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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