Reflection an important part of building character

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[1] 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.


[1] Rolfe, G., Freshwater, D. and Jasper, M. (2001). Critical reflection in nursing and the helping professions: a user’s guide.

5 reasons to avoid gossip and the people who spread it

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.

Developing character takes practice

“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.

Character development at a glance [infographic]

What is character? How is it related to personality? And how do you develop it? It’s all about understanding and practice, practice, practice.

character development

Difficult conversations: Three steps to communicate through conflict

In a world of imperfect people, conflict is bound to emerge from time-to-time. Whether it be the team member who took credit for your work, the boyfriend you no longer want to see or the family member who doesn’t approve of your decisions, we all face those fight-or-flight moments in life.

While some may be quick to put up fists, others may simply shut down and let it fester. Perhaps worst of all—if not most common—are those among us who will say nothing to the offending party but everything about it to others.

The thing is, through communication, we often come to see there never was a conflict, except for the one we built up in our heads. More times than not, conflict only exists when both parties are so rigid in their stance, they can’t possibly take in the whole of a situation.

With that in mind, consider what might happen in a conflict if you first, listen to understand; second, manage your emotions; and finally, seek a resolution.

How to approach a difficult conversation

Step 1: Listen to understand.

Too often conflicts arise from assumptions, so it’s important to initiate the conversation with an open mind. Begin with a question that seeks to understand. Start with phrases like “Can you help me understand….”

When the other party responds, focus on their words and acknowledge their feelings. Paraphrase what you hear to ensure you accurately comprehend their point of view. Then imagine yourself in their shoes, trying to understand the other person’s viewpoint, motivation, reaction and intent.

While listening, don’t interrupt. When the other person finishes a thought, ask questions to learn more about why they feel or act the way they do. That will help you clearly define the problem or issue. Once you do, accept appropriate personal responsibility for any role you may have played in creating or perpetuating the conflict. It’s critical to remain authentic throughout.

Step 2: Manage emotions.

It’s easy to get defensive, but doing so will likely escalate and prolong the conflict. Remember, this is about understanding, not assigning blame. Separating the person from the problem will help.

If you feel personally attacked or your emotions bubble up, pause, take a deep breath, and remember your objective: peaceful, if not productive and enjoyable, coexistence.

Likewise, if the other party is angry, help them slowly release the frustrations that have been building. Active listening, where you acknowledge their concerns and show empathy, will likely help them vent their anger so you can move forward together.

Don’t hesitate to pause the conversation if needed and pick it up after emotions have calmed.

Step 3: Resolve the conflict.

The real goal of courageous conversations is to find a resolution, and two heads are usually better than one. Discuss options with the other party to engage them in thinking about possibilities for a solution.

During this time, view yourself as a mediator and problem-solver—the mechanism whereby the problem may be corrected, keeping in mind that coming to a solution doesn’t necessarily mean getting your way.

Conflicts are not resolved until both parties say they are, so once you’ve reached a resolution, paraphrase the solution you’ve identified together to be sure you both understand and agree to it.

Even after a conflict is resolved, it’s important to follow up with the other person to gauge how well the solution is working. Could you improve things even further? Do you need to tweak something? Either way, maintaining the conciliatory connection will help you avoid further conflicts in the future.

You can only control you.

You may find times when the other person isn’t as interested as you are in resolving the conflict. In those cases, be patient (we all have baggage) and keep the door open to continued communication. As in all situations where someone doesn’t behave the way you wish, don’t take it personally. Remember: others’ actions say more about them than it does about you.

Money really can buy happiness

How much would you pay for a lifetime of happiness? Studies show money really can buy happiness…when you’re paying it forward.

A wealth of research is increasingly showing that spending money on others may actually make you happier, repeatedly demonstrating that there’s a direct link between generosity and happiness.

We’re hardwired to give of ourselves

Being generous has been shown to stimulate the area of the brain associated with reward systems—called the striatum. In a study published in Nature, researchers used MRI to investigate the brain mechanisms at work. They found that “striatal activity during generous decisions is directly related to changes in happiness,” and plays a fundamental role in linking generosity with happiness.

Altruism leads to generosity

“Generous decisions” apply to more than just financial actions; they also apply to times when we give of ourselves, sharing kindness or compassion. Studies have shown that being kind to others decreases stress levels and improves mental health. They’ve also shown that being kind to others is more beneficial psychologically than being kind to yourself.

According to “Happy People Become Happier Through Kindness,” a study published in the U.S. National Library of Medicine at National Institutes of Health, generosity creates a psychological feedback loop with happiness, writing that “happy people are inclined to be more altruistic, and altruism makes them happier.”

Generosity leads to happiness

One study published in Science Magazine revealed the real connection between money and happiness, showing that spending more of one’s income on others predicted greater happiness. “Participants who were randomly assigned to spend money on others experienced greater happiness than those assigned to spend money on themselves.”

In the study, conducted by researchers at Harvard Business School and the University of British Columbia, one group of participants (we’ll call them Group 1) recalled a previous purchase made for themselves while another group recalled a purchase they made for someone else (Group 2). Then they were asked to report their happiness. Afterward, researchers gave participants small sums of money and told them they could either spend it on themselves or someone else. In the end, Group 2 not only reported feeling happier, but they also were more likely to spend the money on someone else.

And happiness leads to altruism

It’s a virtuous cycle: altruism leads to generosity, generosity leads to happiness, and happiness leads to even greater altruism. So yes, money can buy you happiness. But it isn’t necessarily the cash per se; it’s the actual giving that leads to happiness. So whether you’re giving time, money, talent or kindness, you’re doing as much for your own well-being as you are for others.

You may also like 16 Ways to Feel Happier in an Hour or Less.

10 ways to build resilience

We all face challenges in life, those times when we need to tap into our inner strength and keep moving forward. Resilience is the ability of ours to get back up after we’ve been knocked down. When we’re resilient, we can acknowledge our failures, learn from our mistakes and keep moving forward.

So how does one develop resilience? The same way we develop other facets of our character: practice, practice, practice. So we dare you: each time you get knocked down, refer back to this infographic for guidance. The key, according to the American Psychological Association, is to identify ways that are likely to work well for you as part of your own personal strategy for fostering resilience.

build resilience

Special thanks to the American Psychological Association for sharing the content for this infographic.

16 ways to feel happier in an hour or less

If the pressures of school and life have you feeling down, there’s no better pick-me-up than serving others. Volunteering doesn’t just take your mind off your worries. Doing good for others just feels good.

While volunteering can be a formal commitment you make to an existing organization, it can also simply be a promise you make to yourself to help someone in need. So if you think you don’t have time to volunteer, here are 16 quick ways to brighten your day—and someone else’s—in one hour or less.

#1 Serve. Find a local shelter or meal program and take an hour to help serve hungry people.

#2 Staff. Speaking of food, local pantries are often looking for volunteers to sort food, stock shelves or fill orders for clients.

#3 Give. Don’t have time to organize a blood drive? Volunteer at one instead. Can’t find any upcoming blood drives? Donate blood on your own.

#4 Donate. Gather clothing in good condition that you won’t wear again or high-quality toys from your childhood and donate them to an organization that can put them to good use.

#5 Create. Assemble a group of friends and make holiday cards and surprises for kids in the hospital. Think Valentine cards in February, fun-filled Easter eggs in the spring, trick-or-treat prizes in the fall or Christmas trinkets in the winter. Take another hour to distribute them.

#6 Yardwork. Help out an elderly neighbor by raking their leaves, shoveling their snow or mowing their lawn.

#7 Prepare. Keep a handful of granola bars on hand for times you come upon someone with a sign indicating they’re hungry.

#8 Write. In less than 30 minutes, you can write a personal letter to a member of the U.S. Armed Forces to express gratitude for the work they’re doing. Not sure where to send it? Google will give you a long list of options.

#9 Share. Whether it’s a vending machine, a parking meter or a coffee shop drive-thru, leave behind a couple extra dollars for the next person in line.

#10 Decorate. Contact a local elder-care facility to see if you can decorate one of its common spaces for an upcoming holiday.

#11 Weed. Volunteer at a local community garden during the growing season. You can clean a big area in one hour.

#12 Beautify. Grab a few friends and pick up debris from a local park.

#13 Call. Pick up your phone and call an elderly neighbor. Ask if they need anything and offer to take them to run errands.

#14 Craft. Make a tie blanket for a veteran or a sock-bone pet toy for dogs at a local shelter.

#15 Cook. Know a family that just lost a loved one? Or a family experiencing serious illness? Make and deliver a home-cooked meal to them.

#16 Teach. Spend an hour at a senior center to help people who struggle with technology. Help residents set up Facebook pages or Instagram accounts and teach them to use Skype to stay in better touch with family.


Three surprising qualities of successful leaders

When you think about the qualities of successful leaders, you may think of someone driven, charismatic, visionary or confident. The truth about the qualities that truly make a leader successful, however, looks a little different. It looks more like servant leadership, where leading is less about getting employees to follow you and more about you serving employees.

Successful leaders seek to serve first

Servant leadership, as defined by, is a philosophy and set of practices that enriches the lives of individuals, builds better organizations and ultimately creates a more just and caring world. You can see it playing out in a variety of successful businesses and organizations. And you can see it in three surprising qualities of a good leader from Karla Cook on

At first they may seem counterintuitive. But when you take a closer look, they all align with the characteristics of a servant leader.

#1 Successful leaders experience self-doubt

Insecurity can lead to more critical thinking, and that leads to more realistic decisions. Self-doubt can also keep a leader from becoming too comfortable in their position. It takes character to keep the self-doubt in check, though. Too often, people will try to hide their insecurities through bullying, behaving like a know-it-all or micromanaging. The key here is to use your doubt to become more adaptable to change and continuously improve yourself.

#2 Successful leaders are predictable

Twice a year, Google employees review their bosses in an “upward feedback survey” where they evaluate 12 to 18 factors, according to In reviewing the data, Google found that the most successful leaders are predictable and consistent—as those qualities essentially remove leaders as road blocks to employee progress. Leaders’ predictability encourages more creativity and autonomy in the workplace, which leads to greater employee happiness and higher job performance.

#3 Successful leaders work collaboratively

In today’s fast-paced world, there’s no room for ivory towers where directives are handed down for everyone else to execute. Successful leaders know they do not have a monopoly on the best ideas. Instead, they know how to put their egos aside and open themselves to others’ ideas, understanding that many of the best ideas come from teams who are welcome to share conflicting opinions and who have high morale because they are connected with one another and know their opinions are valued.

Successful leaders are servants first

While some traditional notions about good leaders can certainly help you be more successful (e.g., charisma, decisiveness), the outmoded idea that a leader is at the top of the pyramid will not. Servant leaders share power and develop people, leading to greater success for all.

Infographic shows the changing face of leadership

Today’s changing work force is calling for a new kind of leadership. Gone are the days of the executive handing down orders for the minions to accomplish. Today’s climate calls for a new, more inclusive, multi-directional, team-based approach that makes the most of diverse teams and provides them the autonomy to show what they can do. The following infographic, with much credit to Collaborative Lead Co., contrasts how far we’ve come from traditional leadership styles toward what more and more organizations are finding most most effective in current workplaces.

Character Lives