Character

Half of self-improvement is measuring; After all, the best tool for weight-loss is the scale; The next best is the calorie counter

What is one of the most successful tools in the history of self-improvement? Hint: It's right under your feet. It's the weighing scale. Accurate measurements are the easiest way to create a self-improvement system that adheres to the principles of flow. By having numbers, then you have instant feedback that your self-improvement project is working. If you see even just a slight quantified improvement, then it's incredibly encouraging.

Asking "How do I measure this?" is the first crucial step to building any successful self-improvement program. If you're trying to become happier, for example, do you have an accurate measurement of your happiness? You could, for example, count the number of minutes you spend per day lying on your bed, staring at the ceiling, twisting and turning your worries in your head. You could count the number of neurotic episodes you have per week. Then when you try cognitive therapy or meditation, you could measure yourself again and see if you've made progress.

Measurement can open the door to a dimension of self-improvement that you may not even know existed. For example, how do you reduce the friction in your relationships (professional, romantic, or platonic)? While you could measure the outputs, like the number of times you get into a fight, the pattern may be too irregular for you to get meaningful feedback. Even better is if you can measure the inputs.

The Josephson Institute has a concept called The Six Pillars of Character, whereby they define character as Trust, Respect, Responsibility, Fairness, Caring, and Community. You could then measure you and your partner's response to a conflict according to that rubric. How caring was I in that scathing email that I just sent? How reasonable are her demands on the relationship? Anecdotally, my personal conflicts became dramatically reduced when I delved into this kind of exercise.

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Some Laws of Power and Some Habits of Highly Effective People wouldn't have the same ring, despite being more accurate

When creating new self-improvement techniques, we should strive to make 360-degree descriptions of the things we're purporting to address. For example, if you have a book titled The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, those seven should be free from want. There shouldn't be some highly effective person you encounter who has some Eighth or Ninth habit that isn't included those initial seven. Steve Jobs is a good example of someone who didn't really exercise those seven habits, but was highly effective.

Another term that lacks a 360-degree principle is happiness. You could take Martin Seligman's acronym PERMA for happiness:

  1. Pleasure (tasty foods, warm baths, etc.),
  2. Engagement (or flow, the absorption of an enjoyed yet challenging activity),
  3. Relationships (social ties turn out to be extremely reliable indicator of happiness),
  4. Meaning (a perceived quest or belonging to something bigger), and
  5. Accomplishments (having realized tangible goals).

However, you could find happy people who are lacking in a large portion of these vectors or whose happiness is built from different foundations. For example, lacking in that definition is the idea of opinion. If you believe that your life is good or that you are good, the thought itself is happiness for many people, even if they are lacking in felt qualities or subjective well-being. Or what about 6. Lack of over-thinking. Meditation can bring about a 50% increase in happiness in most people simply because over-thinking is such a common cause for unhappiness.

An example of something that does have a good 360-degree definition, though, is character. The Josephon Institute defines character as Trust, Respect, Responsibility, Fairness, Caring, and Community. What's brilliant about this, is that you can take nearly any transgression between two people, and reduce it to a violation of some combination of those six pillars.

When you have a 360-degree definition, then you can confidently make a self-improvement program. For example, if you did a self-assessment, realized that you were just lacking in trustworthiness and respect, if you worked on those, then would know for sure that you had good character.