WHEN IT COMES TO MY CHARACTER, I’m lazy. If money wasn’t an issue, I’d spend most of my life thinking, reading, or wasting time with my friends. As much as I have things I want to achieve that require work, I don’t actually enjoy working. I don’t enjoy the thought of writing, I just enjoy the things that enter my head; I definitely don’t enjoy blogging (or anything internet related), and I sure-as-shit don’t enjoy sitting in a room alone giving myself headaches. Most of the time, it’s something I don’t want to do. I get bored and can’t be bothered. And hell, why should I bother?
For most of my life, that’s what’s going to hold me back. I’m lazy.
In some ways, laziness has been a benefit for me. It’s made me think outside the box and choose a unique lifestyle for myself. But as far as personal development is concerned, it’s always there trying to hold me back. It’s just part of my character.
And that’s the problem.
It’s part of my character.
Personal development is really a single problem. We have an idea of a life we want to live and personal development is the act of bringing that life into being.
But if it’s so simple, why do so many people fail?
When we look at personal development we see it as actions we need to take in the present that will affect outcomes in the future. Build better habits, exercise more, get a better social life. But rarely do we account for two fundamental problems:
- The reason we want a different life is that the one we have right now is unfulfilling.
- The reason we have an unfulfilling life is we have, over the course of our life, built a person who is incapable of getting the life we want.
Therefore, immediately, we are hit with a roadblock to any progress. The person we’ve built over the course of our life just isn’t up to the task of changing our lives. When it comes to having the life we want, we just aren’t the kind of person who can have it.
The bad news is that, if you’re trying to build a new life and failing, it’s probably because you suck. The good news is, you can build someone new.
People usually see personal development as a set of habits that they need to engage with in order to be successful. An example of this would be an entrepreneur learning that he needs to work 70 hour work weeks in order to get started.
Sounds simple, right?
But when he’s used to spending most of the day in his underpants, waking up at 2 in the afternoon and has a chronic fear of failure – any attempt to pursue this 70 hour work week is going to be met with failure, or eventual burnout and then failure.
The problem isn’t due to his habits, it’s due to his character. Before we get to the habit, we have to deal with the person pursuing the habit.
HOW TO BUILD CHARACTER THAT DOESN’T SUCK
Strong character is becoming increasingly rare. In the age of limited attention, instant gratification and soaring rates of anxiety, we are no longer exposing ourselves to lives that encourage the development of strong character; in fact, we’re often doing the exact opposite – we’re making our character weaker.
Now, before I go on, let me set a definition of character:*
Especially related to achievement, character is the quality on which you can rely on to do what needs to be done. Character is what determines how you respond to your emotions (such as fear) and it is how you respond to challenge (such as the stresses of effort).
Feel some kind of talent inside you? Character is what builds that.
Tempted to take a day off because you’re not feeling it? Character is what prevents that.
Feel afraid and not sure you can act? Character is what makes sure you do, despite that fear.
Character is what lies beneath all the efforts you make to change and propel your life forward. Character is what determines the longevity, direction, and speed of that change and propulsion.
As you can imagine, weak character is going to make life difficult and strong character is going to make life easier.
When we have weak character, our ability to drive our lives towards ones which require great effort and success is greatly diminished. Our efforts to reshape our habits will begin to peter out, our attempts at challenging projects will be crippled by procrastination, and what we perceive to be aiming high, will, in fact, be aiming low due to our unconscious fear of failure.
So if character is the problem, how do we build it?
You’ve been consciously / unconsciously building your character since you were a kid.
In my experience, character is built by:
- Taking responsibility for our problems.
- Taking on tasks that require a large amount of effort.
- Taking on tasks that require the confrontation of fear.
The more we engage with the above, the more we express and confront our character. By this I mean, we develop our character through expression (whether that be in confrontation, creatively, romantically, and so on) and through being confronted by, what Richard Brooks calls our central flaw (i.e aggression, supplication, laziness, lack of self-worth).
In essence, character is built by confronting life, and in doing so, developing and confronting ourselves.
This is why strong character is a rare quality; nobody does much of the above, and they, like you until now, have failed to pay attention to the person they’ve been building and are continuing to build. Their character until now has been something that has not been consciously cultivated. Instead, it has been built on its own accord, to an end result that may or may not be wanted.
I’d wager that’s the case for you. It sure as hell is for me, and everyone else I’ve met.
Now, the method for developing character is simple, but the process has a slight hiccup:
It is extremely difficult and takes years.
Unfortunately, this means two things:
- There is no better time than today.
- It’s going to require sacrifice.
CHARACTER IS SACRIFICE
Building someone new comes at the expense of the person you were; often, the sacrifice of the person you were. This, in plain terms, can mean a few things:
Leaving your job because it’s unfulfilling and takes all your time; moving to a new city to start afresh; going to sleep earlier; waking up earlier; stopping drinking; leaving your toxic relationship; quitting masturbating; cutting contact with a bad friend.
In essence, this element is simple – you remove from your life whatever element is going to get in the way of you building stronger character, and through that stronger character, developing the habits to achieve the life you want to live.
This is where most people go wrong. They see personal development as an act of adding things to their lives. They want to add better habits, more confidence, more hours worked; but in actual fact, the solution is often the reverse.
You strip away, simplify, and sacrifice. You leave yourself with less, and get really good at what’s left. Instead of adding elements, you focus on what you can remove.
As our lives go on, they often fill with clutter that fills up our time and drains our emotional resources. It is this clutter that is both the product of our drained emotional resources and time and the cause of it. It’s a cycle feeds on itself and continues.
This is why sacrifice is so important. Arguably the most important step.
You cannot have the life you want by continuing to live the life you don’t.
Let me say that again, as it’s the heart of this article:
You cannot have the life you want by continuing to live the life you don’t.
You have to make sacrifices. You have to say no to everything that isn’t essential or helpful, and strip down so you’re left with two things:
- The essential elements you need, which you will now get better at, thus developing better character.
- Free time which you can now use to develop better character.
CHARACTER IS HONESTY AND COURAGE
The most important trait you can develop when it comes to building character is brutal self-honesty. The second is courage.
Brutally self-honesty shows you what needs to be done and courage is what have you actually do it. Brutal self-honesty shows you where you’re holding yourself back and courage is what has you confront that flaw.
There are countless things that anyone could recommend to build character – boxing, novel writing, entrepreneurship – but in many ways, the actual challenge itself is irrelevant. The challenge is naturally arrived upon when you mix and develop those two traits of honesty and courage. You figure out where you need to be confronted, and you do it.
Now, you might be thinking: I’m not that honest with myself and I’m not that brave.
Both of these traits are ones that grow and develop through expression and wither through repression. The more you engage with them, the stronger they get. You might be the most cowardly guy in the world, but the more you engage with small acts of courage, the more you’ll get comfortable with the big ones. Likewise, you could be unaware of your own behavior, but simply sitting down and asking yourself why (and continuing to do so) would open up new realms of insight into your own motivations and your own flaws.
Each trait develops the more you consciously choose to express it.
And if it’s that simple, then building character is an act of conscious will. Building character, like developing courage and self-honesty, is something we willfully and consciously engage with. It is an act of presence, and engagement between ourselves and the world. We decide to build character, so we decide to be more honest, and we decide to be more courageous.
At the start of this article, I wrote about myself being lazy. I said that laziness was part of my character. And it is. It’s something I deal with every day. Through being honest with myself, I’ve come to learn where it comes from – fear of failure, lack of self-worth – and through courage I’ve learned to suck it up and get working anyway, eventually leading myself to big decisions that radically altered the trajectory of my life; like quitting my comfy job, traveling the world and working for myself, despite being scared and not having the slightest idea what I’m doing.
MAKE YOUR CHARACTER CONSCIOUS
Character is often described as the reaction to circumstances. People, myself included, often say that unforeseen events, like trauma, reveal who a person actually is. In my experience, this is half true. What actually happens is that you’re confronted with the character that was already there, you’d just failed to see it until now. Sometimes this is good, sometimes this is bad.
But neither is permanent.
When we decide to make our character conscious, we are taking more control over the individual that reacts to circumstance. And in terms of our future, we are cultivating the kind of individual who is capable of dealing with the problems confronted by the life we wish to have.
To return to the entrepreneur example, this would be developing the kind of character that is autonomous, self-motivating, self-supervising and thus capable of managing their own work ethic. But if you were trying to improve your dating life, this would be developing the kind of character that enjoyed life and was comfortable with rejection and sexual expression.
Whatever your personal development is being directed towards, it is your character that is the foundation on which your results will be built, on which your habits will be built, so it is the character that you should focus most of your effort on building.
Because once you’ve built it, everything else will take care of itself.
*I chose this definition of character as it is one that defines how strong character specifically relates to achievement and thus personal development. However, character also encompasses much more, like empathy, bravery, generosity, and every other trait you can imagine. I plan to write about this in future, but none of this was particularly relevant to what I was writing now.