By George A. Boyd © 2020
Q: What is character? How do you improve your character?
A: Character is a series of traits and habits that condition the expression of your personality in your interpersonal relationships that are in alignment with your values.
A trait is a quality you can ascribe to a person based on their demonstrating it on a regular basis. For example, John always treats you with kindness when you are with him.
A habit is behavior that you practice for a sustained period that becomes automatic. The behavior of kind actions becomes a regular part of you when you practice this for several months.
A value is something you adopt as part of your conscience to guide your behavior. Values are expected and idealized behavior: they are standards that you hold yourself to live up to.
There are different schemas for what are valuable character traits. For example, here are some traits that are commonly mentioned when people refer to positive character attributes they see in others:
- Respect for other people
- Caring and kindness
The organization, Character Counts, lists six core character traits on their website, https://www.charactercounts.org:
Associated with each of these core character traits in the Character Counts schema are a series of related descriptors that expand upon these central factors. We suggest that you refer to their material for a better understanding of these six dimensions of character.
In many religious and philosophical traditions, there are a series of commandments or observances that adherents of that group are expected to adopt. For example, in the Jewish and Christian faith, they admonish their followers to live up to the tenets of the Ten Commandments. In Yoga traditions, yogic students are asked to observe Yama and Niyama.
My friend, Swami Baba Nataraja, disseminates the following guidelines for ethical behavior to his students:
“Baba believes that spiritual life truly begins when seekers adopt and live ethical guidelines. He encourages others to follow the same high standards to which he holds himself, the Shaivite restraints—the moral principles of Yama and Niyama. Here is a list of those moral principles:”
- Be non-violent in thought and action
- Do not steal or covet
- Discipline desire
- Relinquish lust and greed
- Restrain arrogance and anger
- Refrain from lying and betraying promises and confidences
- Avoid injustice and drunkenness
- Forsake wrongdoing and shun evil company
- Be pure in body, mind, and speech
- Love your fellow man
- Seek contentment and serenity in life
- Cultivate devotion through daily worship and meditation
- Be steadfast in hardship and forbearing with people
- Tithe and give creatively without thought of reward
- Study with an open mind the scriptures and books of wisdom
- Perform occasional penance, tapas, and sacrifice
Ways to Improve Character
You can improve character through the following active personal measures:
- Learning about positive character traits and deciding to incorporate them
- Doing a moral inventory to identify where you have character deficits and identify the alternate positive behavior you wish to practice
- Monitor your daily activity and notice when you fail to live up to a moral ideal; reflect at the end of your day what you could have done instead to express that more positive quality
- Meditate on your negative character traits and find the core virtue that is hidden in them; choose to express that core virtue instead
- Deconstruct the beliefs that hold negative character traits in place, and replace them with new affirmations that allow you to express more positive traits
- Find a role model who demonstrates positive character traits and emulate them
- Identify the ideal expression of your Self that you want to be. Place your attention in that state of this “future Self.” Solicit guidance from your future Self as to what specifically needs to be changed to shape each facet of character into the nobler expression that you are capable of expressing in this idealized state.
You can also develop positive character traits and express your innate spiritual virtues through the following passive spiritual measures:
- Renounce negative behavior and speech; make a sacred vow to live up to spiritual principles
- Contemplate the light of wisdom and review your behavior; through insight and realization, you will abandon negative speech and behavior
- Use discernment to identify behavior that arises from the ego; choose instead to allow your spirit, your active nucleus of identity, or your ensouling entity to dictate your behavior
- Dissolve the karmic precursors of negative behavior and attitudes through using transformational meditation techniques like transformational mantra, Kriya Yoga, and Nada Yoga
- Do process meditation to end phenomenon on negative attitudes and beliefs; re-create a more positive expression of the Soul in human life
- Invoke God, your spiritual Master, and the Holy Spirit to reform your character and allow the holy virtues to express in you
- Practice austerity such as fasting, voluntary silence, and continuous repetition of mantras to discipline the body and mind to reduce rebellion against the expression of the Soul’s love and virtue
If you have vitiated your character through associating with people with negative character traits, have been subjected to abuse or trauma growing up or through involvement with cultic groups, or you have become entangled in an addiction, it is possible to rehabilitate your character and reform yourself. It is important to surround yourself with positive, supportive people and to implement elements from both active and passive measures to begin to improve your character.
We offer coaching programs to assist with your rehabilitation that will concomitantly help you improve your character: Dysfunctional Family Recovery, Cult Recovery, and Addiction Recovery. We invite you to explore these programs to see if they will provide the support you need to overcome these hindrances from your past, which will allow you to move confidently towards a more positive future.