Blog Short #126: What is Good Character and How to Cultivate It
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Let’s start with a quote that will introduce today’s subject:
“Men of genius are admired, men of wealth are envied, men of power are feared: but only men of character are trusted.” ~ Alfred Adler
Having good character and seeing it as part of your identity broadcasts to others that you’re trustworthy and reliable and will honor each person’s worthiness by treating them with care and integrity.
Today I’m giving you a list of ten traits that comprise good character and showing you how you can cultivate them.
What exactly is “character”?
Character comprises the core values, beliefs, and moral principles upon which you live your life. It’s an internal identity structure that guides your interactions with others and your behavior in general.
You might define it as “doing the right thing,” even when no one else is looking. It’s a descriptor of who you are.
Here’s our list of ten traits that represent good character.
10 Good Character Traits
Integrity means you have defined and internalized your core values and principles and live by them. People can count on you to behave in a consistent manner regardless of circumstances.
You’re straightforward, trustworthy, and will say the same thing in multiple settings and to different people. Your self-presentation is authentic, consistent, and genuine. You’re faithful and loyal to those you love. You protect the privacy of intimate knowledge and guard the sanctity of your close relationships. Your approach to others is sincere and open.
You take responsibility for your circumstances, behavior, and actions. People can rely on you to live up to your obligations and commitments. You hold yourself accountable for what you’ve promised and how you act, and follow through with what you say you will do. You don’t blame others when things don’t go right, and you take action to amend and repair mistakes.
You can empathize and treat others with kindness, consideration, and generosity. Your conscience is well-developed, and you do your best to bring no harm to anyone. You feel guilty when causing someone pain. And when someone needs help, you do your best to come to their aid and support. When others mistreat you, you extend forgiveness even if you must set necessary boundaries to preserve your values and principles. You freely give of yourself without expecting something in return.
You treat everyone with respect and civility based on your belief in our common humanity and every person’s value and worth. You extend kindness and politeness in your interactions with others and preserve each person’s dignity despite their imperfections.
You maintain self-discipline in pursuing your goals, have a strong work ethic, honor commitments, and show up in your relationships. You can delay gratification, manage your emotions, and execute a well-thought-out plan.
You like to live up to your highest potential and do things well. Not only are you thoughtful, efficient, organized, dedicated, and diligent in your efforts, you align your activities with your core values to benefit all concerned, not just yourself. You want to do your best and do what’s right. You consistently work on self-improvement.
Although you recognize your worth and have confidence in your abilities, you also know that you’re a student of life and will never stop learning or growing. You’re humbled by the vastness of untapped knowledge and your place in humanity. You don’t see yourself as better than others, regardless of differences in stages of development.
You’re determined to face and overcome obstacles to reaching goals that fulfill your purpose and provide meaning, including confronting personal flaws and areas that need improvement. You have the courage to work through discomfort or pain when moving toward a goal.
When deciding or choosing a course of action, you consider the impact on those involved. You weigh the fairness of any proposed action and are thoughtful and empathetic in your deliberations. You’re open to different opinions and ideas and can objectively view them before moving forward. You choose the option that will provide the most benefit for all while reflecting core values and principles.
How to Improve Your Character
You checked all those boxes, right?
I’m funning, but my guess is that we all probably score high on some of those traits and need work on others.
Wherever you think you are, here’s a 4-step plan to help you evaluate and make improvements.
Step 1: Identify your core values, beliefs, and principles.
Before you do that, let’s clarify what each of these means.
A belief is an assumption about the world or your existence. A value is a trait you believe is essential and serves as a guide to your behavior. A principle is a behavior that will express and fulfill your values.
For example, you may believe each person has a purpose. A corresponding value might be “self-discipline.” A related principle could be that daily, purposeful actions are necessary to reach goals.
Using those definitions, write out your major beliefs (assumptions) and your core values. Under each of those list behaviors that reflect that value. This may be a lengthy process and one you shouldn’t do in a sitting. Do it over weeks, but keep working at it. You might like doing it journal style and adding to it whenever a new realization hits you.
Step 2: Observe your behavior.
Systematically observe your daily behavior and see when you stray from your core values and principles. We all do that to some extent, but you can only catch it if you’re watching and keeping your mind open to see when you deviate. Something as simple as gossiping for a moment may not fit your core values. Although you mean no harm, there’s an element of injury both to you and the person you’re talking about.
Don’t do this exercise to criticize yourself but rather to evaluate where you need to make changes or tighten up.
Step 3: Make a plan to work on areas of struggle.
Pick one thing at a time and consistently work on it. In most cases, this requires changing habits – letting go of dysfunctional ones and replacing them with good ones. This is an ongoing effort.
In last week’s blog, I discussed how your brain automates your habits, thought patterns, behavior, etc. Because of that, you’ll need time, persistence, and patience. But the rewards are great! Use any strategies you think will help.
Step 4: Set up a regular review time to see how you’re doing.
If you don’t do this, you’re more likely to let go of your resolve. Momentum needs to be continuous, which will only happen if you refresh it regularly. A weekly review is best. I’ve added a character review to my already established weekly review of my goals. That way I won’t forget it.
There are current social obstacles to building character that you should keep in mind as you work at it. We’ve moved from a Culture of Character to a Culture of Personality over the past several centuries (Sussman).
Whereas we used to be focused on values like “citizenship, duty, work, golden deeds, honor, reputation, and morals,” our current obsession with personalities has shifted our attention to public personas that are “magnetic, fascinating, stunning, attractive, glowing, dominant, forceful, and energetic,” (Cain). Personas have taken precedence over ethics and behavior.
Having a good personality is all well and good, but not at the expense of having good character. Ultimately your successes on every front will depend much more on character than personality.
Character is the foundation of your personality, so make it good!
That’s all for today!
I hope you have a great week!
All my best,
Cain, S. (2012). Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. Crown Publishing Group.
Sussman, W. (2003). Culture as History: The Transformation of American Society in the Twentieth Century. Smithsonian Books.