Positive Character Traits

(An opinion piece by author Glenn Rader and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of anyone associated with this blog)

The purpose of this short article is to provide some useful information on character traits that you can incorporate into a program of personal development. This article focuses on four key areas:

• The popular culture use of the phrase “character traits”,
• A practical, working definition of character traits,
• Insight into how people come to develop and rely on certain traits, and
• A straightforward approach for developing your positive character attributes.

Popular Culture Use of the Phrase
“Character Traits”

Over the years I have been told that I am a “real character” by a few people. Pressing them to expand on what they mean, they used words like unconventional, interesting, unusual, amusing, and likable. Armed with this positive definition of “real character” it would be easy for a person to strut down the street with their head held high, embracing their favorable human being status. However, there is another translation of “real character” that is not so flattering. This is the passive, aggressive form of “real character” that is used to describe someone, for example, who is unpleasant to be around, eccentric, annoying, and so forth. There is always the possibility that my “real character” messengers were not willing to deliver the unfavorable version of “real character” to me.

The different uses of “real character” illustrated above are colloquial approaches to articulating a person’s character traits. Using “real character” as a catch-all phrase is simply a convenient way of packaging one’s opinion about a person and expressing it in a way that is palatable, even humorous, to all those involved. Descriptions of a person’s character traits might also come in the form of a personality-oriented statement such as: “Samantha is a very pleasant, kind person” or “Bill is a so-in-so if I ever met one.”. These, and other forms of generalized descriptions of a person’s character traits, are common in our modern lexicon. It would be rare to hear dialog like the following.

Jim: “Sara, what is your opinion of Robert?”

Sara: “On the positive side, Robert has many great character traits. He is humble, responsible, non-judgmental, patient, level-headed, and respectful. On the other hand, Robert can be aggressive, a perfectionist, greedy, pessimistic, self-centered, and verbose.

Hearing a description of your character traits at this level of detail, and with this much insight, would be unusual in one’s lifetime. Two circumstances when you might be provided a description of your character traits at this level of detail could involve the following:
• A description of you provided by a psychologist or psychiatrist who has obtained this level of insight through observation and testing, and/or

• Information you might learn about yourself by studying the subject of character traits and working on a program of self-improvement.

When we are talking about character traits in the context of this article, we are referring to those like the ones provided in Sara’s description of Robert – not the pop culture expressions of traits.

Definition of Character Traits

There are many ways to go about defining what a character trait represents. The definitions I like to steer clear of are the esoteric, lofty, and psychoanalysis-based derivatives that sound like something you would expect Sigmund Freud to articulate. Instead, I prefer definitions that are more grounded in day-to-day experiences. Keeping with the theme of self-improvement in mind, a definition of character traits that is more “down-to-earth” also puts you in a better position to take action toward bettering yourself and, perhaps, evaluating the results of your efforts. To that end, the most straightforward and functional definition of character trait that I can offer is the following:

A character trait is something that describes an aspect of a person’s behavior. This behavior can be in the form of communications or physical actions with themselves or others.

In this context, communications might include verbal, written, body language, and combinations of these that express the character trait. Physical actions can take on a wide variety of forms including the choice to not take action or “inaction”. As a learning exercise, try taking the character traits that Sara used to describe Robert in the earlier illustration and ask yourself what combination of communications and/or physical elements might come into play in each one. Remember, the interaction can be with another person or internal to yourself.

Why Do You Develop Certain Traits?

The development of character traits is a very complex subject. However, I have discovered that there is one way to look at it that is very practical; particularly when it comes to trying to make improvements in your positive character traits. This is going to sound very basic, but I would ask you to consider it very carefully:

Your character traits are shaped by what is important to you and how you believe you need to behave to get what you want.

As an example of this, if you are an individual who adheres to a deeply held belief that others’ opinions about you are very important, you might behave in a manner that is designed to force the desired outcome – a positive character assessment by them. This could include manipulation or other behavior which could actually work to make them form a negative view of your character; the opposite of the intended result.

On the other end of the continuum, people who are self-nurturing, and do not require the positive opinions of others for their well-being, exhibit entirely different character traits in their interactions with others. These interactions are more realistic, productive, and not tainted by the demand (need) for recognition.

What are the examples of positive traits?

A Straightforward Approach for Developing Your Positive Character Attributes

A basic internet search using the phrase: “list of positive character traits”, produced a list of traits that included 234 positive character traits. Confronted with a list of this magnitude, anyone embarking on a program of self-improvement might run the other direction because of the perceived demands of the undertaking. As a note, there were other lists of positive character traits produced by the search that were more concise and manageable.

Even if you find a more manageable list of positive character traits to be the focus of your efforts, you will get the feeling, as you review the traits, that many of them have similar meanings; even appear redundant. Traits like “humble” and “modest” come to mind in this regard. These sound redundant, yet there are important distinctions between the two.

Considering the potential number of positive character traits, and the subtle differences, how does one approach a program of improvement in an efficient, practical manner. The starting point is to understand that many of these traits have the same root causes and that your program of personal development should concentrate on these root causes. Here are several suggestions on how to proceed with this in mind.

• Manage Expectations – Have realistic expectations going into every situation; whether it involves a person, place, and/or thing.

• Promote a Win-Win Outcome – Be collaborative. Keep the interests of both parties in mind.

• Practice Cognitive (Thinking) Flexibility – Suspend judgment, weigh evidence, consider options, have preferences (not absolutes), be skeptical about first thoughts, and resist acting impulsively.

If you work on “behaving” within the framework of these suggestions, you will begin to cultivate a host of additional and improved positive character traits. It is something that takes practice and time, but the rewards are significant.

Glenn Rader is an author, public speaker, and resource in the addiction recovery community. He has two popular books in the addiction field. STOP – Things You MUST Know Before Trying to Help Someone with Addiction (A book for family members and friends of someone struggling with addiction) and Modern 12 Step Recovery (A modern introduction to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) that includes modern translations of the Steps and the psychology behind the AA program). Here are links to two books on Amazon by Pure Michigan’s own author Glenn Radar : STOP and Modern 12 Step Recovery.

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