Building good character is all about addition, not subtraction. What I mean is this: when it comes to change, our focus is usually on the aspects of our lives that are bad. We try to cut out or cut off these negative or bad qualities, such as trying to not be angry. We try to improve by subtraction. That is not how you build good character.
It is the process of addition in your life that brings the character. In so doing, you automatically take care of the other negative aspects. As both a father and a pastor, I look for ways to continually add to the character of those I am responsible for. The Bible teaches us this concept in 2 Peter 1:3-10. We are to add things like virtue, patience, love, kindness, faith, and so on. It is the process of adding these things to our lives that we gain the character to be fruitful in life. I like to call this the Divine Ingredient. When you add these to your life, everything gets better.
WHAT IS CHARACTER?
But how do you add these elements? First, let’s look at what character is. Character is the subconscious doing of right. When doing the right things is instinctive and part of you, then that is good character. And when you show up on time out of habit, that is good character. When you’re honest by reflex, that is good character. And when you can be patient instinctively, that is good character. When something wrong or bad is done habitually, we call those bad habits. Doing things good or right out of habit is called good character.
It is not about taking away the negative–it is about adding those things to your life that become habitual. It is not about trying to not be late–it is about being on time. And it is not about finding ways not to lie–it is about the truth. It is not about wrestling with your impatience–it is about being patient.
BUILDING GOOD CHARACTER
So how do you make something into a good habit? How do you build good character?
You practice it until it becomes part and parcel with you. You diligently focus on what you want to add and then practice it until it becomes a habit. Let me give you some examples:
A young man in college had trouble getting up when the alarm clock went off. He kept hitting the snooze button and always ended up rushing around so he wouldn’t be late to class. He heard how another guy solved the same problem, so he tried it too. When he had some free time, he set his alarm clock to go off in five minutes. He laid down and tried to take a nap. When the alarm went off, he jumped straight up out of bed. He reset the alarm for another five minutes and did it again. He did that a dozen times. The next morning, when the alarm clock went off, he stood straight up out of bed. He had conditioned his body to react instinctively to the alarm. Soon he had no problems getting up in the morning.
I will admit that I am something of an introvert and a recluse by nature. Indeed, I recognized my faults while in Bible college and decided to do something about it. I determined to greet everyone I saw before they could greet me. This forced me to be outgoing and friendly. It wasn’t easy. Some folk are so outgoing that to beat them to a greeting, I literally had to yell a greeting down the hallway where a dozen people could hear. I did this for months and found myself being friendly to people and more outgoing without having to think about it or concentrate on it. I added friendliness to my character.
This is how you do it. When you are trying to add character, you have to focus on it and make it a goal of addition. You then practice it until it becomes instinctive. We do this with our muscles. We practice a particular jump shot in basketball, we practice swinging a racket, and we practice dribbling a soccer ball all so that our muscles will react instinctively without thought or conscious direction. Why should good character be any different?
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