It’s 10:35pm, I’ve been awake for 20 hours and I’m feeling tired. Everything inside of me is yearning for sleep, but for some reason, I just can’t stop writing. It feels as if something outside of me is pulling the words from my heart through my fingers to the keyboard. I feel that this message needs to get out and I just can’t stop until its done.
I’m not done yet.
This is about building character and if you think that you don’t need to hear this message, I want to challenge you to read on and think again. In the following paragraphs, I’m going to break down what character is, why you should care about it and how you can build it with intention.
“Watch your thoughts, they become your words; watch your words, they become your actions; watch your actions, they become your habits; watch your habits, they become your character; watch your character, it becomes your destiny.” Lao Tzu
Humans are creatures of habit, and as much as we don’t like to admit it, we are hardwired to cut corners, find the path of least resistance, choose comfort and avoid things that demand effort. In the past, those traits helped us survive in a world where food was sparse and threats were numerous. However, we no longer live in that world and those habits no longer serve us. Instead, those old tendencies hold us back and, if left unchecked by our own conscious awareness, can easily force us into a pattern that creates a less than desirable character.
“Every choice you make determines the standard that you accept for your life.” Joe Duncan
That’s right, character isn’t something that we have; it’s something that we build with every decision that we make. The concept of character is fluid, it is dynamic and it is ever changing with the choices we make and the habits we form. It’s not something that you inherit, rather, it’s something that you either fall into or choose to create with intention and action. Just like any other skill, character changes with purposeful repetition; it requires constant upkeep and endless effort. It is marked by what you choose to do when things get hard and when no one else is watching. It is forged through what you choose to do on a consistent basis and that repeated action is what shapes the character that you develop and the person who you become. The concept of character is forever changing, never static and always dependent on our ongoing string of conscious decisions. Cultivation of strong character demands frequent investment, constant upkeep and endless effort.
Cultivation of strong character demands frequent investment, constant upkeep and endless effort.
Here’s the good news; as humans, we are in complete control of what we choose and it’s through those consistent choices that we form habits which eventually mold our character.
“Life is a series of conflicts between the right way and the easy way each day. The thing is you head up straight. And when you make that choice. And when you decide turn your back to what’s comfortable, and safe and what someone calls common sense. So, that’s day one. From there, it’s only get tougher. But make sure it is something you really want because the easy-way always be there to wash you away. Each step in life comes to a decision and take another. Now You are on your way but You fight against an opponent you can’t see, but all you can feel among your heels. Feel him breathing down on your neck. That’s you. Your fears, your doubts, your insecurity all end up as an enemy within. Remember life is royal battle between You and You.” Csaba Gabor-B
It takes repeated and intentional pursuit of discomfort to build strong character. Without awareness, intention and active building of character, the human default mode kicks in and as a result, we take “the easy way out” more often than not. This results in a lessening of character and when difficult situations arise, it becomes harder and harder to “do the right thing,” especially when it is inconvenient, difficult or uncomfortable. The pursuit of strong character means acknowledging situations that are hard and choosing to do what is hard in the face of difficulty, knowing that it will hardwire you to handle similar situations in the same manner down the road. The habits that you form now impact other people whether you realize it or not. How you build your character will one day impact relationships that haven’t even been formed and influence the path of your life.
You can either be intentional about pursuing hard things to lift your character higher, or you can claim ignorance and let human tendencies pull your character lower.
Below is a basic blueprint to develop the character that you desire.
The older I get, the faster that life seems to move. There is always something to do and somewhere to go. It never seems like there is enough time to do it all, let alone to get a deep breath. However, if you want to be intentional about making a change, you need to create the space and time to do so. Just like everything else that you need to get done, it is important to make time to slow down, even if that means putting it on your calendar.
Look Back (Reflect)
I love the idea that we are the stories that we tell ourselves. I can’t express how important it is to reflect on the past so that you can understand and shape your story for you benefit. Often times, it feels like life doesn’t make sense in the moment but the pieces come together down the road. Take the time to put your pieces together understand where you come from before deciding where you want to go. Reflection also allows us to go under the surface and get a closer look out what drives us, which will be important to uncover before you commit (later on).
Look Ahead (Focus)
Being intentional is underrated and I would argue that being able to find true and sustained focus in the modern world is rare. It seems simple, however, the old adage is true; nobody improves by accident. Put in the effort up front to come up with a plan. To use mord words from Lao Tzu, “if you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.” Decide on a direction and find focus so that you don’t wander.
This is the secret ingredient that separates the best from the rest, however, in order to commit to something, you need to understand what drives you to do it (that’s what reflection is for). I love how author James Clear puts it, “the costs of your good habits are in the present; the costs of your bad habits are in the future.” Being able to commit to building better character means sacrificing short term satisfaction to build good habits that will serve you and help forge your intended character down the road. The commitment that you make has to be rooted in a reason that transcends just you. If you want to read more about finding “why,” click here.
Start Small (Build Momentum)
The hardest part about first learning to ride a bike is going from stop to start; it gets easier as you build momentum. The same applies to building character. Just like learning to ride a bike, it’s all about getting going, because once the wheels are spinning, it gets easier to continue on. One of the hardest things about building character is that it can seem daunting, especially in the face of our human tendencies which drag us down. When you feel discouraged, just remember that one moment or one action doesn’t define you. It’s what you do on a consistent basis that defines your character, which is ever changing as time goes on (more on this to come).
Do The Work
When it comes to building character, like everything else, there is just absolutely no shortcut for hard work. Because our character is constantly changing with the decisions that we make minute-to-minute and even second-to-second, it takes effort to upkeep good character. That’s hard because it means resisting temptations, choosing inconvenience, pursuing discomfort and always doing the next right thing even when it is the hardest thing. The pursuit of being the best version of ourselves requires constant effort and unrelenting work. If you have a driving force strong enough to keep you going, the work gets easier, but never easy.
I once heard Simon Sinek relate being consistent to dental hygiene and it resonated with me. He said, “it’s not about intensity, it’s about consistency…. if all you do is go to the dentist twice a year, your teeth will fall out. You have to brush your teeth twice a day for two minutes…” Much like brushing your teeth, if you want to build good character, you have to take consistent action toward it. If you don’t brush your teeth for a year, they will fall out. If you stop actively building your character for a year, it will deteriorate. If you’d like to hear more about the importance of being consistent, click here.
One of the hardest things about pursuing good character is the immense amount of continuous effort that required. As humans, it is inevitable that we fall short in providing such a sustained effort. In other words, we have lapses and we have weak moments that we would like to take back. It happens and thats ok. However, when those weak moments happen, take a breath and focus on controlling what you can control; do the next right thing. Because faith is a large part of who I am, I want to share a quote from Charles Spurgeon that encourages me when I fall short and can’t make sense life; “God is too good to be unkind and He is too wise to be mistaken. And when we cannot trace His hand, we must trust His heart.” Just like the Sixers, when things get hard, trust the process.
The best character is the one that does what is hard in the pursuit of becoming better. The best character is the one that helps other people even when there is nothing to gain and especially when it is inconvenient. The best character is the one that gives their best effort on a consistent basis. The best character is the one that lifts other people up in all that they do. The best character is the one who does the right thing time and time again. The best character is developed through times of trial, struggle and suffering. The best character takes immense effort, incredible attitude and persistent pursuit of what is good.
It’s now 12:20am and I’m falling asleep at the keyboard but somehow still going. I think that it’s best I end things here. I hope that this blog was of value to you. If you take nothing else from these words, just know that character is something that takes effort to build and maintain, but it is worth it. This week feels heavy and it only feels right to end this post with a list of quotes from Kobe Bryant, a man whose character changed the world
“I’ll do whatever it takes to win games, whether it’s sitting on a bench waving a towel, handing a cup of water to a teammate, or hitting the game-winning shot.”
“Everything negative… is all an opportunity for me to rise.”
“When you make a choice and say, ‘Come hell or high water, I am going to be this,’ then you should not be surprised when you are that. It should not be something that is intoxicating or out of character because you have seen this moment for so long that … when that moment comes, of course it is here because it has been here the whole time, because it has been [in your mind] the whole time.”
“I don’t want to be the next Michael Jordan, I only want to be Kobe Bryant.“
“The process of it [drives me to come back]. I want to see if I can. I don’t know if I can. I want to find out. I want to see. I’m going to do what I always do: I’m going to break it down to its smallest form, smallest detail, and go after it. Day by day, one day at a time.”
“I don’t mean to sound cavalier when I say that, but never. It’s basketball. I’ve practiced and practiced and played so many times. There’s nothing truly to be afraid of, when you think about it … Because I’ve failed before, and I woke up the next morning, and I’m OK. People say bad things about you in the paper on Monday, and then on Wednesday, you’re the greatest thing since sliced bread. I’ve seen that cycle, so why would I be nervous about it happening?”
“The most important thing is to try and inspire people so they can be great in whatever they want to do.”
“There’s a choice that we have to make as people, as individuals. If you want to be great at something there is a choice you have to make. We can all be masters at our craft, but you have to make a choice. What I mean by that is, there are inherent sacrifices that come along with that — family time, hanging out with your friends, being a great friend. being a great son, nephew, whatever the case may be. There are sacrifices that come along with that.”
Thank you Kobe, rest easy.
Joe Rinaldi, PT, DPT