Virtues Are Narratives

What are virtues, and what do they have to do with self-discipline?

Virtues are positive character traits such as courage, patience, trust, kindness, confidence, focus, serenity, determination, resilience, integrity, etc. They are a foundation for living well, and a key ingredient to greatness. They are more important than goals, for they are transferable skills that you can apply in any journey. They are your psychological assets, your “superpowers”. Indeed, the word “virtue” comes from the latin virtus, meaning force, worth, or power. 

Virtues have been valued by wise people of all cultures since ancient times. The Greek philosophers, Persian Sufis, Indian yogis, Roman emperors, Buddhist monks, and Shamanic leaders all had their list of valued virtues and their means of developing them. The good news is that you can deliberately use self-discipline to develop the virtues you need for your life. 

Every virtue is a way to see the world, feel the world, and navigate the world. Behind every virtue there is a narrative that enables it—a type of self-talk, belief, or mindset. Virtues express, in action, your narratives about yourself and the world.

For example, the narrative of “I care about people and want to do good” powers the virtue of kindness. The narrative of “I will remain calm and centered no matter what happens” powers the virtue of equanimity. The narrative of “I’m scared, but I’m going to do this because it’s important to me” powers the virtue of courage. 

Our narratives are the way we talk to ourselves, inside our minds. They matter a lot, for our life is made of the stories we tell ourselves. These stories can create virtues, or they can create difficulties. These stories forge our character and, with it, our destiny.

Yet most people pay no attention to their narratives. They make no effort to develop empowering narratives, and they just continue repeating and believing the same disempowering old stories as if they were absolute truths. If that is you, in one degree or another, then please don’t worry. Mindful Self-Discipline gives you practical tools to develop more empowering narratives in your life, and the virtues that come with them.

Where do our narratives come from?  We’ve picked up most of them from our parents, friends, TV, and society as we were growing up. Others were developed along the way. Regardless of their origin, they can all be changed. The stories you are telling yourself are habits, not immutable laws. They are beliefs, not absolute truths. That means that if they are either untrue or unhelpful, you can replace them with better narrative—with virtue-creating narratives.

How do you develop a new narrative or self-talk? The same way that you developed the original ones: through belief and repetition. You choose to adopt a new narrative, and then persistently practice it until it becomes your new default. It’s the PAW Method all over again: you slow down automatic thinking (pause), notice the old habitual story coming up again (awareness), and shift to the new one (willpower).

Refer to chapters 17 and 38 of the book to learn more about the PAW Method and the two universal techniques for developing virtues.


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