Developing Your Character in the Game of Life

Boss Battles and all

A major self-limiting belief is that people just are the way they are.

This is represented in sayings like: “A zebra can’t change it’s stripes… A leopard can’t change its spots.”

True, but irrelevant. What does that have to do with character development?

I will often hear: “I can’t help it, I was just born this way. I’m just a jealous/insecure/angry/cocky/(insert here) person.”

I try to caution against this whenever I hear it. It’s the opposite of a growth mindset, this mentality that we just are the way we are. It robs us of our self-determination.

It’s also bull.

See, we are not static creatures… We create ourselves every day through our thoughts and actions. We grow and develop, not just in childhood, but throughout our entire lives. As James Altucher would say, we choose ourselves.

Research on neuroplasticity shows us that the brain reorganizes itself by forming new neural connections throughout the life course.

“When we think about the billions of neurons with their trillions of connections that constitute the brain, we also need to remember that the brain is a living system designed by evolution for learning and memory. The brain — in fact, the entire nervous system — is constantly pulsing with chemical and electrical activity, expanding, contracting, and expanding again. Neuroscientists refer to the constantly changing brain as ‘plastic’” (Cozolino, 2006, p. 37).

The brain is plastic, constantly changing as neural pathways are either reinforced or diminished. Sure, thought patterns are largely the product of conditioning from life experiences, but that does not mean they can’t be restructured.

“Millions of individual neurons link up to form neural networks that perform the many functions of the nervous system. In turn, neural networks can interconnect, allowing for the evolution and development of increasingly complex skills, abilities, and abstract functions. The specific combination of activated neurons involved in a particular function is known as its estantiation. Estantiations encode all of our abilities, emotions, and memories and are sculpted and modified by experience. Once neural patterns are established, new learning relies on the modification of established estantiation patterns” (Cozolino, 2006, p. 41–42).

Thanks to neuroplasticity, new thought patterns can be formed as we train our brains to function in different ways. This is a fundamental process of successful therapeutic modalities such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Problem-Solving Therapy, which I’ve used to get clients tremendous results.

The brain’s plasticity can help us adapt to changing environments, learn new skills, and solve challenging problems. It can also help us change in the direction of our choosing.

Neuroplasticity is an instrument of self-transformation.

We can quite literally mold our minds to perform optimally and best serve us. In doing so, we can develop into the person we want to be.

As Epictetus said, “Immediately prescribe some character and form of conduce to yourself, which you may keep both alone and in company.”

Think of the character you wish to embody. Think of the people you view as heroic. Envision the qualities and attributes of those you most admire. Keep these in mind. Use them as the metric with which you measure your progress.

When I think of human beings as ever-changing, developing, and adapting characters, I am reminded of the video games I used to play when I was young.

I liked the role playing games the best. RPG’s, they call them. The ones where I could take control of imaginary characters in magical settings. I enjoyed leveling up my character, learning new skills and techniques to evolve as much as possible. There were new levels, obstacles, and boss challenges.

I got to develop my character, improving strengths and growing attributes to meet the increasing demands placed upon it. I got to choose my powers and hone them for optimal performance as I advanced through the game.

I took great joy in this development. In improving and becoming the best I could be.

Today, I still find the same joy. But today, the video game is my life and the character is me.

I have strengths and weaknesses, but I am always evolving. I strive to grow and develop to better navigate the world around me with precision, mastery, and tranquility.

With every book I read, I level up. With every skill I learn, I develop my character. Each challenge I face is a new boss-battle, and I am always left stronger than before.

This approach helps me realize that I am the character in my own video game.

At its root, this is the realization that I am the master of my life. While I don’t control what happens in the game, I always control how I play it.

With this realization, comes autonomy. If you don’t like something about yourself, change it. If you want to accomplish something, develop the skills to do so. If you face some problem or challenge, think of the ways it will contribute to your growth.

Remember that you can create the character you wish to embody in this life.

And one more thing: Don’t forget to enjoy the game.

Be Still.

Originally published at on January 11, 2017.