The Brick and Mortar of your Life (goal setting where it counts the most)

“Character is something that you cannot beg or steal or buy. You can get it only by building it; and you can build it by your own thoughts and deeds and no other way.” ~ Napoleon Hill

With the New Year a heartbeat away, we naturally start looking back over the year we’ve just spent. We analyze what worked and what didn’t, how we’ve grown and how we haven’t.

Then we start considering new paths and directions, new pursuits and habits and setting new trajectories for the New Year. New Year’s resolutions and long- and short-term goals are set to give us something to aim at and keep us focused and committed along that new trajectory, developing those new habits.

And that’s all well and good as long as we enjoy the journey and recognize–even celebrate–the growth even if we don’t exactly hit the target.

But sometimes we go in blind, laying the brick and mortar of our lives without really looking at where we’re laying it. We just start putting down brick upon brick, building higher and thicker and longer and wider. And so we end up building a life of accomplishment on a foundation that was never closely examined.

That’s a mistake.

It’s perfectly fine to want more income or less weight, a higher degree or lower blood pressure, to overcome a habit or start a new one.

But when we start stacking one accomplishment on top another on a foundation of sand, life becomes off-centered, unstable, and eventually comes tumbling down. All it takes is one good storm and we’re belly-up.

So I propose a more basic set of goals for our resolutions this coming year, ones that will add sturdiness and stability to the base of our lives.

What’s at the Core?

At our very core is much more than personality or achievement. It’s not education or profession or prestige or salary. It’s not even happiness, which is a byproduct of other things. At the very basis, the fundamental part of our being is character.

Character is the heart and soul of who we are. It is the root system of a decent life. (<– Tweet this!) It feeds the rest of our identity. It gives sustenance to life and substance to personality. Cut the tree free of its root system and the tree cannot stay alive no matter how thick the trunk or green the leaves or extensive its network of branches.

So it is with us.

  • Popularity without character is shallow. (<– Tweet this!)
  • Reputation without character is undeserved. (<– Tweet this!)
  • Personality without character is superficial. (<– Tweet this!)
  • Success without character is shady. (<–Tweet this!)
  • Education without character is a false impression. (<–Tweet this!)
  • Wealth without character is hollow. (<–Tweet this!)
  • Love without character is conditional. (<–Tweet this!)
  • Happiness without character is slippery. (<–Tweet this!)
  • Life without character is a disaster waiting to happen. (<–Tweet this!)

So begin your goal-setting this year at the foundation. Start with who you want to be as a person and everything else you do in life will be an extension of that vision. Don’t, and you may end up with a great-looking life that’s empty on the inside—or worse, a festering cesspool of moral decay waiting to break through to the surface, infecting your relationships, happiness and self-respect.

But if you start with the most fundamental part of who you are—your character— all the rest will be icing on the cake. Still, no amount of frosting can hide the bitterness and odor of a rotten inside. So that’s the place to start.

But what if you don’t know where to start?

Start Here

Not sure what character traits to work on first? Try answering the following 4 questions for inspiration. But first, go get something to write on. As you list the qualities on paper in answer to the questions, see who it is you’re creating and where you might have neglected toning your moral muscles.

1. What kind of person do you hope your children believe you are?
2. What kind of person do you want your children to marry?
3. What kind of people do you want them to become?
4. What would you want said about who you were in a eulogy at your own funeral?

These are good starting points to begin seriously considering what you want to build at the foundation of your life. It’s helpful to write your answers down, listing each quality you decide is important to each question. If you haven’t yet, go back and try it. Then determine where your life is right now in relation to that ideal person you’ve outlined on paper.

But don’t condemn yourself for the distance between where you are and the ideal. We are all works in progress. Rather, look at it like you would a ledger. What’s in the asset column and what’s in the “I-really-need-to-change-this” column? Then decide which trait or two you want to work on this year to move it to the asset side.

If after you give the above a good go and you’re still having a hard time deciding where to start, read on …

Try these Character Traits on for Size

1. Courage

Do you stand up for what’s right or follow the crowd? Do you compromise your standards when the crowd or society ridicules your beliefs and values or do you stand tall and firm, even when you have to stand alone?

Standing up for what’s right even when others don’t can have a profound effect on our self-respect. So exercise the courage to stand. Stand up for those who can’t. Stand for something of value. Exercise integrity to values even if no one else does. Exercise the courage necessary to be true to your values even when they’re being tested in the heat of temptation, peer pressure or public ridicule.

If this is a difficult one for you, maybe moral courage is a good area to start building a sturdier foundation.

2. Compassion

Do you step out of your comfort zone to help those in need or do you wait for someone else to take the initiative instead?

Learning to love and serve is a life-changing process. Expand that love to include others from all walks of life. Let compassion fill you and pour out from you. Let your compassion explode from the impotent confines of feeling to something real and powerful, that changes lives. When love is a feeling, it becomes a reflection of external things. But when love becomes an expression of your soul, when it is mixed in with compassion, it can be seen in behavior, in loving acts of kindness, in service and thoughtfulness and human decency.

If this is your weak point, perhaps love and compassion would be a good place to start.

3. Forgiveness

Do you allow people their imperfections even when those imperfections hurt you or do you judge and condemn and hold grudges?

Let go of offenses by accepting the imperfect humanity of others. (<– Tweet this!) Accept imperfection even if it means others may “get away” with having hurt you in the past (forgiveness of past hurts, by the way, should never be confused as acceptance of current mistreatment). Forgiveness requires great moral strength of character and great compassion and humility as well.

If this is your soft spot, there are ways of developing this character strength no matter who it is you need to forgive to move on. Doing so can revolutionize your new year.

4. Honesty

Do you say what you mean and mean what you say or only when it’s convenient?

Love truth more than being (or appearing) right. (<–Tweet this!) Love truth more than you fear the consequences of telling it. (<–Tweet this!) Love truth more than loving the façade of image and your honesty shouldn’t be a problem.

If you tend to stretch truth and dissemble your way out of a pinch, especially if your difficulties with truth are hurting others, perhaps it’s time to commit to developing honesty as part of your moral base.

5. Commitment

Do you work hard at what’s most important, following through, doing your best, or do you look for the backdoor when things get tough?

Sticking with something when life gets in the way is a sign of strong character. Staying with a goal when it’s tempting to give up builds character too. It also leads to accomplishment and success and personal growth.

If you’re one who does a lot of starting but very little finishing in your life, who crumbles easily under pressure or runs for the woods when the going gets tough, perhaps it’s time to set (and accomplish!) the goal of improving your commitment level and the self-discipline and focus needed to follow through.


Remember, no matter how beautiful the outside of a life, if the inside is in shambles, the outside will add little meaning and satisfaction or happiness to living. Band-Aids and masks and pretty wrapping on empty boxes don’t add substance to moral emptiness or cure the moral disease that festers below the bandage.

So as you set goals and make resolutions this year, be sure to make the inside of your life at least as important as the outside (<–Tweet this!) and the foundation more important than what you build up on top of it.

If you do this, you’ll be able to use this coming year to construct a more reliably sturdy character on which to build an amazing life.

Your Turn!

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