Everything is like muscles.
The more you work it, the more endurance is built. The harder you work it, the stronger it gets.
Working it too much and too hard all at once is counterproductive though.
Letting go and resting is an essential part of the strength-building process.
But don’t rest for too long, or your muscles will atrophy. Back to square one.
Is there any facet of personal development that doesn’t share these characteristics with our physical muscles?
Integrity is a muscle. If no one, including yourself, can trust your word, then it’s up to you to make your word stronger.
Work it, work it. Work that word.
How? Well, practice focusing on doing what you say you’re going to do. And don’t write checks with your mouth that your integrity muscle cannot cash.
It might sound silly to some, but you can make your integrity stronger by promising yourself, “I am going to snap my fingers fifty consecutive times right now.” And then do it.
You could even say, “Right now, I promise that I am going to stand up and stretch,” and then do it.
It’s like lifting a little dumbbell with your integrity muscle.
It is you showing yourself evidence that you do what you say you’re going to do. It is working your word.
Then you can incrementally apply your word to tasks you may have been putting off.
“I am going to create today.”
“I am getting organized today.”
“I am going to call a friend, make plans, and follow through.”
“I am going to volunteer.”
“I am going to look for work.”
People with consistently solid integrity may not know how frustrating it is when your word means nothing to yourself or anyone else.
But if you do relate to your words being flaccid to the point of embarrassment and self-loathing, start working that integrity muscle in small ways. Be gentle with yourself. Don’t overdo it all at once, or you’ll turn your integrity to burning Jello.
Getting stronger feels good.
Waking up and realizing that you can take on more than you could handle yesterday is the stuff of legends.
So what other muscles of your character can you work on? Literally anything you can think of…
Patience is like a muscle. Practice waiting and being still without resentment.
Capacity for focus and concentration can be built like muscles. A medical yoga technique is to coordinate the movement of your body with your breath while visually focusing on the part of the body you’re moving.
Empathy can be developed through practice. Imagine what it’s like living life through the eyes of the people and non-human animals in your proximity. After some practice, you may lift some heavier weights by visualizing the perception of beings in other cultures.
If you don’t know anything about the cultures you’re trying to imagine, do some research. The time you put into researching ways of life you don’t know about will help build your empathy muscle too.
A strong empathy muscle can generate a life without enemies, because you know that everyone is the way they are for a reason.
This is closely tied to compassion.
If you have flabby arms right now, no big deal. If you want to show off your “guns” anyway, try flexing your empathy and compassion.
Optimism. Faith that every storm will end if you survive long enough.
Writing, making music, making art.
Pursuit of knowledge.
Mastery of emotions.
Making sure your needs are met and that you’re taking proper care of yourself.
Developing any of these areas (or any more you can think of) is similar to building muscles.
Neurologically, this is a process of establishing neural pathways. Working one of these muscles is like creating a slightly deeper neural groove associated with that behavior or character trait.
The deeper the groove, the easier it is to continue engaging in that behavior. This is tied into the essence of habit development and momentum.
If you have already built muscles for habits and traits that you do not want to guide your life moving forward (and if you’re human, you probably have), then your most noble task is to create even bigger muscles for the behaviors that serve your highest order of good.
The old neural pathways for the counterproductive behaviors and traits will still exist. Like an old bumpy road that you forgo for a new highway that takes you where you want to go in faster and smoother ways than ever before.
Whoever you want to be, I believe in your capacity to be it.
Life is your all-access gym. Start small, be smart. Be gentle and respectful with your growth process. Don’t try to work out too many inner muscles all at once (there’s a reason for arm day and leg day). Rest and heal. Revel in the growing power within, but aspire for humility. Forgive yourself when you fuck up.
Work it. Like a boss.
Also published on Medium.