10 Essential Virtues for Modern Times and How to Develop Them – Being Virtuous is Self-Transcending Part 1

Being Virtuous - Slowly confronting and illuminating the dark parts of our conscience

“He that has energy enough to root out a vice should go further, and try to plant a virtue in its place.”  ~Charles Caleb Colton

This is part 2 of the 5 part series on Self Caring: Healthy Body, Mind, Heart (emotional/spiritual aspect), Character and Lifestyle.  This post focuses on Character and Virtues. The last post on Self-Discipline as healthy lifestyle is here.

This post on Character and Virtue is divided in 2 parts, this is part one. Part 2 on developing Character and a Personal Moral Code would be published on Sunday.

What are virtues and vices?
Virtues are the morally excellent qualities in a person. Vices are the bad qualities that harm self as well as others. As opposed to vices, virtues are inherently good for the person and often for others too.

Why we should be virtuous?
For a life of fulfillment, happiness, inner harmony, clarity, success, peace, stronger relationships, deeper bonds, abundance and prosperity, we should try to be virtuous. Since all our progress and experience that’s in our hands is ruled by our virtues and values, it’s essential that we try to be more virtuous.
Also it’s important to answer the opposite question: Why you shouldn’t be virtuous? You shouldn’t be if you want to live with guilt, being hurt, poor ethics, self harm, hurting others, and essentially acquire all vices and damage they bring on a personal and community level.

How to be virtuous?
“Confront the dark parts of yourself, and work to banish them with illumination and forgiveness. Your willingness to wrestle with your demons will cause your angels to sing.” -August Wilson
To be virtuous requires self-observation, contemplation and correction of our thoughts, behavior and actions. Are we thinking and doing good? What are the bad qualities and habits we have? Where we can improve?
From a more practical perspective, pick up something bad that you do/think or good you want to do/think and slowly try to practice it on a small level. This is general advice. Below, with each virtue, I give points specific to it that are helpful in developing the virtue.

Isn’t Virtue an outdated Concept, irrelevant in modern times?
“Focus on making yourself better, not on thinking that you are better.” – Bohdi Sanders.
No. Virtues would be relevant as long as machines don’t completely take over us and as long as thinking and acting human beings would exist – because there will always be possibility of becoming a better version of ourselves.

Making Virtues Mainstream Again
“We value virtue but do not discuss it. The honest bookkeeper, the faithful wife, the earnest scholar get little of our attention compared to the embezzler, the tramp, the cheat.” John Steinbeck
We live in a society of advertisement and marketing that emphasizes on vices and temptations and how it’s good to indulge in them, all to sell their products and services. They make people who don’t indulge as “uncool” people. The sad aspect is not only they succeed in selling their products but they succeed in making this thinking mainstream. Let’s change this.
Embrace virtues. From one perspective, purpose of life is to be the best version of ourselves. Embrace virtues and appreciate people for their virtues. And especially parents, try to teach your children about why and how to be virtuous and encourage them to be virtuous.

The Popular 7 Virtues
Following and a few other virtues have been mentioned repeatedly in religious and social texts, often as the opposite of the 7 cardinal sins: The virtues that have been chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, patience, kindness, and humility. I think this needs revision.

10 Essential Virtues for Modern Times
There are too many virtues and it’s not possible to imbibe all virtues. So I tried to narrow down the list of essential virtues to the following 10. Each virtue is followed with a brief discussion, set of associated virtues and quick glance over important points to develop them. I think these are the most essential virtues one should dedicate life to developing:

Virtue 1: Kindness
“Searching all directions with one’s awareness, one finds no one dearer than oneself. In the same way, others are fiercely dear to themselves.
So one should not hurt others, if one loves oneself.” –Udana.
Kindness remains as relevant now as it was 3000 years ago. Kindness and the level at which we can feel and practice it is what, more than any other trait, separates us from animals.
Associated virtues: 
Helpfulness, Caring, Charity, Loving, Altruism, Equity, Selflessness, Inclusiveness.
Developing the Virtue: Count to 5 before judging anyone. Try to put yourself in someone else’s shoes before judging someone. Recognize good in people. Smile more. Try to leave everyone or at least someone (feeling) better than you found them. Help people in need. Be there. If can’t help, don’t hurt. Don’t increase anyone’s burden if you can’t share it.

Virtue 2: Action
“It’s not who am I but what I do that defines me.” – Batman Begins.
We spend too much time in talking, thinking, feeling and reacting and hardly any in doing. From armchair activism at community level to procrastination and distraction at personal level, our problems are only magnified as we take less and less actions and find more excuses to avoid our work. I could’ve put this along with self-discipline. But it’s high time that we begin to reward people who act more than people who talk. Value action more than words and intentions. Appreciate people who act.
Associated Virtues: 
Hard work, Decisiveness, Diligence, Progress.
Developing the Virtue: Start small. Start. Don’t wait for right moment or right feeling or motivation. Associate work with cause you care about. Plan minimally. Schedule your time. Be committed. Start small. Start now. Start. Do.

Virtue 3: Positivity and Emotional Hygiene
“There is a magnificent, beautiful, wonderful painting in front of you! It is intricate, detailed, a painstaking labor of devotion and love! The colors are like no other, they swim and leap, they trickle and embellish! And yet you choose to fixate your eyes on the small fly which has landed on it! Why do you do such a thing?” C. JoyBell
Lot of people I interact with are negative towards their lives, their friends and family, pessimistic towards their abilities, passive towards bright possibilities. Lot of us feel too much sadness, guilt, inferiority, take people’s opinion to heart.
Emotional Hygiene: We don’t live in dirty, messy environment then why should we allow our consciousness to reside amongst negative, self-sabotaging, self harming, self impairing thoughts? Practice emotional hygiene. Confront your negative thoughts take necessary steps to address them and if they recur purge them, eliminate them. 
Associated Virtues: Patience, Liveliness, Meaningful Distractions, Forgiveness, Encouragement.
Developing the Virtue: Emotional well-being is part of the series on self caring and there’d be a detailed post next week

Virtue 4: Resilience and Self Preservation
“Resilience is all about being able to overcome the unexpected. Sustainability is about survival. The goal of resilience is to thrive. ” – Jamais Cascio
Life is hard. This is a truth we should try to understand and accept. Circumstances would probably never be as perfect as we would like them to be. We’d meet with defeats, rejections, indifference, hatred, pain, sadness and the most difficult to deal with – loss of loved ones. And we’d have to live.
Survivalism: We must have an unflinching love for self and self-preservation. We must tattoo this in our brain that our life is a priceless, precious gift to us by nature/God/probability and we must try to preserve it at all costs. No matter what comes our way we have to survive and live.
Associated Virtues: Grit, ResolveSelf Love, Courage, Self Caring, Patience.
Developing the Virtue: Value self and your life beyond anything. Believe in self. Prepare for unfavorable situations before hand.

Virtue 5: Courage and Individuality
“The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.”  –Friedrich Nietzsche
It takes courage to follow our dreams, be ourselves and have individual opinions where so many indulge in group thinking, follow the rat race and echo mass opinions without thinking through. It takes courage to stand up to our challenges, our enemies but even more to our friends, family as sometimes we need to. Sometimes we’ve to choose what we believe in, especially when we’re right, even if we’re in minority or completely alone.
Associated Virtues: Saying “no”. Boldness. Self Expression.
Developing the Virtue: Stand up for what you believe in. Express it. Manifest it. Encourage others. Raise your voice. Don’t lose who you are for others.

Virtue 6: Self Discipline and Self Regulation
No evil propensity of the human heart is so powerful that it may not be subdued by discipline.” -Seneca
In a sense we’re sophisticated apes and our monkey minds can’t cope with so many temptations, distractions and desires especially when they’re so easy to satiate in modern world. It wants to be gratified right now but is simply insatiable. Its demands are unending. Discipline and self-regulation are what we need to navigate through all the distractions, improve our self and get things done.
Associated Virtues: Developing all virtues and all growth depends on level of self-discipline. It’s a core virtue. Temperance.
Developing the Virtue: Start small. Practice tough love. Eliminate distractions. Work in quite, secluded environment. I consider discipline as lifestyle and this was part 1 of self caring, here’s a post detailing how to develop self-discipline.

Virtue 7: Awareness
“Be the witness of your thoughts.” – Buddha
This is probably the most important easily available but rarely utilized faculties of our mind. By awareness I mean observing the thoughts that arise in our mind. This practice alone is great. But later on, in the beginning we can slowly steer the thoughts in the direction of our choice. Later when proficient, we can completely change our thinking in a moment. Mastering our awareness and thinking is almost a superpower. You can take actions, you can truly experience or completely alter your emotions, change mood in an instant, stay resilient, positive and respond proactively rather than merely reacting.
Time Management: Managing time is not in our control. What we can manage is our awareness, thoughts, focus and then take actions accordingly. Planning, scheduling, tracking etc. is efficient but you actually have to get things done and that comes easily when you can manage your thoughts.
Associated Virtues: Mindfulness, Time, Energy and Focus Management.
Developing the Virtue: Meditate. Observe, visualize, confront and clarify your thoughts. Utilize meaningful distractions.

Virtue 8: Dedication to Truth
“This above all: to thine own self be true
And it must follow, as the night the day
Thou canst not then be false to any man.” – Shakespeare
Dedication to truth means consistently revising our map of reality and not being deluded by daydreaming, illusions and how we want things to be to make ignore how things are. If you don’t even acknowledge the problem, you can’t solve it. Be honest with self.
Being truthful to others is also very good. Truth almost always is better than sweet talking.
Associated Virtues: Truthfulness, Humility.
Developing the Virtue: Continuously revise your map of reality i.e. what you believe to be true. Don’t let daydreaming and idle reveries drift you away from truth. Even if truth is harsh or inconvenient, problems can only be solved when you actually observe and accept there indeed is some problem. Don’t white lie i.e. lie to yourself. Be open to challenge of your view of reality from other people.

Virtue 9: Learning
“There is no end to education. It is not that you read a book, pass an examination, and finish with education. The whole of life, from the moment you are born to the moment you die, is a process of learning.” –Jiddu Krishnamurti
One of my favorite virtues. In the age of information, ignorance is choice. Lot of knowledge is few taps or clicks away. From improving ourselves, to progressing in our careers, strengthening our relationships, resolving our problems – if we seek properly, we’ll find the answers. This idea should be considered very empowering. The onus of finding answers to our problems is on us.
Associated Virtues:
Curiosity, Observation, Introspection and Reflection. Wisdom, Financial, Survival & other Knowledge. Learning from setbacks.
Developing the Virtue:  
Be curious, observe, introspect, reflect, correct and assimilate. See which areas of your life can you resolve/improve through knowledge. Then seek the answers.

Virtue 10: Self Caring
“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe deserve your love and affection.” – Sharon Salzberg
Associated Virtues: 
Being Healthy (Physically, Mentally, Emotionally), Being Virtuous, Being Disciplined.
Developing the Virtue:
Remember, you deserve happiness, peace and your own love too. Begin by taking care of your emotions and lifestyle. Take care of your health. Since this is self referencing, when this 5 part series on self-caring concludes, I’d link each part and the conclusion here.

Bonus Virtue: Discernment and Decisiveness
“Decisiveness is a characteristic of high-performing men and women. Almost any decision is better than no decision at all.” – Brian Tracy
This could have been put alongside other virtues but I found it important enough to make a point about it. Everyday, we’ve to make hundreds of decisions, choices and judgements. The ability to minimize decisions and making effective choices can really boost up our productivity, stress and help us excel in our work. Indecision and delay diminish progress.
Associated Virtues: Judgment, Deciding what is right and wrong, Balancing.
Developing the Virtue: Always try to make some choice. Practice. Plan before hand. This would also be covered more in the cognitive aspect of Self Caring in future blog post.

A Word of Caution on Extremes of Virtues
Virtues need to practiced with balance. Too much of virtue isn’t always a good thing. In some cases people can take advantage of you, in other cases you could be harming yourself. As Adam Grant puts it:
Too little of a virtue is bad, but so is too much. Aristotle believed that every virtue lies between vices of deficiency and excess. Too little humor is dry; too much is silly. Too little pride makes us meek; too much breeds narcissism. Too much self-restraint leaves you doing homework while your friends are tailgating. Too little self-restraint means you’ll really regret eating that fourth Scotsman Dog.

I hope this post has been helpful to you. Next post on Ethics, Morals, Values, developing Character and Personal Code and hows and whys of it would be published on Sunday.

I’d conclude the Self Caring series in about Mid June. Then I’d be writing about Death, Dying and Dealing with Loss of Loved Ones because it’s a topic so many of us struggle with but we don’t talk much about and so there’s little info on how to make sense of life.


Did you like the post? Where can we improve? Please give your valuable feedback. Thanks a lot for reading!

Connect with Man of Wisdom on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for more frequent updates. New blog posts every Thursday and Sunday.

Be kind. Stay positive. Radiate happiness. Goodbye. Take care. Keep Trailing on your Untrailed Path. ?

 


Notes:

Self Discipline is Self Caring – 10 Ways to Be More Disciplined and Love it


“No evil propensity of the human heart is so powerful 
that it may not be subdued by discipline.”
-Seneca

I am trying to be more disciplined myself as I write this post (this was supposed to be published on Sunday not Tuesday!), so do not treat this as something coming from an authority but from an experimenter and a fellow companion in the journey to be more self-disciplined.

(This is part one of 3 part series on Self Caring – Healthy Body, Heart and Lifestyle. This focuses on being self-disciplined as a lifestyle trait. The rest 2 would be published next Thursdays and Sundays.)

What is Self Discipline?
Merriam-Webster defines self-discipline or self-control as “correction or regulation of oneself for the sake of improvement“. They also provide a simpler and more helpful definition for English language learners: “the ability to make yourself do things that should be done”.

Apt. Self-discipline is about doing things you do not want to do but you know you need to do and going ahead and doing them despite the inherent discomfort and reluctance. Some examples would be studying for the impending test when you want to watch TV, having that important but uncomfortable conversation with your partner when you’d rather browse internet, working out when you want to eat an ice cream and so on.

Our brains are wired for comfort and pleasure and discipline feels inherently difficult, bad and repulsive. So why is it needed?

The Importance of Self Discipline
In his book, The Road Less Traveled, Psychologist M. Scott Peck offers the following perspective on the importance of self-discipline:

Discipline is the basic set of tools we require to solve life’s problems. Without discipline we can solve nothing. With some discipline we can solve only some problems. With total discipline we can solve all problems.

Discipline is essential for utilizing our full potential, realizing our possibilities and becoming the person we are meant to be. In all aspects of life – be it physical, mental or emotional health, personal or professional relationships, all goals and living a happier, peaceful life – discipline is essential and perhaps the most important quality. A few points to help you realize this:

Self Disciplined People are Happier
“It is one of the strange ironies of this strange life that those who work the hardest, who subject themselves to the strictest discipline, who give up certain pleasurable things in order to achieve a goal, are the happiest men.” – Brutus Hamilton.
According to a study by psychologist Wilhelm Hofman and his team at University of Chicago, people who are disciplined and are able to refrain from impulses are happier. This seems counter-intuitive, because if I can eat a cake now and everyday, am I not lot happier than someone who is disciplined in diet and eats boiled vegetables? The answer is sure, I am having more pleasure but in long-term it’s more likely I’d be prone to diseases like diabetes and heart diseases and would live a far stressful life versus someone in more control of their diet, who would likely be healthier, thinner, less susceptible to diseases and would avoid stress.

Corollary: Pleasure vs Happiness
A lot of people confuse instant gratification, which is release of pleasure chemicals like dopamine, with happiness which is wrong. Happiness is an abundance of positive emotions like joy, interest, pride, gratitude, an inner satisfaction and appreciation of life. Pleasure is just one small aspect which depends on external factors. You may not experience the pleasure without the cake but you can be happy – cake is not needed. Also gratification in this instant often leads to stress, sadness, disappointments and other overwhelming negative emotions later in life.

Self Discipline means Less Stress, Pain and Disappointments
“The more disciplined you become the easier life gets.” – Steve Pavlina
I think this is easier to understand. If you submit your homework on time, you escape from late submission punishment. If you put work and heart in your relationship everyday, you skip later disappointments. If you find time for your physical, mental and emotional health, you’re less likely to suffer from diseases, mental deterioration and would be more resilient and prudent in unfavorable circumstances. If you follow your work deadlines, you’re more likely to be promoted and less likely to be fired.
The key thing in all of these instances is attempting the necessary thing now for future rewards. But in doing so, you face your greatest enemy: the current you.

We hate ourselves (Please read this carefully)
A lot of us hate ourselves. Don’t believe me? How else can you justify the pain, disappointment, suffering and torture that our current self inflicts on our future self for momentary pleasure? We consider ourselves excluded of suffering our future self would go through. We believe it’s some different person who would be dying in a hospital, who would be going through a divorce, who would be fired from her job, who would be failing in his exam. Despite knowing such catastrophic outcomes that our future version would go through, we still indulge in petty pleasures that we know would ruin us and our lives.

Loving the “Future-You”
“Self-respect is the root of discipline: The sense of dignity grows with the ability to say no to oneself.” -Abraham Joshua Heschel
How do we address and overcome this self-hatred? One easily overlooked fact we need to realize is that just as our future self suffers from our current self’s indulgence, irresponsibility and debauchery. Our future self and therefore we, also reap the rewards like happiness, achievements, fulfillment, joy, peacefulness, loving environment and so on – if we exhibit more self-control and discipline now. It’s us who would be happier, healthier, have a great married life, richer, calmer, stress free and successful. As you’d see in the later section attuning ourselves with reality and our responsibility also helps us being kinder to ourselves. Begin to love yourself. Do not live a life where the present self is indifferent to the future self and lives in the regret of things past self did. It’s just you. Do not inflict such pain on yourself.

Corollary: Accept There’s No Different Person in Future.
Again, the person who experiences gratification now and suffers later are same people – you. Visualize and imagine yourself as reaping the results of your actions before indulging in pleasure. It’s you who suffers or succeeds. Be more connected with your future version through visualization, long-term plans, goals, letters/emails to future self, being mindful in this instant and consistent evaluation of where you’re heading in life.

The Structured Life
Discipline is formed through habits, over long period of time. More organized, structured and timely you’re in your daily, seemingly insignificant activities like sleeping, eating, bathing etc. the more disciplined you’d be in other, more significant aspects of your life such as health, relationship, career etc. and more time you’ll find for them.

Discipline is a Journey
And a slow one at that. It doesn’t happen that you’re in-disciplined and suddenly decide to be more disciplined and poof! -are now in complete control of all aspects of life. Sorry but you’d crash and burn. Discipline is like a muscle, the more you practice the better you become. Just like weight lifting, in the beginning you start small. Slowly, daily challenge yourself to larger goals i.e. more uncomfortable tasks and become stronger.

10 Ways to Become More Self Disciplined
I’ll discuss only 5 (6-10) here in detail and simply mention the rest (1-5) that are better explained in the post on Overcoming Instant Gratification. Let’s jump into them:

6. Shipping is Better than Perfecting
Pursuing Perfection is one of the most common excuse and most overlooked mistake. It’s deeply intertwined with self-discipline. Whether you’re trying to be more self disciplined or applying it in a task, know that it’s better to just do something than to delay it. It’s better to get something done than to avoid and delay any progress.
I used the word Shipping instead of Doing. Shipping means you’re open to criticism, feedback, any measurement of your activity. Writing this blog post and saving it in my drafts is doing, publishing it – putting it out in the world and getting feedback from real people is shipping.

7. Rituals are Better than Habits
Self discipline is a process and is built through good habits/routines. You don’t wake up early, workout, make your bed, study, talk to your partner once a year, you’ve to do it regularly. As I interpret Rituals are habits that are performed with attention, devotion, mindfulness and a sort of celebration. You don’t skip it. Rituals have the automaticity & self-initiation of habits but are performed with more attentiveness and more involvement. Habits can be bad but since you really think through and involve in rituals, they’re always good. Discipline cultivated through rituals is more effective than one built through habits.

8. You’d Never “Feel Right”
Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.’ – Pablo Picasso
Another powerful and somewhat rational excuse we give ourselves is “I don’t feel like doing it”. True. When there’s a pile of pizza a call away, you won’t feel like sticking to your diet or working out, ever. Motivation is extremely overrated and comes after the task is done or at least begun. Doing anything requires a touch of madness, just jumping into it, regardless of how we’re feeling.

9 . Prioritizing Tasks & Time Management (Einsenhower Decision Box)
The 34th President of the United States Dwight Eisenhower was one of the greatest leaders in history. He proposed division of all tasks into Important and Urgent and then acting on them. From a brilliant, must read post from Art of Manliness:
Eisenhower Decision Matrix urgent important

Urgent means that a task requires immediate attention. These are the to-do’s that shout “Now!” Urgent tasks put us in a reactive mode, one marked by a defensive, negative, hurried, and narrowly-focused mindset.

Important tasks are things that contribute to our long-term mission, values, and goals. Sometimes important tasks are also urgent, but typically they’re not. When we focus on important activities we operate in a responsive mode, which helps us remain calm, rational, and open to new opportunities.

The key is to focus more on important tasks than urgent tasks.

10. Keep a Track of Your Progress
You’d be better self disciplined and in more control of life if you know where you’re heading and how you’ve progressed. Maintaining this in a journal, app or digital document may really help you becoming more self disciplined, identifying and correcting the mistakes you make and the obstacles or circumstances that lure you away.

1. Start Small (so small it seems ridiculously easy).
2. Minimize Temptations (remove them!) and use Meaningful Distractions to your advantage.
3. Know that Willpower can be replenished and increased. Increase it.
4. Start Accountability and/or Support System
5. Be Consistent (Build the Momentum and Be Committed). Be Persistent (It’s ok to fail but it’s important to try again tomorrow)


4 Tools for Self Discipline (optional but highly recommended read)
The post was already long, so I put this separately. The Road Less Traveled is divided in 4 sub-parts, the first part is discipline. The author recommends 4 tools to be more disciplined in life:
1. Delaying gratification
“Opportunity may knock only once, but temptation leans on the doorbell.”
“Serving one’s own passions is the greatest slavery.” – Thomas Fuller

This is the single most important tool in becoming more disciplined. I won’t cover this here, because I’ve covered in far more detail drawing insights from psychology, neuroscience, philosophy and practical examples in a previous post here: Overcoming Instant Gratification

2. Acceptance of Responsibility
“We can’t solve a problem by saying “it’s not my problem”. We must accept the responsibility for a problem before we can solve it. The difficulty we have in accepting the responsibility for our behavior lies in desire to avoid pain in the consequences of that behavior.”
You can’t escape from freedom of responsibility you have for your life. You can’t attribute your problems to society, system, parents, children, race and so on. Sure they may have some partial contribution to your current situation but you cannot be disciplined in life unless you accept where you are and determine where you want to be, in spite of the external factors that hinder you.

3. Dedication to Truth (Reality)
“Our view of reality is like a map with which to negotiate the terrain of life. If the map is true and accurate, we will generally know where we are, and if we have decided where we want to go, we will generally know how to get there. If the map is false and inaccurate, we generally will be lost.”
Continuously Revise Your Map – For our map i.e. our view of reality to be accurate we need to consistently revise it. This is painful and so a lot people avoid it. Their outdated maps make them think the reality is same in adulthood as it was in childhood, same in college as was in school, same when being single and married and so on.
Be Open To Challenge: The only way to ascertain that our view of reality is accurate is by being willing to be challenged from other people’s view of reality. Else we form a view and stick to it, a closed system. Consistently seek feedback and correct yourself.
A lot of people never confront reality/truth and live in a dreamland. You cannot be disciplined without accepting you are not. Be dedicated to reality and strive to have it more accurate.
Do not withhold Truth: Do not white lie i.e. withhold part of truth at least from self. Don’t indulge in black lying i.e. accept something as true despite knowing it to be false.  Wake up from dreamland.

4. Balancing
“To be organized and efficient, to live wisely, we must daily delay gratification and keep an eye on the future; yet to live joyously we must also possess the capacity, when it is not destructive, to live in the present and act spontaneously. In other words, discipline itself must be disciplined. ”
It’s neither possible nor necessary to be disciplined all the time. When acting spontaneously and immediate gratification is not destructive, we should act on it. This balancing comes with time and should be practiced with our best judgement.


Did you like the post? Where can we improve? Please give your valuable feedback. Thanks a lot!

Connect with Man of Wisdom on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for more frequent updates. New blog posts every Thursday and Sunday.

Be kind. Stay positive. Radiate happiness. Goodbye. Take care. Keep Trailing on your Untrailed Path. 🙂