Building Character Muscle

So I'm working out at the gym this morning. As I am sweating, pressing a weight heavier than I ever have before, I stop in my head to ask myself who in the world is benefiting from all this work I am doing? I thought for a moment about The Renegade Dad's The Best Investment a Dad Can Make but the epiphany I had was even more important: irrespective of the benefit to others, we grow our strength by what we put out, not by what we take inYes, we do also need to eat well and sleep well. But eating and sleeping restore our energy, they don't build our energy. Working out builds energy. Often, I wake up from a nap feeling restored, but seldom energized. When I have had a good workout, I feel energized. That's because we grow our strength by what we put out not by what we take in.

Building character is no different from working out. We grow strength of character from what we give out, not from what we take in. Putting out positive energy grows our own strength even if we are unaware of anyone else benefitting from it. Just by thinking positively, walking and talking positively or smiling, we feel more energy. When others do benefit from our positive energy, the value to us multiplies exponentially.

Making other people feel valued is not just a leadership strategy to achieve better results from them. Making other people feel valued is a way to build our own character muscle and emotional strength. Making people feel valued takes effort, just like pushing weights does. And just as pushing weights builds body strength, so making people feel valued builds character strength.

Tony Schwartz reinforced this idea for me in his brilliant HBR paper Manage Your Energy Not Your Time:

Fuel positive emotions in yourself and others by regularly expressing appreciation to others in detailed, specific terms through notes, e-mails, calls, or conversations.
Expressing appreciation to others fuels positive emotional energy in yourself  because although we replenish our energy from what we take in, we build new energy from what we put out. (The only thing I would disagree with Tony on, is that e-mail is a useful vehicle for building energy by showing appreciation. I don't believe e-mail builds anyone's energy; it saps it no matter what the content. Saying thank-you by e-mail is better than not saying it at all, but e-mail is no character workout. Stick to notes, calls and conversations!)

It is not by chance that most spiritual practices start the day with some form of giving thanks and praise. It is not that God (or the Universe) needs our praise; it is we who need to show appreciation to fuel our own growth and development. And like physical exercise, we need to do it every day.

Of course, we need balance. After a workout, we do need to eat and drink. After a busy day of putting out we do need to rest and take some nourishment in, replenishing our strength physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. We are built to operate rhythmically and our balance is in our rhythm. Input -- output, like a heart beat: systole -- diastole; just as we breathe: inhale -- exhale. But our muscle strength comes from the effort, not from the rest.

A character workout is easier and more convenient than a body workout. You can find opportunities for a character workout anywhere any time. Look around you. Find someone who you can make feel good with a kind word, a smile or a thank you. Tell a loved one how much you love them. Tell someone on whom your success depends how much you value them. Find something practical, even if small, to do for someone else today. Teach someone something today? It takes a little thought; that's part of the workout. Experiment with it. Monitor your life pulse; your rhythm and balance. Track the correlation between how much you put out to others each day and your own energy level. If you would like to, please share your findings on Twitter @DavidLapin.

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