Have you ever caught yourself raging silently (or not-so-silently) about how some stranger is driving like crap, taking too long to pay at the check-out line, or quite clearly is the worst car-parker ever?
This kind of judgmental attitude towards people caused me to have far too many negative thoughts about far too many strangers.
So I created a game I play in my head now. I’ve gone from silent anger to silent helpfulness. The “silent friend” game.
For whatever amount of time we are in the same vicinity, I pretend like I am prepared to leap into action should they need any help. I am literally chomping at the bit to help them if they need any help at all. Need help with your bags? Let me help. Having trouble parking the ol’ car inside the lines? That’s okay, I’m sure you’re doing your best. Driving 20 mph in a 50 mph zone? Maybe bad eyesight, I’ll stay behind and make sure you don’t get rear-ended.
This works. It turns down your judging-reflex and turns up your helpfulness-reflex. And approaching life with a sense of helpfulness and compassion makes life far easier and more enjoyable.
One of the best things about this practice is that you can take it with you wherever you go. In fact, the practice automatically comes with you wherever you go. And it makes absolutely no difference what other people do, because you have already trained yourself to be a more helpful person, no matter what. And that’s because when you practice being helpful, even if it’s just in your mind, your character actually changes for the better. You become more helpful just by pretending to be more helpful.
You’ve become less reactive. Which means you have more control of your life. Which means you can choose better, more useful ways of interacting with and thinking about other people. More positive ways.
The ancient Stoics had an entire set of practices to work on various parts of their character. Ben Franklin made a list of virtues he wanted to practice, and every week he would practice a different virtue.
Character matters. Character may be all that matters. Character is with you all the time. You cannot escape it. And if you do not work on your character, you will live an unhappy life.
Why not use this time to create practices like the “secret friend” practice for each aspect of your character? Work on your courage one week (by doing something scary), work on compassion the following week (by not saying anything negative on social media), work on your temperance the following week (save money, take a break from booze), etc.
We live in a time in human history where character is under assault from all directions. Most of our leadership has no character, at least none that I can find.
We need leaders now, more than ever. And leaders must first have rock-solid character. The only way to develop rock-solid leadership, rock-solid character, is to work on it. To practice. All the time.
And the best part of all? Developing an unassailable character will make you a far happier person in the long run.