Forgive me for getting personal, but I’m compelled to share something I’m learning in my personal development study. Maybe this can help you as it helps me, or at least provide some encouragement. I’ll make it an equation just for fun.
Commitment – Character = Failure
This may not be obvious at first glance, so stay with me. I find myself often riding this cycle of Commit – Fail – Recommit – Fail despite what I believe are my best efforts to change. Further, the vicious cycle gets me down impacting my confidence, self-esteem, and ambition. Sometimes for few minutes; sometimes for days or even weeks. Can you relate?
I’m learning that breaking the failure cycle requires more than a stronger commitment, or a ‘never give up’ attitude. I’m proof they don’t work long term. I believe the answer is character development and renewing my mind.
First let me clarify that not all failure is bad. Failure is how we learn and grow. If we don’t ever fail, it simply means we aren’t pushing ourselves or trying anything new or trying to improve anything. I’m referring to the failure to stop the bad habit, attitude, behavior, etc. Whether it’s to quit smoking, drinking, overeating, cussing, or being angry, bitter, resentful, depressed, selfish, or some other negative thing in our life we want gone forever, we all have something we can’t seem to kick. It could be we struggle to start something too, like to start exercising, eating healthy, being more generous, kind, selfless, or some other positive thing that we can’t seem to gain momentum on in our daily life. Follow me? Simply recommitting to do better doesn’t work.
Character is the key to breaking this failure cycle, but character is a term that’s hard to define. Don’t you think so?
What is character? Google calls it “the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual.” Sounds nice, but it’s not very specific. What are mental and moral qualities? And how does one know if these qualities are good? There must be a better definition. Merriam-Webster’s simple definition is “the way someone thinks, feels, behaves; someone’s personality.” I’m sorry but most times I hear character used, it references an assessment of the persons good or bad character. Yet the definitions we have don’t seem to help us with what actually makes up ‘good character’.
Wouldn’t you agree it’s important to determine what mental & moral qualities or what thinking, feeling, and behavior make up good character? Yet how can that be done when everyone seems to have their own opinion about what is good and what isn’t? Without getting further into a debate about whose definition of good qualities fits good character let’s just agree that a universal standard must be used. You shouldn’t be surprised that the universal standard comes from God in the Bible.
I’m not going to do Bible study here to define what is good vs. bad mental & moral qualities, but I will assume God’s universal standard to clarify a solid working definition for character (specifically ‘good character’), or the type of character required to break the Vicious Cycle of Failure. (credit Andy Stanley’s book Louder Than Words): “Character is the will to do what is right, as defined by God, regardless of personal pain.”
There are a couple important things to catch in this definition. First is that what is right (or good) is defined by God. God tells us the standard for what is good and clarifies truth in the Bible. You are welcome to debate me on this, but just because you don’t believe what God says doesn’t mean that it isn’t true. Truth is truth. Second is that doing right costs something. So having good character requires modeling the character of God in our behavior whether it hurts or not.
Yikes! Suddenly, all this has gotten pretty heavy. However, it’s important to know what character is if we’re to break the failure cycle.
If you are reading this far, you likely agree with me that character is required to hold the commitments we make to be our very best. You may even agree with the definition of character I shared. Before I move on to how to develop good character, let me back up a minute.
I now understand that who I really am comes from what I really believe about myself, my circumstances, and the world around me. When I fail at a commitment to slay the negative parts of my behavior or do something good it really just means that I’m doing what my mind is programmed to do. I’m just living according to what I believe. Does that make sense? Our behavior follows what we actually believe.
For example, a person doesn’t just one day end up in adultery. No one wakes up one day and says, “I’m going to commit adultery today.” It’s more like, “I don’t know what happened, but one thing led to another and here I am.” It happens over time based upon beliefs about self, circumstances, and the world that lead to a string of choices (seemingly innocent choices) that ended up in adultery. It started with a thought and progressed to outward behavior from there. The same is true for anything in our behavior. We act according to what we really believe. The reality is, we are often lying to ourselves. Do you believe that? Do you think it’s possible that what you think about yourself, your circumstances, and the world around you is actually wrong? Yeah, well I didn’t until quite recently. So what can we do?
Here’s an equation I recently wrote in my journal to illustrate how to develop good character.
Speaking truth + Replacing lies = Character Development
The first thing we need to do is to speak the truth to ourselves. I already mentioned that truth comes from the Bible, so if I’m to speak the truth I’ll need to know what the Bible says. Once I know what the Bible says (hint: read it daily), I need to speak this to myself. Did you know the Bible has a whole lot to say about who you are, who you can be, and what your purpose is? There is no greater book written for your personal development and encouragement than the Bible. There is great power in speaking the truth to yourself. Try it if you don’t believe me.
The second thing to do is to replace the lies we tell ourselves. This goes hand in hand with speaking the truth to ourselves. When our minds are filled with truth about ourselves, our circumstances, and our world, it’s much more difficult to think about the lies. This is a process that takes a while and it may hurt at times. The lies don’t go away easily. Some are deeply rooted in our minds and have been watered and nurtured over the years by our own (or others) reinforcement. However, I’m convinced that I can guide and guard my mind to focus on the truth so that eventually the lies don’t impact my behavior negatively.
So how do you get off the Vicious Cycle of Failure? Through character development. By replacing lies we tell ourselves with truth from God’s word (Bible) and by preaching this truth to ourselves, our minds will be renewed and our behavior will change for the good. Ultimately, it takes behavior change (aka: character) to keep our commitments and be our very best. It’s simple but not easy. And just so you know, you will never “arrive” for this is a lifelong process. I am thankful for this valuable life lesson and I look forward to the journey ahead of me.
I’d be honored to hear your thoughts on this.