We can sum up the “sixth commandment” of solid character in two words: “Be mindful.” Now, from a psychological perspective, mindfulness is not synonymous with the various practices that promote it. Meditative techniques, attention-enhancing exercises, breathing and relaxation techniques, etc. can all foster mindfulness. But mindfulness as a character quality is more than a particular practice. It’s a state of being and a way of living. Being mindful is about keeping ourselves maximally aware. It’s being attentive to our inner world and the world around and the impact of our choices on both those worlds.
Being more mindful does not come naturally to most. Most of us are creatures of habit. Something happens and we respond. And too many times we respond instinctively, without much thinking. That’s what so often gets us into trouble. We act, and if we’re conscientious at all, ponder the consequences later. Sometimes we even have regret for the way we responded. But that’s usually not enough to keep us from making the same mistake again. As anyone knows, our habits can be very hard to break. And cultivating the mindfulness necessary to lead a less habit-driven life takes practice.
Character Disturbance and Mindfulness
Disturbed characters are the way they are largely because they failed to develop sufficient mindfulness. I’ve mentioned before that all the “commandments” of character work together. So, a person who failed to master and embrace the other crucial life lessons will naturally have trouble being mindful. (See the prior articles on this topic.) Disturbed characters are overly focused on their immediate wants. They also harbor a sense of entitlement. Their narcissism impairs their ability (and willingness) to be mindful.
When I work with persons of deficient character, we focus heavily on becoming more mindful. To get there, however, we have to first focus on the many learning failures that impaired their mindfulness in the first place. That means cultivating more empathy, outgrowing attitudes of entitlement, etc..Mindfulness is incompatible with narcissism.
The Benefits of Mindfulness
Even folks who are not significantly character-impaired can benefit from becoming more mindful. Many of the toxic relationship survivors I’ve worked with testify to this. If they’d only paid more attention to their gut feelings and the behaviors in their partners that unnerved them, they might not have been taken in. I’ll be talking more about mindfulness and how to achieve better awareness in the coming articles.
You can read more about the “commandments” of character in my book Character Disturbance. And I’ll have more information in the coming weeks about the release of my next book on the topic.
Character Matters will be a live broadcast this coming Sunday at 7 pm EDT, so I can take your calls.
Search the blog for many related topics on character disturbance. You’ll find many timely tips for understanding and dealing with the problem characters in your life. And check out my other books as well.
Next week I’ll be doing workshops in Pittsburgh, PA and Canton and Cleveland, OH. All are welcome