The following is adapted from The Self Help Book by Jared Graybeal.
Honestly, out of all the areas important for personal growth, this might be the most important one. You can be the smartest, most confident person in the room, but if you have a desperately flawed character, those things won’t get you very far.
But what exactly is “character” anyway?
Technically, “character” is a morally neutral term. Everyone, from the well-known saints like Mother Teresa, to the most despicable examples of evil like Adolph Hitler, have a character. The term is used to describe a person’s most noticeable attributes; it’s the compilation of all their features and traits that define them and their individual nature.
To say that a person has a “good character” (which is the goal here) doesn’t require them to be perfect, but it does mean that we consider them worthy of our trust and admiration.
So, how do we strengthen our character? This can be tricky. Character is not defined by a single moment or action, but by the habits you cultivate over time. It’s defined by your consistent adherence to generally accepted moral values, not by the things you say or “intend” to do.
Character is both formed and revealed by how we deal with everyday situations as well as extraordinary pressures and temptations. Like a well-made tower, character is built stone by stone, decision by decision. In that slow-but-steady spirit, here are a few consistent, character-building habits you can begin cultivating today.
Tip #1: Practice more honesty and integrity.
This isn’t to say that you aren’t already an honest person with some level of integrity, but I think everyone can grow in this area. Some people think of honesty as simply not lying, but it’s more than that.
Honesty and integrity are also:
- Being more sincere in your feedback.
- Telling people how you feel.
- Doing what you say you will do and communicating or apologizing when you can’t.
- Recognizing that “white lies” are still lies.
At the end of the day, I believe honesty and integrity are more than feel-good buzzwords. They symbolize the idea that your words have meaning, and your actions are trustworthy. By strengthening these traits, your character will grow by leaps and bounds.
Tip #2: Learn empathy.
“Empathy” means the ability to understand and share the feelings and experiences of another. In other words, empathy is imagining yourself in someone else’s skin: feeling what they feel and seeing yourself and the world from their point of view.
Empathy is one of the most important character traits you can acquire in your lifetime, but it is also the hardest—since it is virtually impossible to put ourselves in other people’s shoes without actually experiencing what they have.
Here are a few ways to grow in empathy:
- Become a better listener.
- Serve at a local homeless outreach or do a mission trip.
- Spend time alone thinking, praying, or meditating about and for others.
- When dealing with someone in certain challenging scenarios, ask yourself these two questions: “If I were them, would I want to be treated this way?” and, “How would I realistically act in this scenario if I were them?”
By allowing yourself to take others’ perspectives into account, you will gain a whole new dimension of character when it comes to the way you make decisions, and treat other people.
Tip #3: Express gratitude.
If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Who knows…but that’s what I think of when I think about people who don’t express gratitude. Being grateful for others is great, but if no one knows, what real good does it do? I believe that gratitude is more than a feeling, and it should most often be expressed as a verb.
Tell others that you are thankful for them, show them with your actions, and do it consistently. Since I am a creature of habit and am easily distracted, this is actually something I have in my daily to-do list. I try to make a point every day to let someone know in my life—whether it’s from a text, a call, buying a coffee, setting a dinner date, etc.—that I love them and am thankful for them.
Tip #4: Become more self-aware.
Most people think that they know themselves pretty well but have never really spent the time alone to view themselves from a third-person point of view or tried to understand why they do the things they do. Self-awareness is a key component to emotional intelligence and growing in your character. Understanding this allows you to better understand your personal strengths, weaknesses, values, and habits.
Here are a few ways to increase in self-awareness:
- Begin to look at yourself more objectively by journaling regularly.
- Take personality tests.
- Begin practicing meditation or prayer.
- Establish daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly goals.
Ultimately, if you seek to know yourself, you will know how and where you can grow.
Tip #5: Ask for feedback.
We will never really know what people think of us unless we ask. We have to listen to the feedback of our friends, family, and coworkers so we can let them play a role in helping us grow.
Tell your friends when you are looking for open, honest, critical, and objective perspectives. Allow your friends to feel safe while they are giving you an informal yet honest view. Keep in mind, this process requires humility. Here are two simple questions I recommend asking those who know you pretty well:
- “What are my blind spots or weaknesses?”
- “What are some things I’m really good at?”
It may be difficult to listen to the answers, but I promise that if you can lay down your pride long enough to be receptive to honest feedback, you will grow in ways you never thought possible.
Building character takes humility.
Whew! If you made it through that without giving up or sending me a nasty DM, I’m proud of you. It takes a lot of humility to recognize that, no matter who you are, you can always work on growing in character.
I believe that, if you consistently work on recognizing your own weaknesses, you will become a person worthy of admiration.
For more advice on growing your character, you can find The Self Help Book on Amazon.
My mission is to encourage, educate, and empower others to live happier, healthier lives. I am a NASM-certified personal trainer, fitness nutrition specialist, behavioral change specialist, CrossFit Level 2 trainer, and corrective exercise specialist with an education in marketing and psychology from the University of North Florida. I own and operate two companies. One is Superfit Foods, a healthy, subscription-based, fully customizable meal prep company. The other is E3, a business consulting and marketing agency. I’ve done a few cool things, like exhibiting Superfit Foods at Forbes Under 30 and giving a TEDx Talk on nutrition and mental health, and every day I get to work hard at doing what I love.