6 Methods for Building Exceptional Character and Integrity

Last weekend, Christine and I had the opportunity to talk with an exceptional achiever. This person has excelled to levels of achievement that make him one in a million. But that isn’t what makes this person truly exceptional. What makes him truly exceptional is his achievement combined with his tremendous character and integrity.

This got me thinking…

So how can one develop exceptional character and integrity? What produces these traits? I believe it must be hard for a professional athlete, an American Idol winner, or an A-List Blogger to maintain character and integrity in the face of wealth, ego, fame, and obsequious praise. To retain the power that comes with such a position requires a clear understanding of personal responsibility. We consistently see hubris take down athletes, rock stars, writers, and actors. But what can we learn from the folks in the spotlight who avoid the trap of arrogance and ego?

· Become other person centric – The path to exceptional and remarkable character is found by creating value for other people. Remember, Wayne Gretzky assisted his teammates twice as much as he himself scored (1963 Assists vs. 894 Goals), and still smashed every individual scoring record in history. If you focus on other people, on their needs and what makes them special, you will find yourself naturally acting with character and integrity because your selfishness will fade. How can you be selfish when you see so much greatness in others? How can you fail once you open your eyes to the sea of talent and unique abilities which surrounds you? Many people talk of character traits such as honesty, fairness, compassion, generosity, and courage. These traits become natural and effortless when you become other person centric.

· Contribute first – Never start by focusing on what you can get; focus on what you can give. Winners give 100%; they don’t get 100%. Never say, “I’m not going to help until I know what is in it for me.” Instead say, “give it everything, this is what I want to do, and the results will take care of themselves. “ Your positive actions produce the fruits of existence. Contribute first and the rewards will take care of themselves.

· Develop mental toughness – Build defenses in your mind against negative influences. Quit watching the news. Quit listening to fear mongers. Quit listening to the voice in your head that says you can’t succeed. Kill the idea that some obstacles are too large to overcome. Smash the idea that success is pure luck and you aren’t one of the lucky ones. I know this is easier said than done. But you can begin to shutdown the negative voices in your life and replace them with positive voices. You can start right now. If you hang out with a habitually negative influence, find a new friend. I mean it. There is no point in consistently being fed negative thoughts and images. You can’t change other people; you can only change yourself. And if enough of us change ourselves, we will change the world. When you can’t avoid the negative voice, learn to actively counter negative words and images by consciously forcing positive replacements into your mind. If you do this frequently enough over time, you will develop a habit of mentally replacing negatives with positives, and this habit is the essence of mental toughness. Mental toughness is the ability to maintain positive focus, action, and thought in the midst of all appearances to the contrary.

· Encourage everyone around you to be the best they can be – Try to surround yourself with people who want to be the best they can be. But not everyone is trying to be the best they can be, so what can you do? The next best thing… encourage everyone around you to be the best they can be. Don’t do it directly. Do it through positive reinforcement. When you see someone begin to move in a positive direction, encourage them, tell them you think they’ve made a great decision, the kind of bold move that is right for them. When they succeed, tell them you knew they could do it. When they experience a setback, remind them it is only temporary and that things will work out if they learn from the setback, make changes, and persist. One setback does not rule a lifetime. Help them up, push them forward, if they don’t know where to go, lead the way and let them follow until they are ready to lead. Before you know it, everyone around you will be pushing themselves to be their best.

· Praise effort, progress, and success – Never use fear, anger, or shame to motivate. Use constructive criticism, but use it sparingly and only after maintaining considerable patience. Never give false praise or phony complements, people will see right through your lack of authenticity. But when you see strenuous effort, real progress, and outstanding achievement, notice it, recognize it, and celebrate it.

· Do the right thing even when it is unpopular – Doing this as a young person may be one of the most difficult things you will ever do. Many of us have failed this test. But that doesn’t mean you have to. When the group is bulling someone, defend the victim. Your heart knows what is right; listen to it and follow it. Listen to your conscience and it will give you the right answer in every difficult situation. You’ll know when this situation appears, your heart will pull you one way and the herd will pull you in another, follow your heart, the herd is headed off a cliff.

Character and Integrity belong to all of us. They aren’t simply traits for other people; they are traits worthy of you and me. The future is yours and it begins right now. The secret to change is within you. Change yourself and change the world.

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21 thoughts on “6 Methods for Building Exceptional Character and Integrity”

  1. Quit watching the news? My advice would be exactly the contrary: inform yourself about what is really going on so that your decisions will be better informed. For example, if more Americans had switched off Fox and started getting their information from a more reliable source instead of one which beat loudly the drums of war, perhaps there would have been a groundswell of opposition before Iraq even got started. Success doesn’t happen in a vacuum.

  2. Letters,

    Quit watching the news. It’s almost all negative unactionable drivel that pollutes your mind with nonsense.

    If change the things you can change instead of thinking about all the things you can’t change, the world will change for the better much faster. If each person acts ethically within their own sphere of infulence, positive change would happen instantaneously. Polyannish? maybe. But all I can do, is what I can do, so that’s what I will do, and quit wasting time on the things I can’t do. The news is full of that crap. For me… for years…news was an addiction. It was a complete waste of time.

    The American news media were the ones pounding the drums of war, if fewer people had listened to them, we might not be in this mess. The news media is mostly fear mongering. If someone wants to start a Positive News Network… I’ll be your first subscriber. But if you want to run stories about all the shit I should be afraid of, I’ll be the first to turn it off.

  3. Hi Steve:

    I just started reading your blog a little while ago, and my first reaction was, “My God! A blogger with a vocabulary! WOOT!” Keep it up, and thanks for that. As to your article, I find that the Praise and Encouragement components to be particularly effective. Add to that words of comfort (the encouraging kind) in the face of setbacks, and in my experience you stand the best chance of bringing an individual out of a defeatist mindset, to one of empowerment. I always view it as trying to draw out the person’s inner power, for I believe that we all have it within us to succeed in the pursuit of personal excellence. Good article.

  4. Great article, Steve. I wish “good character” was a more serious matter in today’s culture, but it is not. Have you ever read In Character magazine? (http://www.incharacter.org) Well worth a visit.

    I like how you included “develop mental toughness.” Today “discipline” is usually referenced only in regards to athletics or sports; but it is something that needs to be practiced mentally and emotionally too. Listening to others is always important, of course, but it is important to have the ability to discern, which only comes from developing that same toughness you refer to.

    As far as news, I think the key is perhaps more to the tune, “turn off TV.” I’m with Al Gore on this one. There are plenty of laudable news outlets out there — let us never forget the CSM — and using them is important, as “letters” says above. The trick is not to become dependant on the sensationalism, which is rife on TV news on every channel. Again, I think this matter goes back to our ability to discern what is worthy and what is not. An important part of character building, I would say.


  5. “Develop mental toughness” is an excellent piece of advice. I’m a junior at the University of West Florida, and just about every time I have an appointment with an advisor or a professor, I am given some bit of hollow advice that goes in ear and out the other. Thank you for giving me something that sticks!

  6. “If each person acts ethically within their own sphere of influence, positive change would happen instantaneously. Polyannish?”

    Nope. I don’t think so. Maybe a bit idealistic, but I’d rather be an idealist who works on his own stuff rather than feeds on the fear that we are constantly being fed. Hell, I’ll take being a Polyanna over that! 🙂

    I read something on Seth Godin’s blog a while back: You can’t have terrorism without terror.

  7. I love this entry, Steve.

    Thinking back to times in school where someone was being singled out for abuse (I know you know what I’m talking about) and I sat there and said nothing, or worse yet the times that the peer pressure was too much for me and I joined in, I have vowed to always do whatever I can to try to put a stop to those situations now whenever I see them, and the consequences be damned.

    My motto has been “stand up for what you know is right.” That’s the kind of example I want to set for my sons.

    I recall a time when I was in the Navy, and the line division LPO (that’s the lead supervisor) was chewing out his guys and calling them things like “stupid SOB’s” (only not abbreviated), and worse. I stood up and said, “Kenny, you know if you call these guys ‘stupid SOB’s’ enough times they are going to act more and more like ‘stupid SOB’s’ and your job will be that much harder. Some of them might even start to believe it.” Unfortunately, Kenny didn’t like or take my advice. But calling him on it was still the right thing to do despite the fact that I was a PO2 and he was a PO1.

  8. I think this was a great blog entry. And Ive seen this message all around the Internet, and the more that tells about it the more will learn. Hopefully within 20-50years we’ll have alot more money per person and also feel alot happier. But it depends, only time will tell 🙂

    The scary thing is that all that I just read was a confirmation on what Ive been doing for the last 4-5weeks, since I managed to break loose from the chains of who I thought I was. I’ve gathered alot of inspiration from this site and am deeply grateful for the wisdom you share! Thanks 🙂

  9. Again…Quit watching the news?

    Nope. Part of building character and integrity is to become better informed. If you’re afraid to hear about the shit that you’re afraid of then you’re too afraid.

  10. Selfishness is indeed a huge factor that we need to give up. People value those who are willing to help them. No one will look up to you if your top priority is doing things for your own good.

  11. Contributing first is not an easy thing to consider. Aside from our attitude of doing things fairly, I think it’s also due to our cautious nature to examine first before contribution. It might be something we’ll regret for the rest of our lives.

  12. @Jonathan Trenn: Informed is good… inundated is ridiculous (got that one from James Ray). And most of the television news (in the US, at least) is not meant to inform… it’s meant to entertain, or to push a particular set of beliefs, neither of which have anything to do with building character and integrity.

  13. building character is not a one day event, it takes time through firm foundations, i expected to hear smthing on religion. i expected to hear smthing on education. i expxpectd to heat something on mentour, xter is the defination of man and this are the most basic pillars of humanity.

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