Fitness For Character Development

19 mins read

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us.”

–Ralph Waldo Emerson, American essayist, philosopher and poet (1803-1882)

We only get one body that has to last us, therefore it only makes sense to maintain that body, and constantly strive to make it the best it can be. But the human body isn’t all that needs to be maintained and enhanced. The human body works in conjunction with the mind and the spirit. If I said my primary focus was in helping people, but my focus was only on the body, I wouldn’t be fulfilling my mission completely. That is the purpose of this post–to highlight how fitness works toward enhancing other areas besides the body.

I like to think that character is a large part of life, especially when it comes to leadership, and since it tends to span across all things (including the realm of the spiritual), this is what I refer to when I say character. We can all enhance our character through character development, and one excellent way is to use fitness training methods as the vehicle. Another reason this is important, is because it falls in line with the Vitality trait from Loricism. Taking care of yourself is one of the tenets, but using fitness for character development can help you hit multiple virtues.

What is Character?

Character is an evaluation of an individual’s moral qualities. The concept of character can imply a variety of attributes including the existence or lack of virtues such as integrity, courage, patience, empathy, fortitude, honesty, loyalty or a collection of good behaviors or habits. The concept of moral character is not specific to a particular religion, culture, or country, although these can help shape an individual’s character.

It is generally accepted in society that the attributes that compose a solid character are good, therefore, it only stands to reason that developing such attributes can only serve to enhance an individual’s life, reputation, and interactions. It can do no harm. In addition to this, it is in the nature of an exercise program to help others better themselves through the development of health and well-being, so why not take things one step further? People today are inundated with forces that cause acute and chronic harm to the body, but we are also confronted daily with situations and forces which can act negatively upon our minds and our behavior. This is why it becomes important to provide methods by which to enrich the mind and character; the body, mind, and spirit (character) do not exist separately but together. Since it is beyond the scope of a fitness professional’s duties to actively pursue change in a person’s behavior–we leave this up to other specialists such as therapists and others–we are left to incorporating character development into the way we train the body. This can be done in such a way that it is inherent and invisible until the change is already underway, and most always the individual feels a sense of satisfaction. The important thing to remember is that at any time it is in the subject’s prerogative to cease such a program.

Now, the question remains as to how this is done, but first, we will explore more thoroughly a few of the principles behind character.

A Glance at the History of the Gentleman

The term gentleman is most commonly used to describe someone who is well mannered, considerate, and who possesses high standards of behavior. The term gentleman in its classic sense originated from the medieval era where there was a lack of professional armies. Individuals who were skilled in the art of war trained from birth to death. These individuals–you may recognize them as knights–spent their entire lives preparing for war. These knights’ skills were so highly developed that they had the potential to be dangerous to the very people they had trained to protect. Out of this set of unique circumstances came the need to have a code of conduct by which to live. This code of conduct became known as the code of chivalry. The code of chivalry required a certain type of conduct by the knights when in polite company (like the difference between military and civilian in today’s society). This meant that the knight would “gentle” his condition when not in combat and that his behavior would be chivalrous in nature. The code of chivalry championed ideals such as bravery, courtesy, and honor. This is just one example, however; it is found that throughout history warriors have developed codes of ethics to adhere to in and to guide their behavior and decision-making. Some of these include the Spartans, Samurai, Knights, many of today’s armed forces. Even pirates had a code of conduct to live by.

Codes of Conduct and Ethics

“Ethics is a code of values which guide our choices and actions and determine the purpose and course of our lives.”
— Ayn Rand, Russian-American novelist and philosopher (1905-1982)

Ethics comes from the Greek word ethos, meaning moral character or custom. The term is often used interchangeably with morality; one popular differentiation between the two is that morality is defined as standards of conduct, while ethics is the study of those standards. Either way, a simplified answer that suits our purposes is that they both deal with the rules or standards that govern a person or members of a profession.

When referring to an “ethos”, we are referring to the fundamental values that are particular to a culture. For example, the Spartans were taught from birth to exist as warriors. This concept was constantly reinforced in everything they did, so it became the standard, or their code of conduct. Their code was their ethos.

How Ethics Define Us

Many subcultures begin imbuing an individual with their ethos during a rigorous indoctrination process. Recruits, candidates, cadets are taught things like the importance of teamwork, leadership, and core values. Many times they learn a standardized way of behavior, so that they will all be able to accomplish their responsibilities in the same, professional manner. They are constantly guided during this process to help form a basis for a code of ethics to adhere to in their daily lives and to guide their decisions. The individual’s new ethics are tested once the indoctrination is complete and they return back to the society they came from. The quality of the indoctrination is measured against whether or not the individual’s new code of ethics continue to guide him/her, or if he/she returns to their old pattern of behavior. Just as they are are given tools such as creeds and core values, tenets, etc. to continue to guide and shape their decision-making skills and behavior as they progress beyond that initial indoctrination, we as individuals need something to guide us. If we do not hold ourselves accountable for our actions, how can we expect others to do so? Just as a soldier hones his skills to be able to take life, he must also temper this with humility and patience. He knows that using his skills to take a life is not the ultimate goal, but that preserving or protecting a life with his skills is the ultimate manifestation of his abilities. There is a direct need for people to place their trust in them, therefore, they must be trustworthy. So it goes for all of us. We should strive to be virtuous.

Importance of a Code of Conduct

Generally, people feel a sense of pride and accomplishment in being held to a higher standard. There will always be people who choose not to conform to the standards practiced by the group, and usually if the group dynamic is strong enough these individuals might be coaxed into conformity, which produces positive results for the group as a whole (assuming the group is ethically correct). Concurrently, if the individual’s dynamic is stronger than that of the group’s, the opposite could possibly manifest; one individual can alter the group’s dynamic to take on characteristics of his insubordinate behavior (insubordinate as it relates to the group dynamic; there are many cases where the influence of one individual alters the course of history for the positive). An example of this might be a group of straight-laced kids being influenced by another to engage in substance abuse. This is a pretty loose example, though. This is why it is important, for the greater good of the group (could be a team, could be society in general), to establish a strong dynamic, or code of conduct, by which to operate.

How to Incorporate Character Development into Training Programs

Now that we have familiarized ourselves with character and its importance, we can begin incorporating its development into training programs. This process is already in place in many programs, more specifically elite military selection processes, where adversity is used to gauge a person’s commitment, fortitude, integrity, and loyalty (all virtues), among other things.

“Adversity introduces a man to himself.”
–Albert Einstein

With any training program, it is necessary to provide enough stimulus to facilitate progress; the defining factor lies in the magnitude of the training stimulus. If a person does only just enough to bring about this progress–the bare minimum–the person is more likely to do the bare minimum in other areas of life. If the challenge is significant, however, the training program makes a larger contribution towards the person’s character development than is initially realized. To put this into perspective, if a person has to struggle and give 100% during training, he or she is prompted to display values such as perseverance. When they want to quit but push through in spite of the desire to give up, they are demonstrating sacrifice and tenacity. If the program calls for 100 repetitions and they complete them all despite wanting to only skimp and do a percentage, it develops integrity. By forcing them to perform every exercise perfectly, it develops attention to detail. When other people are involved in the program as a group, and each individual must contribute, it develops responsibility, loyalty, and service to others before the self. When the group is called upon to help each member, and they strive to better each other over themselves, they find that they themselves in turn benefit. A rising tide lifts all boats. They may find that they need to practice patience when helping each other; they may also find that at times they need to be humble. The idea here is to recognize these instances and develop them as the leader of the group or program, so you can continually develop the group dynamic so that it happens on its own. If you are not in a group environment, it is important to recognize these traits as they develop from your experiences. It is not uncommon for people to experience these changes without noticing. They only see the physical results. Some people may feel the need to give up, even after seeing the physical results, but may potentially stay with a program if they see the larger picture. So it’s important to be aware of yourself (the Reflection virtue in Loricism), so you can see things you may not have been able to see before.

The best way to develop the character of others is to develop your own character, set the example, and hold everyone else to higher standards. If an organization establishes a higher standard–a code of conduct–people will be more likely to benefit from your practices.  It will also attract others who are more likely to fit in with the group dynamic. I have noticed this in pretty much every facet of life. The semi-pro football team I play for, the Colorado Raptors, gets a lot of new prospects before each season. The numbers quickly dwindle once people realize the practices are serious. The people who were there to just fuck around and play catch or grab-ass always quit, which ends up being better for the team in the long run. In special operations, this is called self-elimination (quitting). Use the training to build up a tolerance for adversity, and practice not quitting when you want to. Then you will have a harder time quitting when it matters most.

Adversity Changes You

Adversity can be considered anything that tries you as an individual. It can come in the form of a workout or it can come in the form of personal tragedy, a setback, negative thoughts, etc. It is human nature to retreat from discomfort, but the magic happens when you embrace it. Overcoming discomfort is how we grow and discover what we are made of. Progress never happens within our comfort zones. It is actually more work running from discomfort and fear than it is to overcome it. The more adversity you overcome, the easier other adversities are. Thus, you actually enjoy a far more comfortable life than you would by trying to remain comfortable! Take full advantage of adversity. Many people think they know their limits, but the truth is that you cannot know your limit until you actually meet it. What you think is your limit is an illusion. It is your mind’s attempt to keep you comfortable. Your body can go far beyond what your mind tells you is possible, but the paradox is that you must train your mind to overcome itself. Carry on when you think you can’t. Don’t complain when things are difficult, meet your challenges head on. Confront your fears. Move forward. You will find that your fitness will soar to new heights, but your life will also improve drastically.

Make a list of values and character traits and see how you can develop those traits through fitness. You’ll find the answers will surprise you.

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