How is Character Built?

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We love people who are gracious and humble: Mother Teresa, Frederick Douglass, Jesus Christ . . . . The very fiber of these individuals echoes through time. How exactly is such a resolute character built? The answer is to establish concrete actions that exercise the whole person. There are many activities and even categories of activities that do this. They concern the mental and emotional world, both the physical and the spiritual world and even finances and how they are used.

Ask for help when it is needed

This is something everyone can do at any time. This involves facing fears which is the absolute, best way to build courage. For example, when jobless and broke, you need a soup kitchen and a food pantry. “Should a grown adult be able to save money? Charity is for other people.” Confronting the feeling of failure is crucial in order to provide for yourself. Eventually, you understand that you are not a failure and that help is for everyone. The humility learned will come in handy when you return to prosperity and work.

Challenge thoughts and preconceived notions, both your and others’. There is growth in adversity and learning about new ways of thinking. Exchange programs and higher education are hotbeds for this. Even taking a yoga or meditation class exposes you to a variety of ways to grow. Quieting the mind is almost like praying in reverse; a silent and open mind hears the voice of God much better than a noisy, distracted mind.

Study art and read

Art teaches perspective and looking at the world through different eyes. Art students look at the world as an enchanted place full of beauty and awe. Learning how to capture a cloud on canvas creates a feeling of creation and responsibility.

The opportunity to transport someone to another world is a gift of gratitude bringing healing and relief. Plus, artists must learn to accept criticism and to deal it with a soft touch- this is vital to developing compassion.

Reading teaches reasoning and exposes you to concepts and characters that inspire you. African slaves were kept from reading because slaveholders understood the value reading brought to education and freedom. Studying literature is comparable to studying psychology. Knowing about the types of characters in this world (victims, heroes, manipulators) and their motives provide wisdom and safety.

Make good choices

The most powerful tool we have as people is free will. It is scary and requires effort to make choices, but it is empowering. Strong characters do not become powerful buy asking others to approve of them or to light the way for them. Three reasons Christ was crucified were for empowering himself, empowering his religion, (against those wishing to snuff his beliefs) and for leading others to “the light.” You do not need to start a revolution to exercise free will. You can choose to take a nap or go vegetarian on Tuesdays; this is still free will. To use free will effectively, you start making choices no matter how big or small.

Frequent the natural world

Connecting with the natural world and all its gifts revitalize the spirit. Whether it’s working with the land or with animals, there is something peaceful and grounding in nature, even when braving harsh elements. Camping and mountain climbing refine our appreciation of our modern conveniences. Being brave and grateful is not enough. A truly developed person has also learned unconditional love and who loves us unconditionally despite our faults more than animals, especially dogs?

Stretch, risk, or die

Life Coach Rhonda Britten coined the term “Stretch, risk, or die” for actions that cause moments of growth. A stretch is giving something a shot, not knowing the outcome like saying hi to everyone who passes you on the sidewalk. Taking a risk is a little tougher, like letting your boss know that you are interested in the open position just above your current job. An, “I’d rather die than do that” action is something you do only once a month like asking someone you barely know or even a long-time best friend out on a romantic date.

These are physical actions beneficial to everyone, especially analytical people who spend a lot of time in deep thought instead of taking action. As terrifying as an “or die” moment is, it is exhilarating! You are bettering yourself and developing courage. After all, some of the best life lessons are learned from mistakes and failures. Rejection might hurt, but sometimes after a while, it just feels like someone saying, “No thanks, I just don’t feel like it. It’s got nothing to do with you.” Meanwhile, success brings a flood of self-confidence.

Sympathy and empathy

Everybody needs a sympathetic ear and an understanding of nature. Sympathy lets others know that they are worth your time and they someone cares about them. Empathy being personal experience added to sympathy is sometimes even better. Someone with first hand knowledge of pain can really relate to another. This union is heartening and not unlike the emotional volunteering of love and understanding. Both sympathy and empathy show that as people we are never truly alone.

Mentor and volunteer

A good reason to share some of your personal gifts and free time with the world, free of charge: The sense of self-worth and the comprehension of who you are and how you are viewed by others are priceless. Mentoring is the ultimate way of being a guiding light and being “the change you wish to see in the world.” May you need a mentor to help you find your life’s purpose? A therapist, career or guidance counselor gives direction on how to make healthier choices that will bring understanding and honor into your life. Humans are social creatures and need to have a sense of community and direction.

Receiving or giving, volunteering replaces self-doubt with gratitude. For example, the Buddy Program in elementary schools pairs adults with needy children. The simple act of painting a little girl’s nails brings a little love and tenderness while the mentor gets to receive the appreciation of a child.

Put your thoughts on paper

Physically write down positive goals and affirmations (comforting words.) Remove passive words like “should” and “could” from your vocabulary. Follow Byron Katie’s advice and write down any negative feelings and complaints about others, then turn them around; do The Work. Make your thoughts physical by writing them down and you develop self-control and a positive spirit. Do the above repeatedly until you understand that thoughts and habits can be positively modified.

Daily exercise and solo sports

Daily exercise not only feels great after it is done and becomes a routine, but it also teaches self-control and discipline. Exercise quiets the mind, invigorates the body and pulls you from the daily grind.

Growing up, a strong emphasis is placed on teams and teamwork. But, it is crucial for the character of a sound to learn how to stand alone. This requires courage and self-confidence. Being comfortable while jogging alone in the woods or swimming in a lake creates trust in the world. When there is no one around, mind over matter is developed. Interestingly, these solo sports are great for relating to others and sharing a common interest but also for developing camaraderie. That’s right- camaraderie. When a long-distance runner enters a marathon and gets to the point where he cannot go any further, the energy of the pack pulls him forward. You feel connected with others by first connecting with your own self.

Believe

Organized religion teaches discipline, gives a sense of community and gives direction in life. Even just having an overview of the ecclesiastical world helps bend your mind around why we are here and how life will come to pass. The human mind needs a point on which to fix so that it can focus. Going to church, according to Charlene Laino of WebMD, is good for overall mental health and it is certainly good for the soul.

Courageously examine science and faith

The two worlds do complement each other as much as they clash. To exemplify, both scientific and religious communities agree in “the great flood” and quantum physics measures and supports the existence of faith. The courage it takes to open your mind and learn about the scientific and spiritual worlds teaches perseverance and when to stand firm for your beliefs. Christians are not being fed to lions anymore. Testing other possibilities, conflicts and oppositions all develop strong faith and moral principles.

It is okay to ask, “Who am I and why am I here?” Resolving questions and problems builds character. Noah asked questions of God and was still delivered from the flood in peace. There were always trials he had to face, but he got through his life. Questioning also protects individuals from those who try to impose their views on a person or try to force a person to get so wrapped up formalities that the person forgets about free will and why we are here in the first place.

Investing with integrity

Sounds like two separate worlds right: Investing (mapped equations and cutthroat decisions) versus morality (abstract and prudish to some)? Understanding how the two blends and why this is important is simple. “What goes around comes around” so it is important to “treat others the way you want to be treated.” Knowing this shows that you understand how you affect your neighbors and your overall environment. Altruism lies in every great character.

Your job is an investment too as it is your primary source for income and where you spend 1/3 of your day. Integrity in the workplace is important because a petty person hurts everyone. Even in an altruistic job, there are other “investments” that challenge one’s principles. The solution: try negotiating. For example, I once heard a woman say to Suze Orman, “My company’s 401(k) invests with funds that I consider morally unsound. I want my money to do good so I won’t contribute to this even with a high company match. I might even quit.”

Suze recommended that the woman not quit over this and to invest in the 401(k) to get the free money (the company match). The woman could then opt to invest in morally sound funds to placate the unsound company money and petition her company to switch to a better option.

Tithing and charitable donations

Tithing and giving to charity is a way to simply give back to the church and the community. Showing appreciation for your environment financially is not the easy way out. Giving money is just another way to pay respects. Remember, money is not evil; it is just another form of trade. After all, Mother Teresa was wealthy and deemed a saint.

The above activities are ways to build and enhance character through simple actions that all can do. At the heart of everything is experiencing and giving love, finding hope through learning courage, and developing an unshakeable faith. One does not need to walk like heroes through trials.  Simply face them head on the best way you know-how and with the best moral fortitude you can muster. These lessons make better people and that is the point.

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