7 Virtues for Self-Improvement
By Melissa Eisler
Virtues are universal moral habits that are widely recognized as good character traits. By practicing virtues every day, you can build and live a purposeful and value-driven life. After a week of focusing on doing good, you’ll notice that you’re attracting more positivity and happiness into your life.
Some might say that virtuous qualities are innate or developed early in life, but you can also learn and cultivate virtues so that they become more prevalent and habitual in your daily life. By practicing being more virtuous, you can live a more intentional life with greater fulfillment, peace, and joy. Here are seven common virtues. Focus on one a day for a week to gain insight into yourself and bring more joy to those around you.
I always thought I was a good, kind person. But it wasn’t until I got into recovery from alcoholism that I discovered that I was a mean and self-centered human being. That word “thought” in my first sentence is a word I am grateful to be releasing from my vocabulary. Being in recovery, becoming more a spiritual being, means for me I no longer have to think so much, to understand it all, but to feel and to live from my heart. What a foreign way to live my life, but so freeing!
When I left a 28-day alcohol treatment program it was suggested to stay on track that I attend AA meetings and do what was suggested to me there. I did. I attended meetings. I got a Big Book. I got a sponsor. I worked the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous with my sponsor. I got into service. I got better.
Working the Steps with my sponsor showed me how fear-based I had been living my life. With that fear came defensiveness and selfishness. I knew no other way. I hadn’t been taught a different way to be. That part of my journey didn’t come until I reached rock bottom and then found recovery.
When I made my amends to my kids they told me how mean I was. I was baffled. Just like alcohol is cunning, baffling and powerful. When I got the drink in me I turned into another creature; it brought out the worst in me. And I certainly didn’t like “that” person. As a matter of fact, I loathed and hated her and called her a loser when I saw her in the mirror. I also had no purpose and felt I was a waste of space on this planet. How sad is that to have lived 50 years of my life purposelessly? Again, my journey with a Higher Power in my life today that knows “When the student is ready, the Master appears.”
I don’t know if that mean person in me is really who I am inside or who I became when the alcohol changed me. It doesn’t matter. Again, no need spending precious energy dwelling on that. All I know is that today…finally…I am comfortable in my own skin and can truly say I love myself for who and what I am and what my journey has given me. Virtuous qualities innate or developed, learned or cultivated? Doesn’t matter. Today I live as rigorously honest as I can, being me, not fearing your thoughts of me. Today I turn my will and my life over to the care of a Higher Power Greater Than Me. And today I emanate something good that I don’t even know is happening that attracts people to me in a wonderful way. Do I understand this? Nope.
Are you facing a challenge in your life right now or experiencing an emotion you would rather not face? Join the club—this is part of the human experience. The trick here is to reduce resisting experiences that come your way, where you are unable to affect change. Practicing acceptance does not necessarily mean you like, want, support, or endorse everything you cross paths with.
Rather, it means you’re choosing to allow it to be there without resistance, when you can’t change it anyway.
To practice acceptance, identify anything in your life you feel you may be resisting. Notice if there is something you can do to change the situation for the better, and if not, begin the process of releasing that resistance and embracing acceptance. Just as the familiar Serenity Prayer states, “God, grant me serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”
When something is bugging the hell out of you I can suggest that you embrace it, thank it for coming, and then let it go…whisked away into the clouds softly and forever. Well why can’t I walk my talk? Because I need to dwell in my doo doo for just awhile longer, beat up on myself, and wait to get to that point where I can no longer take it. Why can I not remember for myself that everything is perfect at this moment?
To be authentic is to feel at home in yourself and be true to your values. Authenticity is important in creating healthy relationships, but it can also be challenging to practice on a daily basis due to fear. You may fear that if you showed up as you truly are—saying, doing, and feeling the things within you without censoring yourself— that others might reject you.
To practice authenticity, do something that truly reflects your deepest needs, wishes, and values. Give up changing your behavior because of the desire to be liked. Speak up for yourself and say/do what’s in your heart.
Finding out who I am and what makes me tick by working the Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous was the most eye-opening journey I have ever walked. I feel such a weight off my shoulders knowing how fear-based I lived most of my life and why.
Today I accept it, embrace it, and let it whisk away whilst concentrating on self-love and self-care. Turn my head off. Meditate. A bit of yoga. Get out in nature. Enjoy quiet. Write.
Today I get to live in rigorous honesty. I was so exhausted from lying, hiding and cheating for decades in my active disease. No more. I’ve got to use my energy in positive ways. And today my Higher Power has given me purpose…to share my experience, strength and hope with whoever enters my Dee bubble and might need a ray of light and inspiration, a glimpse of hope, some optimism, and knowing no one needs to go through anything, ever, alone!
Sara Schairer, founder of Compassion It, a nonprofit dedicated to the social movement of fostering daily compassionate actions and attitudes, defines compassion (https://chopra.com/articles/whats-the-difference- between-empathy-sympathy-and-compassion) as “the willingness to relieve the suffering of another.” It can be difficult to sit with your own suffering or observe/feel it from someone else. But like the other virtues, compassion is a skill that gets easier with practice.
Practicing compassion for someone (this can be yourself) who is suffering can come in many different forms. To get started, read Sara’s article (https://chopra.com/articles/4-steps-to-finding-peace-through-compassion) and follow its four steps. Before you know it, you will be connecting with others and yourself in a more meaningful way. (https://chopra.com/free-programs/discover-your-purpose-toolkit?_ga=2.12561396.1726373736.1526314196- 557740326.1524243263)
One thing I do daily to keep myself centered, grounded, humble and grateful is to thank my Higher Power for everything, and I mean everything. If it doesn’t go my way or isn’t what I want I know there are no coincidences and that I am meant to learn from it, grow, and become a better person.
I also ask my Higher Power to help me to be mindful, compassionate, respectful and loving. That means for me to make eye contact with you and give you my complete attention. Shut my head off from my to-do list. I ask my Higher Power to help me not judge, to put myself in your shoes. I have no clue what your life is like or what you’ve been through. But your sharing your journey with me will help me better understand and, again, grow and be a better person.
When you’re curious, problem solving becomes easier because you see more options, paths, and ways of solving a problem than your non-curious counterparts. You question more; you gather more opinions; you don’t stop at the first solution–which can lead to greater possibilities.
To truly embrace an attitude of curiosity means you begin to question things in your life and the world around you with no attachment to the answer. This last part is the key. Even if the subject at hand is something you know a lot about–pretend like you are getting to know it for the first time and with wonder, begin to inquire, observe, and learn. To do this without judgment requires an incredibly high degree of openness. Embracing curiosity involves playfulness, lightness, and openness–all fun qualities to practice, so remember to enjoy the process!
Of course I have curiosity. Thank God for Google. But if I can’t get the answer I need, if technology isn’t going smoothly today, I let it go for now. If I feel the answer to my curiosity isn’t going to be something that serves me favorably, I let that go, too. I only have x amount of energy and I must pick and choose how I spend my time. I always choose to spend it in a positive way. A way that will help me and others to achieve our highest good.
Another option I always have waiting for me is my God Box. If I’m in a dilemma and don’t know which way to turn or what choice to make, I put it in the God Box. This alcoholic wants instant answers and gratification. I’m learning my Higher Power is teaching me patience and faith.
Forgiveness can be difficult to achieve, especially toward loved ones who you feel have wronged you in some way. To forgive is to let go of anger and bitterness, making room for peace and love.
To begin practicing this virtue, focus on someone to start forgiving. Read Deepak Chopra’s 7 Steps to Forgiveness (https://chopra.com/articles/the-7-steps-to-forgiveness) to get you started, and then put those steps into action.
It’s been easier for me to forgive others I feel have wronged me by putting myself in their shoes. Again, I have no idea of their journey nor hardships. I also live by Don Miguel Ruiz’s agreement of “Don’t take things personally” from his book, The Four Agreements.
If you want to live a positive, light life, let go of the negative shit, the wrongs done to you and the hardships you face. Try to look at the glass half-full and make a positive out of your negatives. I promise you there is a positive. Remember to be grateful for this moment. There are many on this planet who would love to live in your worst day!
There are different types of courage, including physical strength, endurance, mental stamina, and innovation. No matter the type of courage you’re trying to embrace, the presence of fear is part of the process. Ultimately, courage doesn’t mean that you aren’t afraid, it means that you take action despite your fear. As Nelson Mandela said, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
To practice being courageous, you’re going to have to face a fear in your life. It can be something small, like singing in the shower, or something big, like confronting (https://chopra.com/articles/mindful-confrontation-9- steps-to-handle-conflict-in-a-healthy-way) a friend. You choose where to begin. Another good way to practice courage is do something new every day. This widens your comfort zone and allows you to experience things you may not otherwise try.
How many times have we dreaded something we have to face, dwelled on it until it made us sick and sleepless only to find out once face that it wasn’t that bad? Today I just want to cross if off my damned “to do” list and move on, rather than moving it to the next day, the next day, week, then month. For pity sake. It’s a negative. Embrace it. Do it. Let it go.
The Law of Detachment (https://chopra.com/articles/the-law-of-detachment) states that you should detach yourself, and your ability to be happy, from a desired outcome. Otherwise, attachment to a specific outcome will show up as disappointment when/if that outcome doesn’t happen.
Find out what you’re attached to—is it a goal? An object? A person?—and follow these five steps (https://chopra.com/articles/5-steps-to-detaching-for-a-happier-life) to detach for a happier life.
“No expectations…no disappointments.” I love this quote, affirmation, slogan I learned in AA. So true. Expectations for me means going into the future. Why am I going there? All I have is this moment here and now in front of my nose. So don’t shit on it. Why am I “thinking” I can control people, places or things? My Higher Power has got my back and will protect and guide me on the journey best for me. So stop it, Dee. Detach.
If you’ve made it this far and kept up with the recommended practices, you’ve probably gained some wisdom along the way. Wisdom—another virtue [noun: goodness, virtuousness, righteousness, morality, integrity, dignity, rectitude, honor, decency, respectability, nobility, worthiness, purity; principles, ethics.]—is about utilizing knowledge and experience with commonsense and insight.
Which virtue did you find the most challenging to practice? Which was the most fun? Take the knowledge and experience you’ve gained from these exercises and see how you can incorporate these virtues into your everyday life.
My most challenging virtue is walking my talk…staying positive, optimistic and in the moment. But when I bring myself back to earth and get right-sized with my Higher Power, everything falls back into place, including myself.
The most fun virtue is just being me, that kid in me, spontaneous and goofy…all about fun! I stress to my kids who are adults now, “Never grow up. Never lose sight of your passions!” And with that I thank you for taking time to read this. I truly welcome any feedback.
And if you find yourself in a funk know that you are not alone. Contact me. Contact the wealth of support services in your area. Together we can get through anything and make this world a better place!
With warmest aloha, Dee Harris
For those interested in Art with a Message of Well-Being and Self-Love, please visit my website at www.DeesignsByHarris.com. Mahalo and enjoy!
Remember the intention of focusing on your virtues is for you to become more aware of your actions and live a value-driven life—not to master each virtue after one day. See if you can find ways to practice virtues each day. Over time, they will become daily habits.
Get personalized guidance to create a clear roadmap to self-improvement with the Chopra Center’s Discover Your Purpose Toolkit, which includes a free e-book, worksheet, 1:1 discovery session, and guided meditation. Get your free toolkit now. (https://www.chopra.com/free-programs/discover-your-purpose-toolkit)
About the Author
Melissa Eisler (/bios/melissa-eisler)
Certified Leadership & Career Coach, Yoga & Meditation Instructor, Author
Melissa is the Senior Content Strategist at the Chopra Center. Also an ICF Certified Leadership and Career Coach (ACC) and certified meditation and yoga instructor, she is passionate about motivating people to live a healthy, balanced, and purposeful life. You can learn more about Melissa’s coaching practice at MelissaEisler.com (https://melissaeisler.com/). Melissa is also the author of The Type A’s Guide to Mindfulness: Meditation for Busy Minds and Busy People (http://amzn.to/1J1dYvz), a practical guide for new meditators in the modern world, and the creator of mindfulminutes.com (http://mindfulminutes.com/), a… Read more (/bios/melissa-eisler)
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