Building Character: role models as rulers

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Make a list of three people you admire; three people who exhibit the values you feel are important to be happy and successful.

Pick the first three that come to mind; living or dead. Preferably those you have known personally — and they know you — but they can be someone you have observed or studied, but not met.

Quickly make a list — three people you admire.

Now, next to each name, write down the reason(s) you admire them.

  1. What quality do they possess that you would like to develop in yourself?
  2. What is it about their behavior that you would like to emulate?
  3. Why do they make you feel the way they do?

Don’t read any farther until you’ve made your list. C’mon, you’ve got three minutes to spare: just one minute for each person. I’ll wait …

Now that you’ve made your list …

This week, start every morning by selecting one person from the list. Set the timer on your smartphone for 60 seconds. Close your eyes for just one minute to see this person and imagine the two of you together.  Reflect on the quality or characteristic he or she possesses and demonstrates that you admire.

Look for an opportunity to act in their way one time before lunch.

  • If you admire the person because he is kind, show kindness at least once before lunch.
  • If you admire the person because she is patient, show patience before lunch.
  • If you admire the person because they are disciplined, demonstrate discipline by doing something you know you should, but too often let yourself off the hook (pass up that sugary donut, get to the gym for a workout, make the call you’ve been putting off, finish the report that’s been nagging you, etc.)

You get the idea.

Do it again at lunch. Take one minute — only 60 seconds — to reflect on the same person. Think about him or her and how it made you feel when you demonstrated their admirable quality that morning.

Here are some ideas to find 60 seconds for reflection in your busy, distracted day:

  • If you’re eating alone, do it right after the waiter has taken your order.
  • If you’re eating fast-food or brought your lunch, do it when you take your seat.
  • If you’re microwaving, do it while the timer is counting down.
  • If you’re eating with someone, do it when they go to the rest room to wash their hands.
  • If you drove to the restaurant, take a minute before getting out of your car.

There are many ways to find 60 seconds… just do it.

Demonstrate this person’s quality again in the afternoon. Just once. Extra credit for additional reps as you exercise your character muscle.

Reflect momentarily at dinner on your morning and afternoon exercise. What was it like? How did it make you feel to be more like this person? To be closer to them in deed?

When you turn off the light tomorrow night to go to sleep, imagine once more of being in this person’s company. Feel gratitude for their example and connection.

Repeat with the other two names on your list over the next two days.

For the rest of the week, see if you can emulate their examples each morning and afternoon. Three virtuous or value-based acts in the morning; three in the afternoon.

    “…Cherish some man of high character, and keep him ever before your eyes, living as if he were watching you, and ordering all your actions as if he beheld them.” Such, my dear Lucilius, is the counsel of Epicurus; he has quite properly given us a guardian and an attendant.

We can get rid of most sins, if we have a witness who stands near us when we are likely to go wrong.  The soul should have someone whom it can respect, – one by whose authority it may make even its inner shrine more hallowed. Happy is the man who can make others better, not merely when he is in their company, but even when he is in their thoughts!

And happy also is he who can so revere a man as to calm and regulate himself by calling him to mind!  One who can so revere another, will soon be himself worthy of reverence.

Choose therefore a Cato; or, if Cato seems too severe a model, choose some Laelius, a gentler spirit. Choose a master whose life, conversation, and soul-expressing face have satisfied you; picture him always to yourself as your protector or your pattern.  For we must indeed have someone according to whom we may regulate our characters; you can never straighten that which is crooked unless you use a ruler.

From Seneca’s Epistles, Letter #XI:

Today I’m working out first thing in the morning and setting an alarm for a brisk afternoon walk and mild stretching thanks to my brother’s example.

Tomorrow I’m seeking opportunities to show genuine interest in and appreciation for the people who support my work without fanfare every day, just like one of my long-ago Navy mentors.

Be a High-Trust Leader: build character using the example of role models you admire and actively seek ways to live the values you share each day.

P.S. Imagine how cool it would be to have others think of you when doing this exercise.

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