Four Characteristics to Improve

Human beings are complex, and any effort to improve ourselves has the potential to involve a good deal of that complexity. That’s one reason it’s impossible for me to tell you – individually – exactly where you can best improve your work or your life.

But I can point out four personal characteristics you can consider and try to adjust in order to become a better version of who you are and who you want to be.

These four characteristics are:


Scientists and philosophers devote a lot of attention to the question of “who’s in control.” When you decide to order chocolate instead of vanilla, or watch TV rather than go for a walk, or make a commitment, or do anything else, who exactly is making that choice?

I don’t know. And neither does anyone else.

But that doesn’t mean your life is fully determined by external forces. Some part of you does have a degree of control over what you do, as well as when and how well you do it.

This is where you can make some changes to improve not only your results, but your feelings of satisfaction and success.

You can start by paying attention to your own choices and actions. To what degree are some of them dictated by externals, and to what degree do you initiate or select on the basis of your internal preferences, values, and goals?

The more you pay attention to this factor – degrees of internal or external control over your choices and actions – the more you will come to recognize the differences and appreciate feeling (at least somewhat) in command.

What’ s more, that feeling of self-determination tends to support a “virtuous circle” in which you steadily make more of your own choices, initiate more of your own actions, try harder toward the results you really want, and gain more satisfaction from whatever outcomes you obtain.

In simple terms, taking greater charge of your work and your life feels good, and also pays off in higher levels of satisfaction and success.


Except for a few people who are mentally ill, all of us have emotions. A big difference between healthy individuals, however, is how deeply we feel these emotions and how powerfully they influence what we think, say, and do.

Because emotions are such an intrinsic part of who we are and how we operate, it’s important we not let them run amok. For example, whether we feel angry or happy, anxious or confident, extremes are usually less desirable and more prone to get us into trouble – such as by overreacting – than feelings at a more manageable level.

Fortunately, emotions usually flow from our perception of a situation or event, which creates opportunities for us to rein in our feelings by altering our perception of what’s going on.

For example, if you’re driving and someone nearly involves you in an accident, you might naturally feel extremely angry at that driver’s rude, dangerous, or incompetent behavior. But if you take a moment to consider that person may be in a hurry to reach a loved one who is ill, or may simply be having a bad day, you may begin to feel far less angry.

Learning to recognize and honor your emotions, without letting them run to extremes and push you into problem behavior, is a highly useful skill and character trait you can nearly always improve.


I often write about effectiveness, and I’m doing so again right here. Effectiveness is important because we live in a world of near-continuous developments – both good and bad, both strictly determined and wide open to the influence of how we respond.

By learning to recognize the forces and situations in which we’re operating, to foresee how events might unfold, and to anticipate and respond to these events in particular ways, we can use often our talents, knowledge, resources, and experience to produce more desirable outcomes.

All you need do to improve your effectiveness is pay attention to how well events unfold around you, and the positive or negative influence of your interventions.

There are also specific skills of effectiveness – creativity, persuasion, negotiation, various technical skills, and so forth – that you can beneficially upgrade or add to your repertoire.

This is a personal characteristic we can continually cultivate, because there is no upper limit to effectiveness.


I’m a big fan of self-esteem. It’s possible to feel too good about yourself, of course, but it’s far more common for a person to feel too little self-worth. This creates problems and limits your satisfaction and success because a shortage of self-esteem leads to:

  • Doubts and insecurities about your abilities,  
  • Excessive caution about trying new things,
  • Difficulty forming close relationships,
  • Disparaging comparisons of yourself with others,
  • Feeling little or no control over your life,
  • Allowing others to take advantage of you,

and more.

Psychologists tell us that people living with low self-esteem tend to be unhappy and unfulfilled.

Fortunately, you can boost your self-esteem by:

  • Noticing your negative self-talk, insecurities, and doubts,
  • Thinking less about past difficulties and more about future possibilities,
  • Focusing more attention on traits you like about yourself,
  • Attempting tasks, projects, and goals at which you can succeed,
  • Spending more time with people who treat you positively and less time with people who treat you negatively.

One good thing about self-esteem is that it tends to grow. As you come to feel better about yourself, you’ll find more and more reasons to gain confidence in your abilities, personality, and future potential.

People are even more complex than these four characteristics would indicate, of course. But these are some basic building blocks of a satisfying approach to more successfully managing your work and your life.

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