Acts of kindness call for intentionality
We often hear about “random acts of kindness.” In fact, they’re encouraged. We at Character Lives promote the idea as well. But if we truly want to fill our world with these so-called random acts of kindness, we really must begin with intentional acts of kindness.
Being intentional about kindness gives us a chance to practice the activities that will turn kindness into a habit — anywhere and everywhere we go. If you’re familiar with us at all, you know we’re all about practicing to build new, healthy habits that will create kinder, gentler communities all around us.
Take the 12-day kindness challenge
To that end, we have a new kind of challenge for you. This challenge focuses on kindness, perhaps the most fundamental of character essentials. The challenge is to complete one of the following intentional acts of kindness every day for the next 12 days. It’s fine (even better) to repeat the same challenges multiple times during the 12 days ahead, but the goal is to complete everything on the list.
At the end of the challenge, reflect on your actions and how they affected your sense of happiness and well-being. Did you learn anything about yourself? About others? Choose one word to describe the experience and share it in the comments below.
Day 1: Pay for coffee or drink for person behind you.
Buy a soft drink or coffee today for the person behind you in line. You just might make their day!
Day 2: Pay a genuine compliment.
Give genuine compliments to five people you notice throughout the day. This should be a mixture of friends and strangers. Look for people picking up trash or holding the door open and thank them for their thoughtfulness. Look for some unique style or clothing. Observe how your lunch server or bus driver interacts with you.
Day 3: Let another driver merge into your lane.
Whenever you are merging (walking, biking, driving) with others, let at least one person go before you.
Day 4: Send a thank you note.
Write an anonymous note to a teacher, staff member or colleague at your school or workplace. Thank them specifically for the work they do, but don’t make it obvious who it is from.
Day 5: Hold the door open for someone.
Hold the door open for someone who’s pushing a stroller or has their hands full. Better still, do it for everyone entering or exiting at the same time you are … just for the kindness of it.
Day 6: Gather clothes you no longer wear and puzzles or games you don’t play anymore and donate them.
You’ll get rid of clutter in your in your closets and give new life to items you no longer need. Best of all, you’ll be giving someone else an opportunity to put their best foot forward.
Day 7: Volunteer at a local shelter or meal program.
Volunteering to help people in need isn’t just a kind thing to do, it also gives you purpose, meet new people and maybe even pick up a new skill or two.
Day 8: Leave extra money in the vending machine.
Put a dollar in the vending machine and don’t buy anything. Just walk away knowing that someone lucky is going to be enjoying a snack for the wonderful price of free.
Day 9: Donate blood.
In less than one hour, you can literally help save someone’s life. If you’re able to give, make sure to do it as part of this 12-day challenge.
Day 10: Run an errand or take a meal to a new mom or sick friend.
Few things say you care better than a meal for a person or family who could really use a little help.
Day 11: Help an elderly neighbor.
Something as simple as helping an older person load groceries into their car, mowing their lawn or — dare we say it — shovel snow from sidewalks may well mean more to them than you’ll never know…well, until you’re 80, too.
Day 12: Leave sticky notes.
Write 10 Post-it notes with your favorite uplifting quotes or lyrics and post them on walls, mirrors or desks around your school or workplace. A good quote or song lyric can sometimes be a huge pick-me-up for someone having a bad day. It’s also fun to share the things that inspire you with other people. You never know how important those simple words will be to them!
Begin practicing intentional acts of kindness today.
As you conclude the challenge, don’t forget to choose one word to describe the experience and share it in the comments below. You may be surprised to see what people say. In the meantime, here’s to kindness everywhere!
When describing what it means to be someone of high character, it’s almost impossible to avoid words like perseverant, committed, dedicated and grit. For us at Character Lives, we fold these qualities under the commitment umbrella, one of the eight essentials in character development.
If you’ve been with us for a while, you know building character is like building muscle. The more you exercise it, the stronger it becomes. So how are you doing on your quest to develop commitment? Try our commitment calculator to see how you’re doing and find tips for building that commitment muscle.
CharacterStrong describes honesty as being free from deception: not only saying true things but living a life that is consistent. In this blog, we’ve looked at the latter, at how honesty is about more than telling the truth, but this infographic offers a look into the honest truth about telling lies. You may be surprised at what you learn.
Learning patience requires, well, patience
It seems some people are born with patience; the rest of us have to learn it. Learning patience is more complicated in today’s digital world where we’ve become accustomed to doing so much so immediately. But the real irony of learning patience is that it requires patience in the first place. It’s a conundrum.
Becoming more patient benefits ourselves more than anyone
Fortunately, science has found we can develop patience through practice—and that we should for our health and well-being. Consider these connections research has uncovered.
|Impatience is linked with increased||Patience is linked with increased|
The evidence is clear: we all benefit from increased patience. So how can we practice to increase ours?
Practicing patience: big-picture strategies
Develop a plan to become more patient. Take the following steps, being careful to start small and build as you become stronger.
1: Identify triggers—Think about situations that try your patience and identify why those situations are difficult for you. Once you know your triggers, you can devise strategies to improve.
2: Force yourself to slow down—This begins with scheduling adequate time for your activities. Give yourself an extra 15 minutes to drive where you need to go. Intentionally speak more slowly. Try meditation.
3: Make yourself wait—Put yourself in situations where you know patience will be required. Intentionally visit a popular restaurant or coffee drive-up during prime hours. Your favorite TV show? Record it and wait until the weekend to watch it. Or go grocery shopping on a Saturday mid-morning.
4: Say no to multi-tasking—Everyone today seems busy with too many responsibilities and projects to juggle. The temptation to multi-task is great (if even achievable), but trying to do too many things at once creates a sense of hurriedness, which frequently follows us in all aspects of our lives.
Practicing patience: in-the-moment
While the above strategies can be very effective in helping us develop patience over time, we still need help being more patient in the meantime (and in situations we haven’t anticipated). If you find yourself becoming impatient in a given moment, try these these strategies. You’ll love them for their immediate effects!
5: Take a deep breath. Shallow breathing is one of the first signs of impatience. Take a deep breath in through the nose and exhale slowly through the mouth. Deep breaths not only calm your mind, but they also increase the amount of oxygen in your blood and decrease the concentration of stress hormones.
6: Think about the person creating your wait. Imagine being in that person’s shoes. Perhaps it’s someone going through a stack of coupons in a grocery store line; they’re doing so because it’s the only way to feed their family. That speeding driver that just cut you off? Imagine their partner in the car is in labor and about to give birth.
7: Imagine the outcome. The person in front of you at the fast-food drive-up just ordered $50 worth of food. So what’s the worst that can happen if it takes five minutes away from your lunch hour? Or you’re in a long line for the Harry Potter ride at Universal Studios. Think about the reward that awaits when it’s finally your turn.
8: Take a time-out. If the stress of waiting is causing you to overheat, take a time-out. We’re no different than children in that regard. Sometimes we just need to step away from the situation to regain perspective about what’s really important. Speaking of which, next is the strategy we’ve found to be most helpful in all situations.
9: Think gratitude. In a long line of traffic exiting an event? List the good things in your life—your family, good friends, good health, your animal companion, having a place to call home, fresh air and nature, clean water to drink. You get the gist. Before you know it, you’ll be so absorbed in this happiness exercise, you’ll forget about being in a rush.
Commitment means the difference between failure and success
Chances are you’ve heard the oft-repeated statistic: only 8% of those who set New Year’s goals achieve them, a statistic backed by research from the University of Scranton. If you ever stopped to wonder what that 8% did differently from the other 92%, one word has like come to mind: commitment.
Commitment is powerful. It makes the difference between failure and success at work, at school and at home. It affects how we feel about ourselves and how we feel about our relationships with others. When we fail on our commitments, our integrity and self-esteem are diminished, and others learn we cannot be trusted. We find ourselves making excuses and blaming others, distracting us further from the things we should be doing.
Failing to commit
Most people mean well when they make a commitment, but we sometimes forget the meaning of the word.
In “The British Himalayan Expedition,” W. M. Murray wrote, “Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative and creation, there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issue from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would come his way.”
Treating commitments as goals increases achievement
Committing is like goal-setting. It’s saying we will accomplish this task. Viewing commitments as goals lends insights into how to keep them and achieve what we said we would.
Choose to commit.
Be fully present when you commit to things, considering them carefully and thoughtfully in advance. Understand, as Murray wrote, once you’re committed, you should not draw back. When you choose whether to commit, consider your ability and your time. Be specific about your commitment and seek to stretch yourself. Goal-setting researchers Edwin Locke and Gary Latham found that setting specific and challenging goals leads to higher performance 90 percent of the time.
Write it down.
We hear this all the time, but there’s good reason for it. Writing down our commitments encodes them in our brains. The process of encoding takes our thoughts into the hippocampus, where they go from short-term concepts to long-term memory. Studies have shown that people who vividly describe their goals (or commitments) in writing are 1.2 to 1.4 times more likely to accomplish them.
Ask someone to hold you accountable.
In a study from the American Society of Training and Development, researchers found that if you commit to someone outside yourself, you have a 65% chance of completing a goal. But if you have a specific accountability check-in with the person you committed, your odds of success increase to 95%.
Honesty is about being our authentic selves
Oftentimes when we think of honesty, our thoughts turn to telling the truth. Who broke the window? Do these pants make me look fat? Are you angry at me? But honesty is more about who we are as people. It’s so much more than what we say. It’s who we are, what we do, how we live and how we relate to others. It’s about authenticity.
In today’s world, especially with the ubiquity of social media, it’s easy to get pulled into cultivating an identity that isn’t true to ourselves. We tend to show the world our best and brightest moments and omit the ones when we’re our most human versions of ourselves. We want to give others an impression of who we are. But an impression, by definition, is an idea of someone formed without conscious thought or on the basis of little evidence.
Dishonesty masks our true selves
Let’s say for example that you want to impress someone you find attractive. You like indie music and hate the hard stuff, and you’re vegetarian out of principle. He, however, is thrash metal all the way and lives on animal protein. Do you study up on thrash metal and pretend to love it just so you’ll have something in common? Do you suddenly feign a fondness for meat?
What happens when our true selves begin to eke out? How can our relationships grow if they’re based on lies?
Being inauthentic is like wearing a mask, a barrier that keeps others from knowing — and loving — the real you. Further, people can sense a mask. They may not be able to put a finger on it, but they’ll sense something isn’t right, and they won’t trust you.
Honesty is keeping it real with others
When we’re our true selves, we not only remove the burden of pretending we’re someone we’re not, but we also connect more authentically in all relationships. We can be more real — more honest — in every way.
Being authentic doesn’t mean we have to put 100 percent of our real selves out there for everyone. We can reserve parts of ourselves for certain people and settings, so long as we don’t misrepresent ourselves.
Honesty is keeping it real with ourselves
Author Brené Brown put it well. “Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we are supposed to be and embracing who we actually are.”
In the end, honesty isn’t just about being truthful with others, it’s about being true to ourselves.
It’s widely accepted that forgiving someone who’s wronged us lifts an emotional burden. But a wealth of science has demonstrated the strong connection between our minds and bodies: better mental health means better physical health. And when we choose to forgive, we are taking proven steps to increase our physical health.
That’s not necessarily an easy choice, though. For most of us it requires a conscious choice and, oftentimes, disciplined thought. This infographic illustrates the physical benefits of doing the work and the steps for getting there.
Character Lives often stresses that building character requires practice: that character is like a muscle where you must continually work on it to keep it strong or make it stronger. That’s why the Character Dares are so important. Through the dares, we all are reminded to work on the eight essentials: honesty, commitment, humility, respect, kindness, forgiveness, selflessness, patience. Each essential is like a different muscle in our character composition.
But it’s not just about the eight essentials; reflection too plays an important role in building character and in the CharacterStrong curriculum. That’s because the Character Dares are essentially a form of experiential or service learning where reflection is integral to the character-building process. It’s a model that expands the learning beyond the teacher and into the real world.
Reflection helps us connect the intrinsic good feelings that result from character-building actions and extend the behavior into contexts beyond the original experience, such as the workplace and community. And through the repetition of weekly dares, we increase our skill level, ultimately reproducing positive behaviors without conscious thought, just like — you guessed it — muscle memory.
To be effective, reflection requires us to analyze our actions throughout the week. Many find that keeping logs or journaling makes the reflection more meaningful. Others may prefer to share verbally with a partner, parent or trusted friend. Whatever form of reflection you take, the What, So What and What Now model offers an easy starting point.
- What — This covers what, where and when you tried the dare as well as for or with whom you did it.
- So What — What did you learn from the experience? How did you feel? How did it make others feel? How did others involved respond? What most surprised you? What most delighted you? If you repeated the dare, did it become easier the more times you did it? What did you learn about others, your school or workplace, the community and yourself?
- What Now — Next time you practice the behavior, what will you do differently? What more can you do to build that particular behavioral muscle? And when and how will you practice again?
This approach will set you up to practice each character trait more often and make it easier over time.
Now it’s time for us to reflect. How are the Character Dares working for you? Please feel free to share in the comments section.
 Rolfe, G., Freshwater, D. and Jasper, M. (2001). Critical reflection in nursing and the helping professions: a user’s guide.
Common reasons people gossip
Gossiping comes naturally for many of us. Just look at magazine covers, reality TV and celebrity bloggers. But gossip isn’t just about the famous. We may gossip ourselves to seek revenge when our boyfriend dumps us for someone else, to ingratiate ourselves to someone we want to impress, to help ourselves feel better when we’re intimidated by someone or even just to break boredom.
None of these reasons are good ones.
What is gossip
Consider the motives for gossip—jealousy, acceptance, gaining power. They almost always focus on lifting ourselves up by pushing others down. When you say things about others behind their back that are hurtful, derogatory and (usually) unconfirmed, it reflects on who you are.
But it also reflects on who you are when you uplift others and focus on the positive. If it’s a good reputation, respect or relationships you want, the best way to get it is to demonstrate through your behavior you are worthy of it.
5 ways gossip harms all involved
Most people don’t understand that when they gossip, they aren’t just hurting the object of their comments. They’re also hurting others and themselves.
#1 Gossip destroys friendships and divides people
By its very nature, gossip is adversarial. It pits the gossiper against the person being talked about and asks the listener to pick a side.
#2 Gossip degrades your character
While gossip aims to attack someone else’s character, spreading and perpetuating negative, unsubstantiated stories about people goes against each of the eight essentials in developing character: commitment, forgiveness, honesty, humility, kindness, patience, respect and selflessness. If you have a problem with someone, respect them enough to go directly to them, humbly and honestly. Listen patiently, and, if needed, forgive them.
#3 Gossip is harmful
The purpose of gossip is to tear a person down and erode their self-esteem. It’s in that state where people may begin experiencing mental health issues, such as eating disorders, suicidal thoughts, depression and anxiety.
#4 Gossip ruins reputations, including yours
When you gossip, you’re telling your audience you are not one to be trusted: that you can be malicious and don’t mind spreading lies. It also tells people that you’re insecure. Keep in mind your audience likely recognizes that while you’re gossiping about someone else today, it could be them in that place tomorrow.
#5 Gossip takes time away from doing something awesome
Every minute spent gossiping represents a minute when you could be doing something kind for someone else or supporting a friend. It also represents a minute where you could be practicing honesty by shutting down speculation and lies.
Tips for avoiding gossip
Commit yourself now to avoiding gossip: both consuming it and sharing it. If someone begins to gossip with you, change the topic or speak up for the object of the gossip. You can also take steps to avoid people you know to be gossips.
And when you speak about others, first examine your motive. Ask yourself if the information you’re about share will do anyone any good. If it won’t, keep it to yourself.
If despite your best efforts you come across gossip, don’t judge the person being talked about. Remind yourself that people are probably talking about you too, and in the end, we’re all just doing our best.
“Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.” – Vince Lombardi
Making good character a habit
All of us at some point in our lives have had to practice, whether it has been practicing piano, shooting free throws or rehearsing a speech. No one has escaped putting in hours of practice to improve their skills.
The same is true with character development. Character is a habit shaped by daily choices. Without practice, or “perfect practice,” in the words of Coach Lombardi, we will continue with our same habits. By perfect practice we must practice with an intentional focus on improvement. We need to focus on what it is we want to improve and make a conscious, disciplined effort to make those changes occur. Without this, our character will not change.
Where to begin developing character
How do we start to make changes? We look at all of our current character traits and habits. Do they serve us? Are they in our best interest? Do they help others? If we find personal qualities we want to change, we have to have the discipline to practice them until they take hold within us.
We are given opportunities to develop stronger character every day through our interactions with others, how we deal with difficult situations and the challenges of daily life. These real-life situations help us see where our weaknesses are and allow us to build our desired character by how we choose to react to them.
The eight essentials of character
Be patient but disciplined in your approach to developing your desired attributes, accepting one new challenge each week. When you do, keep in mind the eight essentials of character:
- Commitment — Demonstrate integrity. Stand up for your beliefs about right and wrong and resist peer pressure. Keep promises. Keep your word and honor your commitments
- Forgiveness — Forgive others, even when they don’t deserve. Free yourself from negative feelings toward people who offend or hurt you.
- Honesty — Tell the truth and be sincere to help build trust in your relationships
- Humility — Be fair. Treat all people fairly; be open-minded; listen to others and try to understand what they are saying and feeling.
- Kindness — Be kind and caring. Show you care through your actions and don’t be selfish or mean. Stand by family, friends, employers, community and your country. Make a conscious effort to not talk about people behind their backs.
- Patience — Do your best with what you have. Be patient and don’t quit easily.
- Respect — Treat all people with respect. Be courteous, polite and don’t judge others. Make a conscious effort to not talk about people behind their backs.
- Selflessness — Put others’ needs before your own.
Tips for character development
Consider which of the essentials you need to work on most, and intentionally practice the small actions that will help you improve. For inspiration, follow our weekly Character Dares on Character Lives’ Facebook and Instagram pages. Or to have weekly Character Dares delivered directly to your telephone by texting WEDAREYOU to 31996.