The building blocks of character

Written by Lifebook Member Joel Wade

We know that character underlies our health and fitness – the self-discipline, commitment, and devotion that are needed to keep up a regimen of good diet and exercise are all qualities of character.

But how do we grow our character?


As a psychologist and a life coach, I’m always looking at the latest research on what’s effective, how we change and grow, and I’m always on the lookout for tangible, practical strategies to help people.

That’s one of the reasons I’m so proud and excited to be part of Lifebook. I keep finding elements of this program that are supported by solid research in the field.

Starting with health and fitness is one great example of this. Because exercise is such a concrete action – you either work out, or you don’t. How many push-ups did you do? How many laps did you swim? How hard did you work? How sore are you the next day? – This very concreteness makes it (relatively) easy to commit to, easy to measure, compared to some of the categories that may be more abstract or complex.

What we know is that when we grow our capacity for self-discipline in one area, that capacity generalizes to other areas.

So by mastering the discipline that it takes to create the health and fitness we want, we’re also growing the self-discipline that we can draw from for all the other categories as we go along.

The concrete steps are what form the foundation of a strong self-discipline.

When our kids were little, we would tell them to “clean their room,” and an hour later they’d be goofing around in the same mess that was there an hour ago.

Then we figured out something (actually got it from research by Roy Baumeister): we told them, “Okay, in the next 15 minutes, here’s what you’re going to do: pick up all your dirty clothes, and put them in the laundry room; then put all of your clean clothes away; then take the toys that are on the floor and put them in their place.”

Miraculously, 15 minutes later they’d be goofing around, just like before, but all of the very specific tasks we had told them to do were done. And by defining the tasks clearly to them, in a manageable dose, we gave them an opportunity to practice their own self-discipline and thereby strengthen their own character along the way – because it generalizes to every other area of their lives.

Exercise lends itself to that kind of specificity. Diet lends itself to that kind of precise behavior.

So while we’re working on our health and fitness, we’re also gearing up our character for all of the other categories for the rest of the year.

I think that’s pretty cool!

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