and party, I preferred my pink second hand dress with ribbons in my hair. I totally identified with her and felt less alone. Her prominent character strengths are zest, creativity and appreciation of beauty. She liked to design clothes, I liked to draw. I felt like I found my soulmate – and I am pretty sure you know this experience as well.
You might be the quieter type, no macho but someone who is caring and reflective. Then you watched or read Tokyo Ghoul. “Wow, Kaneki Ken is kinda cool! He is not the typical dominant protagonist but is thoughtful and has deep issues. Still he cares and fights to stand up for his friends and finally also for himself.”
2. Strength spotting
Deepen the connection to your favourite protagonist by introducing another way to work on strengths, which is to spot them in others. Ask yourself following questions and think about what strength might be behind the answers you come up with:
- How does your favourite character act throughout the story? What are the motives behind their behaviour?
- How does the character relate to others?
- Does the character change? Internally or externally?
- How does the character cope with problems, obstacles or antagonists?
Did you find some strengths that are similar to yours? I’m pretty sure you did, except you settled for a batsh** crazy character (well… what might be the message here?).
But you probably also spotted strengths that you don’t have (yet). Moments, where your character surpassed his fears, overcame difficulties and grew in personality. And where you maybe thought “I could never do that. I’ll never be as courageous, strong willed, seductive etc.”
That’s the everyday self-talk for many people.
“I could never talk to her, I’m so bad at smalltalk and flirting.”
“I never convince in job interviews. They’ll think that I’m a wimp without experiences, just because I cannot sell myself well.”
“I was never the sporty kind of person and I’m big boned. Training in front of those body builders and gym rats would be self-destruction.”
“Can I really leave the house, looking like this? Everyone will talk behind my back.”
That was my self-talk at school, most mornings. Oftentimes, I found myself looking at my book shelf. And there she was. Mikako who later on went to a fashion school to pursue her dream. Who then started to wear whatever she liked, dyeing her hair blonde and then pink. Whoalways was authentically bold about what’s important to her. She found friends who value her for exactly who she was, not who she might have tried to be to conform social norms.
“What would Mikako do? How would she feel?” She also had moments of weakness, falling down and failing.
But she always rose and acted according to her values. So that’s what I decided to do as well.
I took her as a role model and surrendered wholeheartedly to my passion for everything Japanese and kawaii.
3. Strength role models
After you spotted the strengths in your favourite protagonist, the next step is to transfer them into your life.
- Think of a situation where you noticed negative self-talk. What did you do to trigger that? What did you tell yourself?
- Why did you beat up yourself? What did you want to do differently in that situation?
And now switch roles with your favourite character.
- What would she do? What would she feel, think and say in that situation?
- What would her message to you be?
By consciously asking yourself those questions when you notice negative self-talk coming up, you switch your attention away from the problem to solution-focused behaviour of a personal role model. This can take away some pressure and inspire to act. By repeating those “as-if” situations, you transfer the strengths of your favourite character into your everyday life.
What can help is to have a tangible talisman for your character’s message. You probably have merchandise that you can use as a talisman for those situations that your personal Kaneki Ken or Mikako Kouda (or Sailor Mercury, the black Power Ranger, Legolas, Dr.Cox or Harry Potter) would handle with ease and what you can do as well.
In psychological lingo this is called an anchor as it anchors thoughts, feelings, revelations and epiphanies in objects or also in parts of your body.
What are yours?
Do you have talismans or anchors in your life? Show them to me and I’ll add them to the gallery if you like. Because that’s something to be proud of! Watching anime is no kid’s stuff, but using something you love to strengthen your character and bring more fulfilment to your life. Get inspired by the behaviour of your personal hero and conquer difficult situations like they would do – by using the inner strengths they have and you have as well.
1Cain, S. (2012). Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. New York: Random House.
2 Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A classification and handbook. New York: Oxford University Press/Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.