Absorb the Virtue Technique3 min read

One way to develop any virtue or quality is to find it in others, and then adopt that mode of being. Look for a person who has that virtue, and “absorb” it from him or her. 

The simplest way to do this is to spend time with people who have the virtue you want—friends, family members, colleagues, mentors, or even experts that you connect with online. This is absorbing the virtue by association.

A more powerful technique is identification—connecting your consciousness to the consciousness of that person, as best you can. Choose a person who has the virtue you want, and follow these steps:

  • Step 1: Enter into deep relaxation and mental calmness through meditation.
  • Step 2: Visualize or imagine the person standing in front of you. Feel their presence.
  • Step 3: Think of the quality that you wish to absorb. Contemplate how that person expresses that quality. Contemplate the self-talk, feelings, and physical sensations involved. 
  • Step 4: Still envisioning the person and the quality, pay attention to your breath. With every inhalation, have the attitude that you are absorbing that quality into yourself; with every exhalation, spread that quality throughout your body.
  • Step 5: Forget your separate identify for a few moments and become that quality. Feel what the person feels, think as they think, and see the world as they see it.
  • Step 6: Notice the footprints of that quality inside of you. Take a “mental snapshot” of how it feels in your body, in your emotions, and in your mind. This concludes the meditation.
  • Step 7: During your day, tap into that quality or virtue by remembering the mental snapshot, and recreating those thoughts, feelings, and sensations inside of you. Act as if that is already you. Keep doubts at bay, and just do it.

This technique does require some imagination, open-mindedness, and concentration to make it happen. The more skeptical or analytical you are, the harder it may seem. You need the ability to let go of your identity for a short period of time, and believe your thoughts into reality. You need to “become” somebody else, so that you can see life through their eyes, and “download their superpowers”.  

Practice it for ten minutes every morning for 21 days and notice the difference. After that, you can try another virtue, or keep the practice as-is.

This method can be used for any quality, from any “person”. I can be someone you know, a mythical figure like Apollo, or a movie character like James Bond, Katniss Everdeen, or Yoda. 

It is hard to explain why this works—perhaps it’s a form of quantum entanglement of consciousness, or an expression of mirror-neuros. In practical terms, it doesn’t matter—what matters is that it works.

As a teenager, I sucked at soccer—a hard lot when you live in Brazil. One day, when a soccer game was about to start, I tried a radical experiment. I asked the team captain to pass me the ball as soon as the game started. He hesitated, but then agreed.

At that point, I had imagined that I was a professional soccer player, “possessed” with skill and coordination, no longer myself. I held that mental picture in my mind with full faith. When the game started, the captain passed me the ball, and I ran with it, like an arrow, and scored a goal in under ten seconds. It seemed that the opposing team members just opened space for me, bewildered, as I ran forward with determination.

I successfully repeated this experiment with handball and bowling, and then with social skills. (I must say, it also failed multiple times. It needs patience and perseverance, which I did not possess as a teenager.)

Years later, I found that this technique that I “discovered” has been used in Indian and Tibetan spiritual traditions. The practitioner seeks a mystical connection with a deity to “download” the wisdom, virtues, and powers of that deity. 

Your mind is programmable, and your identity is not fixed. Just as a great actress fully internalizes her character—feeling, thinking, and breathing as the character—you too can internalize the virtues of others and dare to act as they do whenever the situation calls for it. 

Life is like a movie, and you can choose the role you want to play. You don’t need to play the role that you were given. So, who will you choose to be?

This article is a summary of key ideas taken from Chapter 6 of Mindful Self-Discipline. To dive deeper, get the book or audiobook.

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