Character Creates Opportunity® – Building Strength: Thursday, July 3, 2014

Exercise provides a tremendous benefit to our physical and mental health. David Running

We all have probably experienced the pattern of a rigorous workout routine or some sort of physical activity followed by sore muscles in the next day or so.  With some consistency over time, we build greater strength and endurance to take on even greater physical challenges.  Combined with good nutrition, our body has a great process for tearing down muscles with exercise and then rebuilding stronger over time.  With a stronger body, we could all live a healthier more abundant life.

The same basic concept on building physical strength can be said about the process to build and strengthen our character.   There is some exciting emerging science in the field of neurobiology that describes a similar process in our minds that supports mental health and in turn, healthier relationships and the foundation for greater personal impact.  Dr. Daniel Siegel from the UCLA School of Medicine and co-director of the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center has been doing some amazing research on how we can more effectively wire our brains to improve our own self-awareness, our empathy for others, and our collective sense as a family, a team, etc.  Mental activities like our feelings and thoughts flow as patterns of energy within our brains.  Our brains actually change connections and those connections grow stronger in response to our thoughts and the focus of our attention.  The process is called neuroplasticity.

Our character is built and strengthened when our thoughts, decisions, and actions are based on principles like honesty, courage, and loyalty.  When we consistently choose to have principles guide our thoughts, decisions, and actions, we are fundamentally changing the mental maps of our brains.  We begin to hard-wire and strengthen the most effective pathways to endure the ups and downs of life while heading in a healthy direction to build strong relationships in families, the workplace, and our communities.  Over time, we create and strengthen the patterns to be honest, courageous, forgiving, and faithful, no matter what the situation, based on the physical changes taking place in our brains.

The reverse is also true.  When we focus our attention on thoughts, decisions, and actions of deception to take the easy way out, hiding the truth to avoid embarrassment, or running from the tough conversation, we physically change our mental map.  We build strength around those connections in our brain to make deception, avoidance, and dishonesty the well-worn pattern of our behavior and our character is weakened.  When we encounter the need for courage to have the difficult, but necessary conversation, we avoid it and take the easy way out because we have strengthened our brain to go down that path.

Just like my inconsistent workout routines over the years, I can see seasons of my life where I developed well-worn mental maps in both areas.  Perhaps you can also.  The great news is, we all have the choice to get back on the most effective path.   Just like beginning a new exercise routine, it is a little painful at first, but once we build the pattern, the strength follows, and we start feeling better.

As we anchor our thoughts, decisions, and action on principles, we will build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity® to hard-wire our brain to take the most effective path to health in our relationships, our businesses, and our communities.