Stacking Positive Traits

What the wisdom of ancients can teach us about stacking positive habits and traits.

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In July, I wrote about positive habit stacking – how it’s like stacking Legos – interlocking one on top of the other. And, that these are your positive habits – how is your life organized and how would you like it to be organized.

Recently, my reading list has taken me back down the path of ancients and their wisdom and it struck me that in the ancient world – Greece and Rome in particular – the concept was not habits leading to success but personality traits and values leading to positive habits that make you a worthwhile human being worthy of taking up space on the planet.

I find this very intriguing and in line with how I view the world. Ancient philosophers, such as Plato, viewed the world through logic, belief, perception, language, science, and knowledge and that all topics from art to politics to philosophy can be learned and evaluated through this system.

St. Peter took this philosophy a step further, overlaying his Jewish heritage and new faith in Jesus to tie these things to physical personality traits to be practiced and achieved for success. In his first century letter to fellow believers he develops what may be the first instance of positive habit stacking when he writes, “make every effort to add to your faith goodness, and to goodness knowledge, and to knowledge self-control, perseverance, devotion, kindness and love. If you possess these qualities in increasing measure they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive…”

This combination of Plato and Peter got me thinking about my earlier article on positive habit stacking and where this really generates and if we can ever be successful in stacking positive habits and evolving as humans without some concrete foundation of stacking positive traits such as goodness based on knowledge, which leads to self-control, perseverance, and kindness. If we are ineffective in these things can we be effective in creating healthy habits?

I would argue that one cannot truly transform habits without logical, strategic and practiced effort at transforming your base habits – which are the fundamental personality traits highly prized and upheld by almost every culture, tribe and religious/spiritual belief throughout history.

I know for myself, that the days I am not focused on goodness, kindness, learning, logic, etc. I am much more likely to stumble on the other positive habits I am trying to cultivate – exercise, healthy eating, staying engaged in positive relationships with co-workers, friends and family. It can be daunting to think of all these things and say, “well I’m not good at any of those things so I’m not going to start.” And to just turn back to Instagram or Netflix. The key, as with positive habits is to start small, and grow your confidence. Find mentors who have walked the journey ahead of you – through religious or civil leaders in your community, books, and podcasts to learn and practice. None of this is self-generated. If it was something that bubbled up from within, we’d all be good at it and articles like this one and philosophical treatises like Plato’s Republic would be unnecessary. Finding authentic, wise teachers and mentors will help you grow in knowledge which will lead to growth in gratitude and all the things listed above. Learning leads to finding mindful meditation and positivity in the little things throughout the day which will naturally lead you to stack positive traits and habits – because it will feel good and right. Just as cleaning out one’s system of junk food leads the digestive system to become super sensitive when you do indulge, you will find yourself similarly attracted to positive and uninterested or feeling crummy after indulging in the negative. Knowledge, goodness, kindness and perseverance will lead you to discover is the biggest positive habit of all – finding joy and contentment in the daily routines of life. You will find balance and alignment. You will thrive.

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