So you want to be a better person by building good character traits? Perhaps you’d like to be “kind”, “loving” or “generous”. Maybe you wish you had “discipline”, “patience” or “grit”.
Sceptics will say, “It’s impossible!”, “It can’t be done!” or “I was born this way!”
The good news is they don’t know what they’re on about.
Changing your character is doable. In fact, it’s remarkably simple.
That doesn’t mean the path’s quick or easy. It takes sacrifice, persistence and effort.
But the rewards at the end are well worth it.
Because the only difference between you and your heroes is character. And when you reforge your nature accordingly, you’ll find their footsteps far easier to follow.
Where does this journey begin? What should you take with you? And whom?
By the time you’re done here today, you’ll answer all of those questions. And what’s more, you’ll have a list of 99 good character traits to inspire you, a set of free value tracking templates to support you and a foolproof five-stage process to guide every step.
Let’s get started!
What Are Character Traits?
One way to better understand character traits is to clearly define three closely related ideas: core values, personality traits and character traits.
Though often used interchangeably, these terms have distinct definitions:
- Core values (a.k.a personal values) are theoretical ideals of thought, word or deed;
- Personality traits describe a person’s actual public, superficial behaviour; and
- Character traits describe a person’s actual private, internal compass.
To understand why building character traits is the focus of this guide, let’s dive deeper.
Core Values vs. Personality and Character Traits
I don’t talk much about core values with clients. Here’s why:
- Values describe ideas;
- Traits describe actions; and
- Actions speak louder than words.
Anyone (or any company) can claim or aspire to “tolerance” or “equality”. But it’s not till those values are expressed consistently and instinctively in their actions that they become traits. And it’s not till they become traits that they impact you and the people around you.
When we focus on values there’s a tendency to talk a lot then “set and forget”. We decide to be “kind”, “generous” and “loving”. We may even write those words down. But until we change how we act in times that demand them, core values are no more than ideas.
That’s why we focus on traits. Obsessing over values is like getting distracted by the half-way line when your gaze should be fixed on the end-zone.
Personality Traits vs. Character Traits
The second important distinction is between personality and character traits.
We all know people (including ourselves) whose “true colours” don’t always match their veneers, who care more about being seen as “modest”, “unselfish” or “thoughtful” than about actually being those things or who put on good acts but betray their true hearts under pressure.
This is the essential division between personality and character traits. Personality traits describe what you do, character traits describe who you are and when the stakes are high or your ability to fake it is low, character always wins out.
Character Traits Definition
That’s why I focus on character traits. Our goal here today isn’t to teach you to say pretty words or become a good actor. Our goal is to teach you to reforge the core of your being.
Core values are theoretical ideals, positive personality traits can be simulated but positive character traits go right to the heart of us. They’re deep-seated, long-term patterns of action, reaction and compromise that become especially hard to fake when we’re stressed out or tired.
List of Positive Character Traits: 99 Examples and Definitions
Another great way to understand traits is with lots of characteristics examples.
To that end, I’ve collected a long list of potential good character traits below from sources as diverse as Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations (Summary), Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (Summary), religious texts and even handbooks for aspiring samurai and chivalric knights.
Of course, no list is exhaustive (and you’ll find longer ones out there). I haven’t included neutral or negative character traits and I’ve drawn the line at becoming a values thesaurus. But what you’ll find below is a comprehensive list of the most common good traits and personal attributes from the high-quality sources I pillaged.
The result is a colourful collection of “99 values to live by” which I’ve supplemented with definitions (based mostly on the Oxford English Dictionary).
Don’t let the list overwhelm you. Skim through it, let it soak and feel free to make a note of any traits that particularly inspire you. (We’ll be using those later!)
When you’re done, we’ll cover a practical step-by-step process to build them into your life.
Here’s the list:
- Active – Alert, lively and ready to engage in energetically.
- Adaptive – Willing to change in response to one’s circumstances.
- Affability – Being friendly, good-natured or easy to talk to.
- Affectionate – Showing fondness or tenderness.
- Alert – Clear thinking and intellectually active.
- Ambitious – Having desire and determination to achieve success.
- Attentive – Showing careful attention to the comfort or wishes of others.
- Austere – Having no comforts or luxuries.
- Balanced – Enjoying harmony and stability.
- Benevolent – Being well-meaning.
- Careful – Prudent and showing thought or attention.
- Characterful – Showing strength and originality in one’s nature.
- Charitable – Kindness and tolerance in judging others.
- Creative – Showing inventiveness and use of imagination.
- Compassionate – Showing sympathy and concern for others.
- Confident – Being certain in oneself, abilities and qualities.
- Considerate – Showing careful thought not to inconvenience or harm others.
- Cooperative – Complying readily with requests to achieve mutual ends.
- Courageous – Being able to do things that frighten you.
- Curious – Showing a strong desire to know or learn new things.
- Dependable – Being trustworthy and reliable.
- Determined – Displaying firmness of purpose.
- Diligent – Working carefully and persistently.
- Disciplined – Doing what you know you should do (even if you don’t feel like it).
- Dispassionate – Remaining rational and impartial
- Dutiful – Conscientiously or obediently fulfilling one’s duty.
- Encouraging – Giving others support, confidence, or hope.
- Energetic – Showing or involving great activity or vitality.
- Enthusiastic – Showing intense and eager enjoyment, interest or approval.
- Excellent – Being outstanding or extremely good.
- Faithful – Remaining loyal and steadfast.
- Flexible – Ready and able to adapt to different circumstances.
- Forgiving – Feeling no anger or resentment to offences or mistakes.
- Friendliness – Being favourable and serviceable to others.
- Frugal – Sparing or economical as regards money or food.
- Generous – Ready to give more than necessary or expected.
- Gritty – Displaying courage, resolve and strength of character.
- Hard-working – Working with energy and commitment.
- Harmonious – Being free from disagreement or dissent.
- Honest – Free of deceit; truthful and sincere.
- Honourable – Knowing and doing what is morally right.
- Hopeful – Feeling or inspiring optimism about a future event.
- Humble– Having a modest or low view of one’s importance.
- Independent – Thinking and acting for oneself.
- Industrious – Diligent and hard-working.
- Integrity – Being honest and having strong moral principles.
- Initiative – Assessing things and taking action independently.
- Just – Behaving according to what is morally right and fair.
- Kind – Being friendly, generous, and considerate.
- Liberal – Respecting behaviour and opinions different from one’s own
- Listening – Take notice of and make an effort to hear others.
- Lively – Full of life and energy; active and outgoing.
- Logical – Acting based on clear, sound reasoning.
- Loving – Feeling and showing deep, unselfish affection for others.
- Loyal – Showing firm and constant support or allegiance.
- Merciful – Showing compassion or forgiveness to those one could harm.
- Methodical – Orderly and systematic in thought or behaviour.
- Mindful – Being conscious and aware of the present moment.
- Moderate – Avoiding excess or extremes.
- Modest – Unassuming in the estimation of one’s abilities.
- Neat – Tidy, smart, or well organized.
- Open-minded – Accepting of and receptive to change or new ideas.
- Orderly – Neat and methodical.
- Organised – Structured, systematic and planning effectively.
- Passionate – Having, showing, or caused by strong feelings or beliefs.
- Patient – Waiting without getting tired of waiting.
- Persistent – Continuing firmly despite difficulty or opposition.
- Polite – Acting respectfully and considerately.
- Pragmatic – Acting sensibly, realistically and practically.
- Prudent – Showing care and thought for the future.
- Punctual – Doing things at agreed or proper times.
- Purposeful – Showing determination or resolve.
- Quality – Displaying general excellence of standard or level.
- Rational – Thinking and acting in accordance with reason or logic.
- Reasonable – Having sound judgement; fair and sensible.
- Reliable – Consistently good in quality or performance.
- Resolute – Admirably purposeful, determined, and unwavering.
- Respectful – Showing regard for the feelings, wishes or rights of others.
- Righteous – Acting according to what is morally correct.
- Self-disciplined – Doing what you know you should do (even if you don’t feel like it).
- Self-controlled – Managing emotions and desires well in difficult situations.
- Self-mastery – Managing emotions and desires well in difficult situations.
- Silent – More prone to listen than to speak.
- Sincere – Free from pretence or deceit.
- Simple – Presenting no difficulty to others.
- Stable – Unchanging; not easily upset or disturbed.
- Steadfast – Resolutely or dutifully firm and unwavering.
- Strong – Not easily disturbed, upset, or affected.
- Supportive – Providing encouragement or emotional help.
- Temperate – Showing moderation and self-restraint.
- Thrifty – Using resources carefully and not wastefully.
- Tidy – Neat, orderly and controlled.
- Truthful – Telling or expressing the truth; honest.
- Trustworthy – Able to be relied on as honest or truthful.
- Unselfish – Putting the needs or wishes of others before one’s own.
- Valiant – Possessing or showing courage or determination.
- Vital – Being strong, active and energetic.
- Warm – Showing enthusiasm, affection, or kindness.
- Wise – Showing experience, knowledge, and good judgement.
N.B., For a huge list of 638 positive, neutral and negative character traits (though without definitions), click here.
How to Embody Good Character Traits
The secret to hacking character traits it to realise that each trait is just a constellation of deep-seated habits.
For example, “modesty” just describes many small routines of thought, word and deed which create patterns of behaviour that are consistent with our idea of what’s “modest”.
But there’s a challenge. Because unlike big habits, the ingredients of character traits are hard to pick out and isolate.
What are “tolerance”, “curiosity” or “acceptance”? Defining those sums as their parts would be a challenging task. And, even if we could deconstruct their thousands of sub-routines, there’d be too many to individually work on.
From Input to Output Based Tracking
So what we need is a system which like habit hacking but more output focussed. A system that measures the results of our actions rather than whether or not they took place.
The solution (first described by Benjamin Franklin’s excellent Autobiography) is to flip habit tracking on its head. Instead of tracking habits (input) to change our behaviours (output), we’ll track behaviours (output) to alter our habits (input).
Specifically, we’re going to keep track of every time we act in a way that fails to live up to whatever trait we’re trying to embody.
5 Steps to Hacking Your Character Traits
If I’ve lost you then the good news is that the process to build new traits into your character is incredibly simple and has five foolproof steps:
- Step 1: Identify Character Traits That Inspire You
- Step 2: Prioritise ONE Trait at a Time
- Step 3: Set Your Trait Up for Success
- Step 4: Make Your Character Trait a Habit
- Step 5: Repeat the Trait Building Process
Let’s look at each stage in more detail.
Step 1: Identify Good Character Traits That Inspire You
The first step in our process is to identify the handful of positive characteristics that inspire you.
Building character traits is a long journey and starting with the ones that excite you (instead of those you think you should work on) will make you far more likely to succeed.
There are two main ways to tackle this: the long list approach or the hero approach.
For the long list approach – reread the list of good character traits above and simply make a note of any traits that jump out at you.
Don’t overthink it. You should easily find 10 or more ideas in a couple of minutes.
For the hero approach – make a list of the people you know (or know of) who most inspire you. Dead or alive, fact or fiction, it’s all good.
Then, when you’ve finished, reflect on the two or three traits you most look up to in each of those people.
Both approaches work well, though one big advantage of the hero approach is that it unlocks something I call “hero based thinking“.
Being able to picture a hero and think about what they’d do in a given situation makes certain kinds of decisions and trade-offs easier to process.
Step 2: Prioritise ONE Trait at a Time
Reworking character traits can be tricky and taking on too many at once will result in you not changing anything. The solution is to start with one then add more as you go.
To pick the ONE character trait you should start with, look at your short list ask:
“Which of these traits would most transform my life if I already embodied it?”
Whittle your selection down to a few candidates, then draw lots between the survivors.
N.B., A big part of you is going to want to tackle three, four or five values at once. My recommendation is to strongly resist that temptation.
Consider this: if you could perfectly embody even ONE trait like “discipline” or “kindness”, there’s a good chance you’ll have changed beyond all recognition.
Why let impatience put that opportunity at risk?
Start with ONE trait and you can always come back for more later.
Step 3: Set Your Trait Up for Success
Loners don’t last long in the wild. That’s why we all have an insatiable drive to “fit in”. It’s also why there’s no stronger influence on our actions than the behaviour of the people we hang out with.
No matter how badly you want to be “driven” it’s never going to happen if you’re surrounded by those who are lazy. Each time you start making progress, your subconscious is going to fight hard to drag you right back in line with the group.
Conversely, it’s very hard not to be more “disciplined”, “curious” or “grateful” if the people you live with and love have those traits. Rather than become an outsider, you will naturally take positive action to help fall in line with (and learn from) your peers.
The upshot is this: If you don’t have a character trait that you want, there’s a good chance the people around you don’t have it either. But if you want to develop that character trait you must do whatever it takes to change that equation.
Change the area you live in, the job you do, the books you read, the places you hang out and the hobbies you enjoy. Look actively for ways to spend more time with people you’d happily trade places with. Do it offline, do it online, do it one, three then five days a week.
Just do it.
Set yourself up for success and you’ll surf all the way into the beach.
Fight the current and you’re in for a long, tiring swim.
Step 4: Make Your Trait a Habit.
As in habit hacking, one of the most powerful ways to change a character trait is to track it. Doing so creates the focus, clarity and accountability you need to transform yourself permanently.
But judging consistently whether we were “loving” or not overall today becomes tricky. And even if we could, the time it takes to embody new traits means we’d end up with a lot of ✘s on our tracker. ✘s that would hide the helpful details of our progress.
So instead of using passes or fails, it makes more sense to count the number of times that we’re “just”, “loyal” or “neat” as a quick way to measure our growth.
But there’s another catch. Because even if I count fifty instances of “kindness” today, a positive counting system could overlook the one hundred instances of “unkindness” that also took place.
So, to keep things simple, it makes more sense to count the negative instances of a character trait than its positives. At least that way we can be sure that we’re not not what we’re trying to be.
The solution then is as follows: every evening, review the day and make a note of each time you failed to live up to a trait. (N.B., this becomes much easier if you’ve recorded an Actual Schedule that can help jog your memory.)
As you string more and more days together, your tracker will looking something like this:
Over time you’ll start to spot trends in your actions and without even thinking, you’ll start making automatic interventions to improve them. You’ll also get a much better idea of what a character trait really means to you and which part of you you need to work on.
One last word of advice: Remember that when you tackle a character trait, you’re not changing one habit. You’re changing thousands of them. And, what’s more, the behaviours you’re working on are some of the most deep-seated and automatic habits of all.
So be patient! And keep at it!
Shaping your traits can take a very long time. But set yourself up for success, stick with it and before long, you won’t recognize the person you once used to be.
Step 5: Repeat the Process.
Once you feel you’ve got a good hold on one part of your character (or if your priorities shift to another area of your life) feel free to add another trait to your list.
If you’re using the values tracker in the TRACKTION Planner or FREE productivity templates, just shift your existing traits one space to the right and begin tracking your new trait in the left-hand most column.
Over time, you’ll grow your list of traits to as many as five active targets at once, some of which you may have worked on for months (or even years).
If you get overwhelmed, don’t be afraid to cut back down to one character trait. And don’t worry if it takes a long time to make progress.
Though the process is simple, changing your character isn’t easy. But the rewards when you get there are worth it.
Living Your Personality Traits: Next Actions
That’s it! We’ve covered everything you need to transform your character traits.
What should you do next? Simple:
- List all the character traits from F2M’s list of good traits that you’d be excited to work on;
- List the people that inspire you and their best traits to your list;
- Pick ONE character trait from your list that would most transform your life;
N.B., If you’ve completed a Wheel of Life on page 6 of the TRACKTION Planner your ONEtrait should relate to your lowest scoring area of life.
- Make a list of people you know who will sabotage or support your progress;
- Set next actions to spend more time with and around supportive kinds of people;
- Open your TRACKTION Planner to page 8;
- Write your new character trait in the first column of the value tracker;
- Add up to four more traits to the remaining columns;
- Set targets for the week ahead; and
- Resolve to act as if you already embodied your primary character trait.
And that’s all there is to it!
As I said at the start of this guide: the only difference between you and your heroes is character. And when you reforge your nature accordingly, you’ll find their footsteps surprisingly easy to follow.
And for that, there’s no approach as effective as character trait tracking.
So get to work!
➡️ Download F2M‘s FREE productivity templates. (Scroll up slightly when you get to this page.)
➡️ Work through the checklist above.
➡️ Leave a comment and tell me what character trait you’ll work on.
And remember “you cannot dream yourself into a character; you must hammer and forge one yourself,” (James Anthony Froude) and “character, in the long run, is the decisive factor in the life of an individual and of nations alike.” (Theodore Roosevelt)