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How to Develop Virtue and Character Consistently

The key to acting in accordance with the ideal vision of yourself lies in asking yourself a few simple but powerful questions in your everyday life and meditating on them.

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If you follow Stoicism, you would be well aware of the importance of pursuing and embodying virtue and developing your character to live a good life. But how do we ensure that we work on these areas relentlessly as we manage our hectic schedules in daily life? 

In his book, The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything, Father James Martin introduces an effective strategy to do this. He suggests his readers to ask one simple question to themselves: “What would my best self do in this situation?”

We all have the image of the best versions of ourselves in our heads. We are well aware of all the good habits and behaviors that that version participates in all significant areas of life. And this is why, we can use our ideal self as a compass, as a blueprint if you will, to guide our current actions and choices. The more consistently we act in accordance with our personal legend, the better we feel about ourselves and our life by virtue of our internal alignment.

Here are some examples:

  • Would my best self eat salad or that greasy appetizer?
  • Would my best self wake up and go for a walk or sleep in?
  • Would my best self read a book or binge-watch on Netflix?
  • Would my best self watch porn or use that time in a productive pursuit?
  • Would my best self work late or come home to spend quality time with my loved ones?

This is a simple but incredibly powerful question to ask ourselves, and it can bring some real behavioral changes for us.

To build on this idea, here’s another alternative that can be equally effective. Simply think about your mentors or the people that you look up to and ask yourself what they would do if they were in your situation. It doesn’t matter if they are historical or contemporary, dead or alive; in fact, they can even be fictional!

As you face a moral dilemma, struggle to garner motivation or find yourself in a tough spot, just ask yourself, “What would ___________ do?” in that particular circumstance as your mentor compass to do the right thing. You can select anyone who you admire and respect — Marcus Aurelius, Mahatma Gandhi, Captain America, James Bond, Nelson Mandela, Oprah, Sherlock Holmes, Maya Angelou, the list is endless.

When you employ these questions in your everyday life and meditate on them, you allow yourself some space between the stimulus and response, giving you the opportunity to deliberately choose your response, helping you grow in the process and acting in accordance with the ideal vision of yourself and your life.

It’s definitely worth it to try this strategy whenever you experience a tug of war within. These questions can help you immensely in making the right choices for yourself and your overall success, hence making significant progress in being more virtuous and developing your character consistently. 


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Photo by Zachary Nelson on Unsplash

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

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