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Inner Strength For Life The 12 Master

By Giovanni Be the first to comment!personal growth

Our journey of growth in life can be described as a journey of developing both insights
and also virtues/qualities. This article maps out what are the main qualities to develop,
and what particular strengths or gifts are gained from each of them.

For some, the word virtue may have a bit of a Victorian puritanism associated with it.
This is not my understanding of it, nor is this the spirit of this post. Rather, a virtue is a
personal asset, a shield to protect us from difficulty, trouble, and suffering. Each virtue
is a special sort of power that enables us to experience a level of well-being that we
wouldnt be able to access otherwise.

Your virtues are your psychological wealth.

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Lets take the virtue of equanimity as an example. Developing equanimity protects us

from suffering through the ups and downs of life, and saves us from the pain of being
criticized, wronged, or left behind. It unlocks a new level of well-being: the emotional
stability of knowing we will always be ok.

The same is true for every virtue discussed in this writing.

Developing virtues is not about being better than others, but about developing the
potential of our own heart and mind. The philosophers of ancient Greece, Buddha, the
Yogis, and the Positive Psychology movement all value the cultivation of certain
personal qualities. In this essay I attempt to systematize these core strengths into 12
buckets, as many of them share common features.

Each of these virtues, rather than being an inborn personal trait, are habits and states of
mind that can be consciously cultivated using a systematic approach.
There are many books written about each of these virtues. In this post I can only cover a
brief introduction of each, and suggest some further reading. Finally, I have separated
them into virtues of mind and heart only for the sake of exposition in truth there is
great overlap between both.

Let us begin by talking about the need to develop virtues holistically.

Page Contents [hide]

Balanced Self-Development
Virtues of Mind
o Courage
o Tranquility
o Diligence
o Focus
o Equanimity
o Humility
o Integrity
o Wisdom
Virtues of Heart
o Trust
o Joy
o Detachment
o Kindness
Parting Thoughts

Balanced Self-Development

We all have certain personal qualities more naturally developed than the others. And our
tendency is often to double-down on the virtues that we already have, rather than
developing complementary virtues. For instance, people who are good at self-
discipline may focus on getting even better at that, and overlook the need to develop the
opposing virtue of flexibility.

There is no doubt that we need to play our strengths. But when we focus solely on our
strengths and use them to overcompensate our weaknesses, the result is often not good.
We can become victims of our own blessings.

Lets take the case of a person whose natural strength is compassion and kindness. In
certain relationships this might be abused by other people (directly or indirectly).
Dealing with this situation by becoming kinder would not be wise. Instead, the opposing
virtue of self-assertiveness (the courage of setting boundaries), is to be exercised.

Here are some other examples of virtues that are incomplete (and potentially harmful) in

Tranquility without joy and energy is stale;

Detachment and equanimity without love can be cold;
Trust without wisdom can be blind;
Morality without humility can be self-righteous;
Love without wisdom can cause harm to oneself;
Focus and courage without love and wisdom is just blind power.

It took me years to get to this precious insight and Ill probably need a lifetime to

learn how to implement it.

Funnily enough, afterwards I discovered that this was already a concept praised by the
Stoics. In Stoicism, it is called anacoluthia, the mutual entailment of virtues.

The point is: we need to focus on our strengths, but we also need to pay attention to the
virtues we lack the most. Any development in these areas, however small, has the
potential to be life changing.

Have a look at your current strengths. What complementary virtues might you be

Virtues of Mind

Life shrinks or expands in proportion to ones courage. Anais Nin

Related qualities: boldness, fearlessness, decisiveness, leadership, assertiveness,

confidence, magnanimity.

Courage says: The consequences of this action might be painful for me, but its the
right thing to do. Ill do it.
Courage is the ability to hold on to the feeling I need to do this, ignore the fear
mongering thoughts, and take action. For a few, it is the absence of fear; for most, its
the willingness to act despite fear.

Examples: It takes courage to expose yourself, to try something new, to change

directions, to take a risk, to let go of an attachment, to say I was wrong, to have a
difficult conversation, to trust yourself. Its manifestations are many, both in small and
big things in life.

Without courage we feel powerless. Because we know what we want to do, or what we
need to do, but we lack the boldness to take action. We default to the easy way out, the
path of least resistance. It might feel comfortable now, but in the long term it doesnt
make us happy.

Recommended book: Daring Greatly (Bren Brown)


The more tranquil a man becomes, the greater his success, his influence, his power for
good. Calmness of mind is one of the beautiful jewels of wisdom. James Allen

Related qualities: serenity, calmness, non-reactivity, gentleness, peace, acceptance.

Tranquility says: There is no need to stress. All is well.

Tranquility involves keeping your mind and heart calm, like the oceans depth. You
take your time to perceive whats going on and act purposefully, without agitation,
without hurry, and without overreacting. On a deeper level, it means to diminish
rumination, worries, and useless thinking.

Examples: Taking a deep breath before answering an email or phone call, or before
responding to the hurtful behavior of someone else. Being ok with the fact that things
are often not going to go as we expect. Not brooding about the past or worrying too
much about the future. Shunning busyness in favor of a more purposeful living. Not
living in fight-or-flight mode.

Without tranquility we expend more energy than whats really needed. We experience
a constant feeling of stress, anxiety, or agitation in the back of our minds. And
sometimes we may be fooling ourselves thinking we are being active or productive.

Recommended book: The Path to Tranquility (Dalai Lama)


Success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm. -Winston


Related qualities: energy, enthusiasm, passion, vitality, zeal, perseverance, willpower,

determination, discipline, self-control, resolution, mindfulness, steadfastness, tenacity,
Diligence says: I am committed to this work / habit / path. I will continue it no matter
what, even in the face of challenges, discouragement, and tiredness.

Some may say that it is the most essential virtue for success in any field career, art,
sports or business. It is about making a decision once, in something that is good for you,
and then keeping it up despite adversities and mood fluctuations.

Examples: Deciding to stop smoking and never again lighting acigarette. Deciding that
I will meditate every day and keeping that up, like a perfect habit chain. Showing up to
train / study / work in your passion project day after day, regardless of how you feel.
Always getting up as soon as you fall. Having an unbreakable, almost stubborn,
determination. Treating challenges like energy bars.

Without diligence we cant accomplish anything meaningful. We cant properly take

care of our health, finances, mind, or relationships. We give up on everything too soon.
We cant create good habits, break bad habits, or manifest the things we want in our
lives. We are a victim of circumstances, social/familial conditioning, and genetics.

Recommended books: The Willpower Instinct (Kelly McGonigal), Grit (Angela

Duckworth), Power of Habit (Charles Duhhig)


The powers of the mind are like the rays of the sun when they are concentrated they
illumine. Swami Vivekananda

Related qualities: concentration, one-pointedness, depth, contemplation, essentialism,

meditation, orderliness.

Focus says: I will ignore distractions, ignore the thousand different trivial things, and
put all my energy in the most important thing. I will keep going deeper into what really
matters. I can tame my own mind.

Focus, the ability to control your attention, is the core skill of meditation. It involves
bringing your mind, moment after moment, to dwell where you want it to dwell, rather
than being pulled by the gravity of all the noise going on inside and outside of you.

Examples: Bringing your mind again and again to your breathing or mantra, during
meditation. Cutting down on social media, TV and gossip. Learning to say no to 90%
of good opportunities, so you can say yes to the 10% of great opportunities. Staying on
your chosen path and not chasing the next shiny thing.

Without focus our energy is dissipated and our progress in any field is limited (like
moving one mile in ten directions, rather than ten miles in a single direction).

Recommended book: Essentialism (Greg McKeown)

Happy is the man who can endure the highest and lowest fortune. He who has endured
such vicissitudes with equanimity has deprived misfortune of its power. Seneca the

Related qualities: balance, temperance, patience, forbearance, tolerance, acceptance,

resilience, fortitude.

Equanimity says: In highs and lows, victory and defeat, pleasure and pain, gain or
loss I keep evenness of temper. Nothing can mess me up.

It is the ability to accept the present moment without emotional reaction, without
agitation. Its being unfuckwithable , imperturbable.

Examples: Not going into despair when we miss an opportunity, or lose some money.
Not feeling elated when praised, or discouraged when criticized. Not taking offense
from other people. Not indulging in emotional reactions to gain or loss, whatever shape
they take. Being modest in success, and gracious in defeat.

Without equanimity, life is an emotional roller-coaster. We are attached to the highs,

which bringa pain because they are short-lived. And we are uncomfortable (perhaps
even fearful) with the lows which also brings pain, because they cant be fully

Recommended book: Letters from a Stoic (Seneca), Dhammapada (Buddha)


A great man is always willing to be little. Ralph Waldo Emerson

Related qualities: modesty, humbleness, discretion, egolessness, lack of conceit,

simplicity, prudence, respect.

Humility says: There are many things that I dont know. Every person I meet is my
teacher in something.

Humility is letting go of the desire to feel superior to other people, either by means of
wealth, fame, intelligence, beauty, titles, or influence. Its about not comparing yourself
with others, to be either superior or inferior. In the words of C.S. Lewis, True humility is
not about thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less. In the deepest sense,
humility is about transcending the ego.

This virtue is especially needed for overachievers and successful people.

Examples: Accepting your own mistakes. Learning to see virtue and good in others.
Not dwelling on vanity and feelings of inflated self-importance. Being genuinely happy
with other peoples successes. Accepting the uncertainty of life, and how small we are.

Without humility, we live stuck in an ego trap which prevents us from growing beyond
the confines of our self-interests, and also poisons our relationships.
Recommended books: Ego is the Enemy (Ryan Holiday), Humility: An Unlikely
Biography of Americas Greatest Virtue


Always do what is right. It will gratify half of mankind and astound the other. Mark

Related qualities: character, justice, honor, truthfulness, sincerity, honesty,

responsibility, reliability, morality, righteousness, ethics, idealism, loyalty, dignity.

Integrity says: I will do what is right, according to my conscience, even if nobody is

looking. I will choose thoughts and words based on my values, not on personal gains. I
will be radically honest and authentic, with myself and others.

Like many virtues, integrity is about choosing what is best, rather than what is easy. It
invites us to resist instant gratification in favor of a higher type of satisfaction that of
doing the right thing. Its not about being moralistic, but about being congruent to our
own conscience and values, in all our actions.

Examples: Refusing to distort the truth in order to gain personal benefits. Sticking to
our words. Acting as though all our real intentions were publicly visible by others.
Letting go of the but I can get away with it thinking. Not promising what you know
you cannot fulfill.

Without integrity, we are not perceived as trustable or genuine. We make decisions

that favor a short term gain but are likely to bring disastrous consequences in the long

Recommended books: Lying (Sam Harris), Yoga Morality (Georg Feuerstein)


Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom Aristotle

Related qualities: intelligence, discernment, insight, understanding, knowledge,

transcendence, perspective, discrimination, contemplation, investigation, clarity, vision.

Wisdom says: Let me contemplate deeply on this. Let me understand it from the
inside out. Let me know myself.

Unlike the other virtues listed so far, wisdom it is not something that you can directly
practice. Rather, it is the result of contemplation, introspection, study, and experience. It
unveils the other virtues, informs them, and makes their practice easier. It points out the
truth behind the surface, and the connection among things.

Without wisdom, we dont really know what we are doing. Life is small, often
confusing, and there might be a sense of purposelessness.
Recommended books: This depends on your taste for traditional and philosophy. Here is
my list.

Virtues of Heart

You have to trust in something your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. Steve

Related qualities: optimism, faith, openness, devotion, hope.

Trust says: There is something larger than me. Life flows better when I trust resources
larger than my own, and when I see purpose in random events.

Trust is not a whimsical expectation that things will happen according to your
preference; but rather a faith that things will happen in favor of your greater good. As
Tony Robbins says, it is the attitude that life is happening for you, not to you.

Examples: Not dwelling on negative interpretations of what has happened in your life.
Trusting that there is something good to be learned or gained from any situation. Having
the feeling that if you keep true to your path, things will eventually work out ok.

Without trust, life can feel lonely, scary, or unfair. You are on your own, in the midst
of random events, in a cold and careless universe.

Recommended book: Radical Acceptance (Tara Brach)


Remain cheerful, for nothing destructivecan piece through the solid wall of
cheefulness. Sri Chinmoy

Related qualities: contentment, cheerfulness, satisfaction, gratitude, humor,


Joy says: I am cheerful, content, happy, and grateful. There is always something good
in anything that happens. I feel well in my own skin, without depending on anything

The disposition for joy is something that can be consciously cultivated. It is often the
result of good vitality in the body, peace of mind, and an attitude of appreciation. It is
also a natural consequence of a deep meditation practice, and the letting go of clinging.

Examples: Feeling good as a result of the positive states you have cultivated in your
body (health), mind (peace), and heart (gratitude).

Without joy we are unhappy, cranky, gloomy, pessimistic, bored, neurotic.

Recommended books: The How of Happiness (Sonja Lyubomirsky), The Book of Joy
(Dalai Lama et ali)


The tighter you squeeze, the less you have. Zen Saying

Related qualities: dispassion, non-attachment, forgiveness, letting go, moderation,

flexibility, frugality.

Detachment says: I interact with things, I experience things, but I do not own them.
Everything passes. I can let them be, and let them go.

Letting go is the most essential skill for overcoming suffering. It doesnt mean that we
live life less intensely; rather, we do what we are called to do with zest, and then we
step back and watch what happens, without anxiety. It doesnt mean we dont love,
play, work, or seek with intensity; but rather that we are detached from the results,
knowing that we have full control only over the effort we make.

At the deepest level, detachment is a disillusionment with external desires and goals,
and there is the realization that the only reliable source of happiness is internal. It also
involves not holding onto any particular state.

Examples: Not being anxious about what the future brings. Letting go when things
need to go. Opening the hand of your mind and allowing things to flow as they will.
Having the feeling of not needing anything.

Without detachment, we suffer loss again and again. We can be manipulated. The
mind is an open field for worries, fear, and insecurity.

Recommended books: Letting Go (David R. Hawkins), Everything Arises, Everything

Falls Away (Ajahn Chah)


The more you lose yourself in something bigger than yourself, the more energy you
will have. Norman Vincent Peale

Related qualities: love, compassion, friendliness, service, generosity, sacrifice,

selflessness, cooperation, nonviolence, consideration, tact, sensitivity.

Kindness says: I feel others as myself, and take pleasure in doing good for them, in
giving and serving. I wish everyone well. The well-being of others is my well-being.

Kindness and related virtues (love, compassion, consideration) is the core social
virtue. It invites us to expand our sense of well-being to include others as well. It gives
us the ability to put ourselves in another persons shoes, and feel what they feel as if it is
happening to us, and if appropriate do something about it. The result is the experience
of the helpers high, a mix of dopamine and oxytocin.
At its most basic level, this virtue tell us to do unto others as you would have them do
unto you. At the deepest level, it says We are all one.

Examples: Offering a word of encouragement or advice. Listening without judgment.

Helping someone in need, directly or indirectly. Teaching. Assuming the best in others.
Volunteering. Doing something for someone who can never repay you.

Without kindness, we cannot build any true human connection, and we fail to
experience a happiness that is larger than ourself.

Recommended books: The Power of Kindness (Pierro Ferrucci), Awakening Loving-

Kindness (Pema Chodron)

Parting Thoughts

Developing these virtues is a life-long process. Well probably never be perfect at them.
But the more we cultivate them, the better our life becomes. And, chances are, simply
reading about these virtues has already enlivened them in you.

One simple way of cultivating these virtues is to focus on a single virtue each week (or
month), and look daily for opportunities to put that chosen quality into practice. Keep
asking yourself throughout the day, What does it mean to be [virtue]?

Im considering to creating a 6-month online study program to develop these virtues.

Would you be interested in joining such a program? If so, let me know by answering a
couple of questions in the survey below.