Set Character Goals to Discover Happiness

We have often discussed here the importance of goals. A goal without a plan is just a dream. In order to achieve nearly anything worth achieving, you must state your goals and develop a plan to see that goal become a reality. Your goals should have short term progress markers, or mini goals, and be aimed at pursuing your ultimate goal little by little. The goal is our desire and the habits we put in place constitute the work that gets us there. It is unlikely that any goal will be achieved without altering our habits. This is often the hardest part of reaching our goals. If you ask most people what their goals are, they can probably tell you, or they can at least tell you their dreams, but it is often their ability to successfully alter their lifestyle habits that prevents them from realizing their goals. The habit is the effort that you put in hour after hour, day after day, and week after week to arrive at your finish line.

If your goal is to become healthier, you set a goal weight, a desirable physique, or an event that you are determined to complete. To reach that goal you change your habits: you start training your body with exercise to develop greater capabilities; you start eating nutritious and healthy food to give your body the fuel it needs. If your goal is to start your own business, you change your habits: you start reading books about your business’s market rather than watching tv; you save money so you can invest it; and you stay up late to put in extra work. It doesn’t matter what your goal is, it takes the power of habit to get there.

Today’s discussion is obviously about goals and habits, but rather than talk about more traditional goals such as becoming healthier or starting a business like I just mentioned, or becoming a published author, getting a college degree, or any other amazing goal, this post is about character goals. When I say character goals, what I mean is: what sort of person do you want to be? Most of us would probably say that yes, we want to be a better person. But what does being a better person mean? When I was a strength and conditioning trainer, every new client would always tell me that their goal was “to get in better shape.” Duh. Form there we would dive deeper and talk about specifics. What does getting in better shape mean to YOU? Does it mean losing weight, does it mean being more flexible, does it mean completing a triathlon or a strongman competition, does it mean gaining 30lbs? Once we have that goal more specifically defined, we can implement the habits that will get us there. The same is true of character. Yes we all want to be better people, but how? What does being a better person mean to you? What values do YOU want to embody that will make you a better person.

Just as an athlete trains the body for fitness goals
you must train your mind and soul for character goals.

If you don’t know what values or character traits will make you a better person then how will you be able to measure your progress. Of course, this exercise isn’t for everyone, some people are very good and thrive just simply “being” but I am one of those people who takes a more deliberate approach to nearly everything, both a blessing and a curse. If you are like me and want to be more intentional about this, I would recommend starting with a thought exercise where you envision the type of person you want to be and state the values that will help you become that. You may already be that type of person, as I am positive that all of us brings innate values and character to the table. It never huts though to look for the opportunity to improve. For me, some of the values that embody the type of person I want to be are compassion, trustworthiness, confidence, empathy, and generosity. Those traits all embody the type of person I want to be. Because I have taken the time to specifically identify these traits, I have a target. Remember, if we don’t know what we are trying to achieve, how will we know when we are doing it or if we have been successful.

Without a goal or target, how will you
know if you’ve hit te mark

Identifying your goals and identifying the necessary habits to reach those goals is applicable to character goals just as any other goal. The same way an athlete knows they must train their body in the gym, push themselves hard, recovery properly, and avoid unhealthy food, so too must a person who wishes to be a better person identify the traits necessary to reach their goal. If you want to be more trustworthy, be mindful of the opportunities you must build that as a trait. If someone tells you a secret, remember that you are trying to develop trustworthiness personally, and trust with that person, so you resist the temptation to share the secret and gossip. If you wish to become more confident, be mindful of this when you are sitting in a board meeting, and instead of sinking in your chair and avoiding conversation, raise your hand and share your thoughts.

This isn’t going to cause an overnight transition. If I have been habitually selfish for my entire life, suddenly deciding to be generous will not make me generous the very next day. Nor either would a couch potato make the decision to run a marathon and get up off the couch to go do exactly that the next day. That isn’t realistic. You do have the opportunity to make small changes one at a time. It is in this way that habits are formed, and goals are realized.

Here are a few helpful tips to help you out:

1)      Be patient and do not be dismayed by how far off your goal is. Instead, focus on micro goals and being just a little bit better every day. Don’t think, I have to be generous all the time from here out. Instead, just focus on acting with generosity one act a time. Nick Saban, head coach of the legendary Alabama Crimson Tide football team (go Dawgs btw, although I can’t help but admire him as a coach) has been incredibly successful. Among his tactics, is the fact that he doesn’t ask his players to play a perfect game. How could anybody do that? Instead, he asks them to do their job perfectly on one play. Then again on the next. If you go out and execute flawlessly for 4-5s, the average time of a football play, then those perfect plays add up to a perfect game, or at least as close to a perfect game as possible. Try this out when building your character habits and goals.

2)      Change the way you think about yourself, and about achieving your goals. In his book Atomic Habits (on my recommended reading list on my pages link here), James Clear tells us to adapt the mindset of someone who has already become what they desire to be, or who already embodies the character to which they are striving. For example, if I am wanting to become a better athlete, I will not tell myself: I am going to try and eat better. I am setting myself up for failure because there is no accountability. Instead, if I adopt the mindset: I am an athlete, and athletes eat healthy so they can fuel their body for performance, then I have made myself accountable and I am more likely to stay committed. If my character goal is to be more compassionate, rather than avoid eye contact and awkwardly stroll by my neighbor I see walking every day, I will make an effort to engage them in a polite conversation, even if it is as brief as saying hello and smiling. This is the sort of thing a compassionate person does and will help me build the habit of being compassionate.

In summary, set character goals for yourself that will enable you to be the type of person you want to be. Once you have identified the goals and traits that will define you, consider what habits you must develop to embody those traits. Be on the lookout for opportunities to improve so that you are ready to take advantage of them. Be patient, recognize that your goals will take time to achieve. Focus on doing the right thing, one moment at a time. Create the mindset that you already are what you wish to become and hold yourself accountable for behaving in a manner worthy of that type of person you are.

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