The 5 Traits of a Strong Character
Can a weak person be a good person?
Some philosophers would argue that, without the capacity for evil, one cannot be good — one can merely be obedient. What separates the good from the obedient is:
1) the independence of thought that allows someone to plan and execute freely
2) the strength of character to control the urges that don’t align with their moral compass
To recognize a person of strong character is to know whom you can trust and rely upon. To be a person of strong character is to be honest, resilient, and dependable. It is of utmost importance for you and those close to you. Here are five distinct traits to identify and aspire to.
How you deal with adversity
If someone’s first instinct when they are facing adversity is to cast blame, they are not to be relied upon. Casting blame is usually a mechanism for avoiding responsibility. This person cannot be counted on in hard times, as they will put more effort into protecting their fragile emotional balance than into solving the problems at hand.
The person you want by your side in hard times is the person who takes responsibility for solving problems, regardless of whether they caused them, you caused them, or mother nature herself caused them.
If you want to build your character, take ownership of important problems.
How you learn
Some people like to learn by sitting down and studying until they have perfect theoretical knowledge. This is admirable if you’re a scientist. If you’re an entrepreneur or executor, the best way to learn is the natural way — by trying, failing, fixing mistakes, and evolving.
This requires less time, but more strength of character. It is difficult to fail over and over again, particularly in public, but a person who has the resilience to evolve in this way soon outpaces the rest. This person can also be relied upon not to sweep their mistakes under the rug, which is crucial for healthy relationships (both work and personal).
In his first NBA season, Kobe Bryant shot no less than four air-balls (missing the entire construction of the basket) in the most important game of the season. His reaction? No embarrassment, no despair, no insecurity; just thorough analysis, pinpointing the problem (weak leg muscles), and solving it (a summer of hard work at the gym). The problem never came back. He approached every problem in the same way. The rest, as they say, is history.
Set outrageous goals and set them publicly. If you win, you’re a hero. If you fail, you will likely fail above everyone who set “safer” goals for themselves, and you will determine exactly what you need to work on to succeed in the next iteration.
How you deal with differences in opinion
Being able to hold several points of view in your head simultaneously is a good indicator of strength. We are all tempted to shut ourselves in our little echo chambers and only converse with people who agree with us from the start. That’s a great approach if your goal is never to improve, or if you think that you’re the very peak of what humanity has to offer.
The opposite approach is much harder — it involves trying to understand both sides of an argument and never dismissing one as morally inferior without first doing your best to understand the reasoning behind it. This requires energy, open-mindedness, and a relentless hunger for truth.
The easy way is the way of the weak-minded and weak-willed. Defensiveness is a sign of insecurity. It is a sign that you have difficulty defending the logic of your view, and have to resort to filtering information in order to keep that mental house of cards intact.
A person of strong character is assertive, yet he greets every difference in opinion with curiosity, not rejection. He will attempt to prove his point, and he will listen intently as the other person tries to prove theirs. He will compare them open-mindedly, with no egoistic attachment to his own, and then decide which one makes more sense.
How disciplined you are
Freedom isn’t attained by a lack of structure, at least not in any long-lasting sense. Discipline is freedom.
Doing difficult things over and over again, with a goal in mind, builds character. A strong character allows us to follow through on our plans and achieve our goals. It deters others from standing in our way. Achieving our goals provides us with the flexibility and resources to spend our time doing only what we find useful and enjoyable. This is true freedom.
Become disciplined by enforcing good habits and pruning bad ones. You can do this by applying a simple “stick and carrot” psychology to yourself. Reward positive behavior, punish negative behavior. We know rationally what is useful in the long-term and what isn’t, but providing short-term rewards and punishments does a much better job of making the primitive parts of our brain fall in line.
How humble you are
Humility is an under-appreciated skill. I say skill because it can be learned, like anything else. I have watched people transform from egomaniacs to benevolent benefactors by applying the force of their character to learning humility. Many are taught humility against their will by the tides of life.
The sooner you let go of the childish ego-driven decision-making process, the sooner you will become more understanding of others, more open to new ideas, and more likely to form strong bonds with people. Strong bonds, in turn, make you both more resilient and more protective of those around you.
Having a strong character allows us to pursue our goals with confidence. It also lets others know that we are dependable partners, and makes them want to collaborate with us. It is worth taking the time to analyze one’s weaknesses so we can put in place rules and systems that will level up these four crucial traits for us.