Saturday Blueprint on Character

Character is fate. I share my habits for strengthening character and building discipline.

Saturday Blueprint on Character
Photo by Ronda Darby / Unsplash

Hi 👋. Here is this week's Saturday Blueprint.

🤔 Quote I’m thinking about

"be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is who you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are " -- John Wooden

This quote gives your ego a kick out the way. Look, you can only control your attitude and your character. What others think of you - your reputation - is completely irrelevant, and anyway, you can’t control it so don’t even fret about it.

🧱 Character is fate

I wrote about character back in Saturday Blueprint 3 on Mentors and in Saturday Blueprint 7 on the Power of the Mind but I want to develop the thinking a little further.

Your character is the part of you that you can control. If you think of your self as two parts - the conscious and the unconscious, then the conscious part is your character.

"Watch your thoughts, they become your words; watch your words, they become your actions; watch your actions, they become your habits; watch your habits, they become your character; watch your character, it becomes your destiny." – Lao Tzu

This is to say that your character is the manifestation of your thoughts, actions and habits. You can control these - you decide your actions obviously - but it’s also true to say that a lot of our actions happen unconsciously. That time you choose to to say “in a minute” to your daughter because you’re busy on Twitter. That time you check your work emails at night because your boss is on your back. That time you are in such a rush in the morning you don’t even say goodbye to your wife or kids. These are all things I’ve done, and I’ve done them without intentionally thinking about them. I just didn’t think. Yet those were my actions. And actions speak in their own way - louder and clearer than any words I could offer in apology.

So character is everything - Character is fate as Heraclitus said 2500 years ago - because we can control our character, and we should control our character if we want to live intentionally. And if we do this, we can choose to be intentional, to think, and this will define our fate and our future. Because our actions will be aligned with our intentions.

You might read this and think this is a load of rubbish, and that is your choice, of course. Nonetheless your actions and inactions do still define your future. And the most definitive way to put this is:

how you spend your days is how you spend your life

Only you can decide how you spend your days, but this quote for me is one I return to again and again to be constantly reminded that this is it. There is no second life, there is no “when I retire”, it’s all in the here and the now. It’s terrifying, but also empowering, because “now” keeps resetting allowing me to try again, and again, and again.

So my personal philosophy is this: I write so I can think; I think so I can act with intention; I act with intention so I can find meaning in this present moment.

🕊 The character of discipline and virtue

Based on the points above, how do I use this this in practice. The first and most important part of character is discipline in my opinion. To me discipline is about putting first the things that are important or meaningful, not the newest shiny thing, or the latest crisis at work, or the instant gratification of something pleasurable.

It’s simple but empowering. For instance: make your bed every day. Keep your workspace tidy. Do the hardest thing on your todo list first. Keep a daily gratitude journal.

Want a challenge of pure discipline that’s as tough as running a marathon? Do a 40 hour fast. This is all discipline, all in the mind, but that doesn’t make it any easier.

It’s about taking the harder option when you have a choice. Jocko Willink put it well when he said:

Discipline equals freedom — Jocko Willink

How does discipline equal freedom? By empowering you to take control and be accountable for anything and everything that happens to you. Your freedom is in your thoughts and actions. Discipline is the daily acid test that you are in the driving seat. Every act of discipline (like taking a cold shower) is an action of intentional choice. It’s a win over the subconscious parts of you that might be lazy, emotional, irrational or weak. It’s a win over the inexorable increase of entropy.

For me I find that daily acts are discipline are easier. It’s my daily habits that I’m more likely to keep - daily journaling, daily press ups, daily cold shower. When it’s daily I can’t put it off. I’ve just got to get it done. You may find that weekly habits are easier, but my experience has been if it’s not daily it’s not a habit. It’s easier to read a chapter of Stoic philosophy daily than it is to read 7 chapters once a week.

Which leads me neatly into my second point: I use Stoicism as an anchor for character. Everyday I try to read a little bit of Stoic writing - a quote or journal entry from Marcus Aurelius, Seneca or Epictetus, or perhaps a bit of modern interpretation by Ryan Holiday.

Character is about virtue. It’s about those cardinal principles which are greater than me and my selfish needs. Ultimately virtue is about doing what’s right.

The four cardinal Stoic virtues are:

  • Moderation (everything in moderation)
  • Wisdom (think things through, be rational)
  • Justice (be fair)
  • Courage (stand up for what you believe in)

I apply these virtues not as a way to pat myself on the back for a job well done - because frankly no one cares - but because they allow me to decide based on what is right. They allow me to strive to take my emotions out of decisions. To think things through. To honour the principle of rationality.

This is my current list of daily habits:

  • Cold shower
  • Journalling
  • Gratitude
  • Read Stoicism
  • Write my newsletter or book
  • Strength training (press ups and pull ups)
  • Meditation
  • Walking outside
  • Fasting

Now this is something I work on with discipline. It’s about the process not the destination. I won’t ever "complete" gratitude. And I’m far from perfect. But each day is a new day and new chance to get back in the saddle and try again. It’s back to how you spend your days is how you spend your life.

Finally, and I’ve gone on too long this week so I’ll save for another day, is the importance of a foundation of mental, physical and spiritual vitality from which to build character, and the subsequent place of mindset that goes hand-in-hand with discipline and virtue to be the best we can be.

💍 Cool finds

A quick list of things I've read or found this week that I want to share.

Honestly this week I have had my own share of strife with a difficult builder - it’s needed me to apply the virtues of courage, wisdom and justice in practice - such that I haven’t had any bandwidth to discover anything new this week.

Perhaps you can share something you found that was cool instead?

It’s a pleasure writing to you. Have a great week. 😊

About the Saturday Blueprint

The Saturday Blueprint is a weekly newsletter every Saturday on health, vitality and philosophy by Nick Stevens.

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