Can We Cultivate Our Character?
Is character like a flower in the garden, a tree in the forest or vegetables in the ground - can it be cultivated and nurtured into something beautiful, powerful and useful?
We all know people we love to be around, good people who we wish we could be more like. And by contrast we know people who have character traits that make them unpleasant or difficult at worst, hard work at best.
Dr Martin Seligman, Director of Positive Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, says there are certain personal traits that can lead to a good life. These qualities can engender good physical and mental health which in turn improves our quality of life.
These personal traits can be learned - great news for people who believe that 'every day's a school day' and want to help themselves and their kids develop into better citizens.
Dr Seligman lists these traits:
- Interpersonal skills
- Work ethic
To work on gaining more of these qualities in yourself, try the following.
A wise man said once 'it's not because things are difficult that we do not try them, but because we do not try them that things are difficult.' Keeping on keeping on - doing, trying and moving forward - gives us resources to strengthen our bravery muscles and therefore makes us more courageous.
If you feel daunted by the thought of something you have to do - or even something you don't have to do but would like to try - think about the setbacks and trials you've had in the past and how you've overcome them and what you've learned.
If there's someone or something that's sucked the courage out of you, take some time to look objectively at this person/scenario and think how you would describe it to someone else. What would they say? What other explanations for what happened/what was said could there be?
10 minutes reading a newspaper or watching the TV news will show us how much doom and gloom there is. However it's important that we talk to ourselves in a positive way about the things that are going on in our lives that we can influence.
Try this - remember something negative that's happened recently. Now think about 3 positives that could or have come from this negative event.
If you're a spiritual person, the death of a friend or loved one will be a tragedy, but after the shock has lessened, you may feel that s/he is at peace after a long illness or that you will meet the person again in the next life/heaven/paradise.
The loss of a job may mean that you need courage (see above) to realise the freedom you now have to pursue your dream career.
3. Interpersonal skills.
Good listening is the key to good interpersonal skills - look to understand others before looking to be understood; use your ears and mouth in a 2 to 1 ratio and listen more than you talk.
Do you make quick judgements about people? Seligman advises changing the way we sum people up by finding out as much about another person before we decide what we feel about them. It's easy to pigeon-hole the unfriendly looking, rude teen who pushes in front of us in the queue at the store. But what if he's the sole carer for an elderly grandparent and is anxious, needing to get home to make the evening meal. Apply 'what if...' if you find yourself judging critically before you know all the facts.
4. Work ethic.
Find a goal that gets your life juiced up and has you bouncing out of bed in the morning. You life will be filled with passion as you work on this thing but it won't feel like work.
Think big and have a big exciting reason to make it work.
Energy breeds energy so go about your daily tasks with more vigour. Challenge yourself to find new and creative ways of doing the same old chores. What can you do that will make your and your co-workers' lives easier?
Similar to optimism (see above), hope keeps us looking forward. We hope for a good outcome to a situation because we have cause to be optimistic. Practise being hopeful when you're feeling relaxed about an event.
When we come across other people we need to make the assumption that they're being honest and telling the truth because doubting everything/everyone is stressful. But at the same time if we are truthful to ourselves and our own motivations, this helps us see things for what they are. For example, is someone telling the truth or just what you want to hear?
If something is easily won we often don’t value it. The more we have to persevere the greater the reward when we finally attain the prize.
The world is full or stories of people who have bravely struggled against the odds to achieve what they wanted to do and to do that they have had to persevere. See the video below - you will be astounded.
We live in an instant society so we often forget that if we didn't persist in getting up and learning to walk when we were babies, we'd all still be crawling on the floor.
As we learn and grow it's important to compare ourselves with ourselves and not with others. Let's be inspired by other people but not want to be them. They have their own advantages and battles to fight but if we seek to be better tomorrow than we were today, we will always win.