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5 Ways to Build a Stronger Character (Backed by Studies)


Do you know anyone who has a strong character and isn’t easily shaken when things start to go wrong?

Developing strong character helps you stay true to yourself in any circumstance and makes sure that you can lay your head down at night with a clear conscience. And when you develop a strong character, you will start to feel more like yourself than you ever have before because you know exactly who you are and what you stand for.

In this article, I will help you learn how to flex your “character” muscles and put hours in at the gym of integrity so that you can handle whatever life throws your way.

This article is part of a much bigger guide on learning how to become happy that I’m sure is the biggest freely available guide on the internet. This article contains some great tips, but you’ll find a lot more actionable tips in the section Happiness Tips!

Having a strong character means living with integrity

I used to think the phrase “strong character” was just a generic answer you could list off as a personal strength when being interviewed. I thought there was probably little point to developing my own character beyond just being a kind human being.

But once I hit college I realized that “strong character” is so much more than some spout-off interview answer. Having strong character is the moral compass that helps guide you when challenging situations come your way.

I recall a specific instance where I was given the opportunity to cheat the college system by one of my colleagues. I won’t lie and say it wasn’t tempting because cheating would have required less work and guaranteed the grade that I wanted as a type-A perfectionist.

Had I not developed a personal moral code and character that defined cheating as unethical, I probably would have given in. And in the cohort that had access to this cheating mechanism, only two out of six of us didn’t give in and cheat. This isn’t some fairytale where the other four got caught and punished because they didn’t.

But I know if I had cheated I wouldn’t have been able to sleep at night and I would have been denying myself a real learning opportunity. And moments like this further reinforced my own personal values and sharpened my moral compass.

The benefits of having a strong character

Research shows that the benefits of having a strong character extend far beyond being able to sleep at night.

A study in 2015 found that people who had developed strong character and coping mechanisms were less prone to high stress in the workplace and experienced greater job satisfaction. 

If you aspire to be someone with integrity who can handle all the stressors that come your way, developing a strong character is clearly a worthwhile pursuit.

Having strong character affects those around you

And if having a strong moral compass and less stress don’t motivate you to want to develop your character, then perhaps understanding how your character influences others will.

A study in 2011 found that leaders with high levels of personal integrity and a strong character inspired fewer unethical incidents in the workplace. So I guess the good old phrase “people learn by example” is true after all.

I have experienced this firsthand as someone who works in healthcare. I have been at clinics where the boss bills unethically and does not prioritize patient care. Consequently, the employees follow suit and the clinic is fraught with unethical providers.

On the other hand, if the boss emphasizes patient care and ethical billing, there is an environment in which both patients and providers thrive.

And personally, I know it’s easier to do the right thing when those around me are doing the right thing. It’s just plain old human nature.

So if you feel like your workplace lacks integrity or perhaps your friends don’t always make sound moral decisions, you might want to lead by example and start refining your own character first.

5 ways to build strong character

Let’s start building up your “character muscles” with these 5 tips that you can start implementing any time, anywhere!

1. Give your best no matter what

We all grew up hearing phrases like “give it your best” or “try your hardest”. And as cliché as they are, there is a lot of valuable truth in these simple words.

If you’re like me, you can tell when you’re not giving it your all. And sometimes this lack of effort spirals into all areas of your life. As a result, you may start giving “half effort” to your health, your work, your relationships, and the list goes on.

The simple antidote to spiraling out of control and losing your sense of character is to “give it your best”. And then even when I fall short, I can genuinely say I gave it my all and learn from the experience.

And this includes giving it your best even when you don’t feel like it. Because those are the moments where your character truly gets formed.

2. Be intentional about who you surround yourself with

Remember earlier when I said that it’s easier to do the right thing when other people are doing the right thing? This is exactly why you need to be intentional about who you hang out with if you’re serious about refining your personal character.

I used to have a group of friends who prioritized going out for drinks every Friday night. Now I’m not anti-having a good time, trust me. But every time someone would inevitably get a little sloppy and say something or act in a way that was unacceptable.

I hung around this group long enough that I started to think it was okay to behave this way. It wasn’t until I had my husband come along one time that I realized what was happening. 

He said, “You realize that what you’re saying and doing is so out of character from who you are.”

His words shook me up and I was finally able to wake up to how those interactions were shaping me as a person.

These days, I’m more selective about who I spend my time with because I know that their behavior will, directly and indirectly, shape my character.

3. Stop making excuses

I feel like I’m on a roll with these poster phrases that made up all of our childhoods. But once again, the phrase “stop making excuses” is pivotal for helping shape your character.

I personally love to sleep. If you told me I could come back as a sloth that gets to sleep 16 hours every day I would jump at the opportunity.

And I used my love of sleep as an excuse for why I couldn’t get things done. For years I was “too tired” to work out or would avoid going the extra mile because I wanted to make sure I got at least 9 hours of sleep.

But once again, that pesky husband of mine called me out on all my excuses for not being my best self. I was using fatigue or lack of sleep as an excuse one day and he told me, “Ashley, there is always enough time in the day to get done what you want to get done.”

What a zinger! But at the root of the issue were my priorities and my laziness. I was using excuses that stopped me from developing the character and discipline that I needed to truly achieve my goals.

4. Speak up when it comes to your beliefs

It’s great to know what you believe in, but it’s not worth much if you don’t stand up for those beliefs when it’s not the popular opinion. Part of having a strong character is standing up for yourself no matter what others think.

I have a group of friends who no matter what we’re doing love to discuss controversial topics. And while I’m all for these types of discussions when we behave like adults, they often result in at least one person getting offended.

And because I knew this and I like all the friends in this group, I used to just nod my head even when I didn’t agree with what was being said. I came to the realization one day as we were discussing a particularly sensitive topic that I wasn’t going to just play the spectator when it came to my beliefs anymore.

I said something and a few of the friends were quick to disagree and get moody. But at the end of it all, we were still friends and it helped instill my personal values further by actually advocating for what I believe to be best for me.

5. Prioritize honesty

You might be thinking to yourself, “Duh captain obvious!” But being honest is honestly a rare quality. 

And I don’t mean just being honest with others, although that’s a great place to start. In order to have a strong character, you need to be honest with yourself.

Being honest with yourself looks like staying true to who you are and not settling for less than what you know you are capable of in this adventure called life. And I think this is where most of us fall short.

We lie to ourselves about what we are capable of and give in to lesser versions of our best selves. But being a person of strong character means persevering and committing to being the kind of person who you would be inspired by.

Wrapping up

Having strong biceps is great, but having strong character is better. Using the five tips from this article, you can start to develop a strong character that is able to sustain you when life gets heavy. And with a refined and strong character, you may just find you are able to craft an “inner physique” that makes you proud.

Do you think of yourself as a person with a strong character? Or do you want to share another tip with our readers? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

Ashley Bunting portrait

Ashley Kaiser

Writer

Physical therapist, writer, and outdoor enthusiast from Arizona. Self-proclaimed dark chocolate addict and full-time adrenaline junkie. Obsessed with my dog and depending on the day my husband, too.


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