Developing True Character

Modern personal development advice is very often based around the central question of how you, the individual, can be more successful. In this article, we are going to explore, where this development comes from, when it started, and dive deep into the practical implications of the more impactful approach taught by the ancient philosophers.

Existence is form and distinction. Character is one of them. 



The idea of personal development as a means to better ones circumstances really developed over the last one hundred years. Books like "The Science of Getting Rich" by Wallace D. Wattles from 1910 could be seen as one of the earliest books in this space. It is not surprising that this idea grew out of the American culture, where individuality and personal freedom are values embedded in the culture.
 
Today the space of personal development revolves basically around teachings that measure success by personal financial achievements. Even advice that is, in its roots, positive and enriches our lives, has been highjacked in order to serve the purpose of business and income generation. 
 
Advice for relationships is very often used in order to gain an advantage in business. And the facade quickly crumbles when the individual is no longer acting in the context of work relationships. When you are dealing with clients, you might go to great lengths, control, and monitor every one of your steps and try to do everything right in order to please them. But the moment they sign the contract or are no longer a business partner, people start to act completely differently. 
 
In the above example, one's true character is revealed. That is why I argue for a value-based approach to personal development. By studying the work and wisdom of ancient philosophers, we learn what truly important character traits are. Develop those and you will act authentically in every situation while sparing you the effort of monitoring your behavior in every situation and comparing it to the superficial behavioral rules you learn from modern teachers. You will inevitably fail if your behavior does not match your underlying worldview. 
 
How do you develop valuable character traits? First, you have to get an idea of what these timeless good character traits actually are. I suggest you start by reading The Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle (Oxford World's Classics). This book alone, if you absorb its content fully, has the potential to be the biggest step in your personal development journey. 
 
As going into the specifics of such character traits is too deep for this type of blog post, I rather want to finish this post with my insight into how we, as humans, are actually able to change. Besides the questions whether the advice you are getting from a teaching is good or not, a difficulty you will always face with such kind of knowledge is how you can actually make changes that last. Only habits that you can keep up can give you any benefit in the long-run. 
 
One way that makes the implementation of new habits easier, is to place them into your existing routines. You have certain actions, you already do on a regular basis. Now think of the habit you want to implement and link it up with that action. For example, if you are regularly doing home-workouts and then take a shower, and you want to start a meditation practice. Put it right between those two activities. The meditation practice can be as short as two minutes for the beginning, just short enough so that you will definitely do it. And then, taking the shower could be the reward in this case. 
 
How does that apply to developing good character traits? What it means to have a character? Your character is made up of those habits that have become ingrained in everything you do. You do not notice them anymore. How you speak, what you say and interact, react emotionally, and what you do and feel on a daily basis. You want to improve those? You better first become really good at developing and changing habits. 
 
Another important aspect to remember when you want to change a habit is to see it as a process. Let me tell you, you can't go from zero to your goal in one day. Or even one year if your goal is really big. The first few days after setting a new goal, we enthusiastically work on it and do a lot. It feels easy because our motivation is through the roof. But motivation never lasts. Only will and inner strength will last you through the difficult times. Therefore, the better strategy is to first aim lower than what you think you can handle. And slowly ramp it up, day by day. In increments that you barely notice. Humans don't go from kindergarten to studying full-time in university overnight. 
 
Read the above-mentioned book, Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle, and while you read it, make notes of what you like. What would you like to adopt for your own thinking and behavior? And then think about actions you can do to implement those. Implement them into your daily routines as outlined and in a few months or years you will notice how you have literally become a different person. You turned the person you envisioned to become into reality. 

 

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