800 Character Traits: The Ultimate List (+ How to Develop a Good Character Step-by-Step)
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Character Traits 101: The Ultimate Guide
So you want to become a better person by building good character traits? Perhaps, you’d like to be more “kind,” “loving” or “generous.” Or, you look up to the heroes you admire and wish you had their “discipline,” “patience” or “grit.”
At this point, the sceptics may say: “But that’s impossible!” or “I was just born this way.” The good news is they don’t know what they’re on about.
Changing your character is not only doable, but also simple. That doesn’t mean the path is quick or easy. It takes sacrifice, persistence and effort.
But the rewards are well worth it.
Because here’s the thing: the only difference between you and your heroes is character. When you reforge your nature, you’ll find their footsteps easier to follow.
But where does this journey begin? What should you take with you? And whom?
By the end of this article, you’ll have answers to all those questions. You’ll also have:
- A list of 800 character traits to inspre you;
- A set of free value tracking templates to support you; and
- A foolproof five-step process to help you develop a good character.
Let’s get started!
What Are Character Traits?
One way to better understand character traits is to define three closely related ideals: core values, personality traits and character traits.
Though often used interchangeably, these terms have distinct definitions:
- Core values (a.k.a personal values) are theoretical ideals of thought, word or deed;
- Personality traits describe one’s public, external behaviour; and
- Character traits describe one’s private, internal compass.
The main focus of this guide is building good character traits. To understand why it’s a priority, let’s dive deeper.
Core Values vs. Personality and Character Traits
I don’t talk much about core values with my clients. Here’s why:
- Values describe ideas;
- Traits describe actions; and
- Actions speak louder than abstract ideas.
Anyone can claim or aspire to “tolerance” or “equality.” But it’s not until those values are expressed through actions that they become traits. And it’s not until they become traits that they impact you and the people around.
When you focus on values, there’s a tendency to talk a lot, then “set and forget.” You decide to be “kind,” “generous” and “loving.” You may even write those words down. But until you change how you act them out when it matters, core values are no more than ideas.
That’s why here, we focus on character traits. Obsessing over values is like getting distracted by the half-way line when your gaze should be fixed on the end-zone.
Personality Traits vs. Character Traits
The second important distinction is between personality traits and character traits.
We all know people whose appearances don’t always match their “true colours.” Who care more about being seen as “modest,” “selfless” or “thoughtful” than about being those things. Who put on good acts but betray their heart under pressure.
This is the essential division between personality traits and character traits. Personality traits describe what you do, character traits describe who you are.
When the stakes are high or your ability to pretend is low, the character always wins.
Character Traits Definition
That’s why I focus on character traits. I’m not here to teach you to say pretty words or become a good actor. The goal is to help you redefine the core of your being.
Core values are theoretical ideas, positive personality traits can be simulated but positive character traits go right to the heart of us. They’re deep-seated, long-term patterns of action, reaction and compromise that become hard to fake when we’re stressed out or tired.
List of Positive Character Traits: 99 Examples and Definitions
Another great way to understand traits is with a lot of examples.
To that end, I’ve compiled a long list of good character traits from diverse sources: Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations (Summary), Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (Summary), religious texts and even handbooks for aspiring samurai and chivalric knights.
This list isn’t exhaustive – you can download a longer one above. But what you’ll find below is a comprehensive collection of 99 common good traits and personal attributes from high-quality sources. I’ve also supplemented them with definitions, based mostly on the Oxford English Dictionary.
Don’t let this list overwhelm you. Skim through it, let it soak and feel free to make note of any traits that particularly inspire you. When you’re done, we’ll cover a practical step-by-step process to build them into your life.
Here’s the list of character traits:
- Active – Alert, lively and ready to engage energetically. 🏃♂️
- Adaptive – Willing to change in response to circumstances.
- Affability – Friendly, good-natured or easy to talk to.
- Affectionate – Showing fondness or tenderness.
- Alert – Clear-thinking and intellectually active.
- Ambitious – Having desire and determination to achieve success. 💯
- Attentive – Showing careful attention to the comfort or wishes of others.
- Austere – Disowning comforts or luxuries.
- Balanced – Enjoying harmony and stability. ⚖️
- Benevolent – Being well-meaning.
- Careful – Prudent and showing thought or attention.
- Characterful – Showing strength and originality in one’s nature.
- Charitable – Kind and tolerant in judging others.
- Creative – Showing inventiveness and use of imagination. 🖊️
- Compassionate – Showing sympathy and concern for others.
- Confident – Certain in one’s worth, abilities and qualities.
- Considerate – Showing careful thought not to inconvenience or harm others.
- Cooperative – Complying readily with requests to achieve mutual ends.
- Courageous – Able to do things that one fears.
- Curious – Showing a strong desire to know or learn new things.
- Dependable – Being trustworthy and reliable.
- Determined – Showing firmness of purpose. 💪
- Diligent – Working carefully and persistently.
- Disciplined – Doing what one knows they should do (even if they don’t feel like it).
- Dispassionate – Remaining rational and impartial.
- Dutiful – Conscientiously or obediently fulfilling one’s duty.
- Encouraging – Giving others support, confidence or hope.
- Energetic – Showing or involving great activity or vitality. 🔥
- Enthusiastic – Showing intense and eager enjoyment, interest or approval.
- Excellent – Being outstanding or extremely good. 👌
- Faithful – Remaining loyal and steadfast.
- Flexible – Ready and able to adapt to different circumstances.
- Forgiving – Feeling no anger or resentment to offences or mistakes.
- Friendly – Being favourable and serviceable to others.
- Frugal – Sparing or economical with money or food.
- Generous – Ready to give more than necessary or expected.
- Gritty – Showing courage, resolve and strength of character.
- Hard-working – Working with energy and commitment. 👷
- Harmonious – Being free from disagreement or dissent.
- Honest – Free of deceit; truthful and sincere.
- Honourable – Knowing and doing what is morally right.
- Hopeful – Feeling or inspiring optimism about a future event.
- Humble– Having a modest or low view of one’s importance.
- Independent – Thinking and acting for oneself.
- Industrious – Diligent and hard-working.
- Integrous – Honest and of strong moral principles.
- Initiative – Assessing things and taking action independently.
- Just – Behaving according to what is morally right and fair.
- Kind – Being friendly, generous, and considerate.
- Liberal – Respecting behaviour and opinions different from one’s own.
- Listening – Take notice of and make an effort to hear others. 👂
- Lively – Full of life and energy; active and outgoing.
- Logical – Acting based on clear, sound reasoning.
- Loving – Feeling and showing deep, selfless affection for others.
- Loyal – Showing firm and constant support or allegiance.
- Merciful – Showing compassion or forgiveness to those who harmed one.
- Methodical – Orderly and systematic in thought or behaviour.
- Mindful – Conscious and aware of the present moment.
- Moderate – Avoiding excess or extremes.
- Modest – Unassuming in the estimation of one’s abilities.
- Neat – Tidy, smart, or well-organized.
- Open-minded – Accepting of and receptive to change or new ideas.
- Orderly – Neat and methodical. 📁
- Organised – Structured, systematic and planning effectively.
- Passionate – Having, showing, or driven by strong feelings or beliefs.
- Patient – Waiting without getting tired of waiting.
- Persistent – Continuing firmly despite difficulty or opposition.
- Polite – Acting respectfully and considerately.
- Pragmatic – Acting sensibly, realistically and practically.
- Prudent – Showing care and thought for the future.
- Punctual – Doing things at agreed or proper times.
- Purposeful – Showing determination or resolve.
- Quality – Showing general excellence of standard or level.
- Rational – Thinking and acting in accordance with reason or logic. 🤔
- Reasonable – Having sound judgement; fair and sensible.
- Reliable – Consistently good in quality or performance.
- Resolute – Admirably purposeful, determined, and unwavering.
- Respectful – Showing regard for the feelings, wishes or rights of others.
- Righteous – Acting according to what is morally correct.
- Self-disciplined – Doing what one knows they should do (even if they don’t feel like it).
- Self-controlled – Managing emotions and desires well in difficult situations.
- Self-mastery – Knowing one’s traits and predispositions and managing them effectively.
- Silent – More prone to listen than to speak.
- Sincere – Free from pretence or deceit.
- Simple – Presenting no difficulty to others.
- Stable – Unchanging; not easily upset or disturbed.
- Steadfast – Resolutely or dutifully firm and unwavering.
- Strong – Not easily disturbed, upset, or affected.
- Supportive – Providing encouragement or emotional help to others.
- Temperate – Showing moderation and self-restraint.
- Thrifty – Using resources carefully and not wastefully.
- Tidy – Neat, orderly and controlled.
- Truthful – Telling or expressing the truth; honest.
- Trustworthy – Able to be relied on as honest or truthful. 🤝
- Unselfish – Putting the needs or wishes of others before one’s own.
- Valiant – Possessing or showing courage or determination.
- Vital – Being strong, active and energetic.
- Warm – Showing enthusiasm, affection, or kindness.
- Wise – Showing experience, knowledge, and good judgement.
(You can send yourself a huge list of 800 positive, neutral and negative character traits (though without definitions) by using the form at the top of this post. And if you’re here because you’re a writer, you might enjoy this awesome post on how to find freelance writing jobs from my buddy Kevin while you’re at it!)
How to Embody Good Character Traits
The secret to developing good character traits is realising that each trait is a constellation of deep-seated habits.
For example, “modesty” describes many small routines of thought, word and deed which create patterns of behaviour that are consistent with our idea of “modest.”
But here’s the challenge. Because unlike big habits, the “building blocks” of character traits are hard to pick out and isolate.
What are “tolerance,” “curiosity” or “acceptance”? Defining the sums by their parts is a challenging task. And, even if we could identidy those thousands of sub-habits, they’d be too many to work on.
That’s why the approach to character traits must be slightly different from how we build habits.
From Input to Output-Based Tracking
What we need is a system similar to habit hacking but more output-focussed. This system measures the results of our actions, rather than whether or not they took place.
The solution (first described in Benjamin Franklin’s excellent Autobiography) is to flip habit tracking on its head. Instead of tracking habits (input) to change your behaviours (output), you’ll track behaviours (output) to alter your habits (input).
Specifically, you’re going to track every behaviour that fails to align with your desired character trait.
5 Steps to Hacking Your Character Traits
If this explanation sounds overwhelming, the good news is that it’s time to get practical. Building new traits into your character is incredibly simple and has five foolproof steps:
- Step 1: Identify Character Traits That Inspire You
- Step 2: Prioritise ONE Trait at a Time
- Step 3: Set Your Trait Up for Success
- Step 4: Make Your Character Trait a Habit
- Step 5: Repeat the Trait Building Process
Let’s look at each step in more detail.
Step 1: Identify Good Character Traits That Inspire You
The first step in our process is to identify a handful of positive characteristics that inspire you.
Building character traits is a long journey. Starting with those that excite you (rather than those you think you should work on) will make you more likely to succeed.
There are two main ways to tackle this: the long list approach or the hero approach.
- For the long list approach – re-read the list of good character traits above and note any traits that jump at you. Don’t overthink it. You should easily find 10 or more ideas in a few minutes.
- For the hero approach – make a list of the people that inspire you the most. Dead or alive, fact or fiction, all choices are good. When that’s done, reflect on the two or three traits you most look up to in each of those people.
Both approaches work well, though one big advantage of the hero approach is that it unlocks something I call “hero-based thinking.”
Picturing your hero and thinking about what they’d do in a given situation makes the whole process more fun and inspiring. Many decisions and trade-offs become easier to make.
Step 2: Prioritise ONE Trait at a Time
Although the process of developing character traits is simple, it can also be challenging. Taking on too many traits at once may hold you back from changing anything. The solution is to start with one, then add more as you go.
To pick the ONE character trait you should start with, look at your shortlist and ask:
“Which of these traits would most transform my life if I embodied it?”
Narrow your selection to a few candidates, then pick ONE to get started with.
A big part of you is going to want to tackle three, four or five values at once. My recommendation is to strongly resist that temptation.
You can think of it this way. If you could embody even ONE trait like “discipline” or “kindness,” there’s a good chance you’d change beyond recognition. Why let impatience put that opportunity at risk?
Start with one trait to maximize your odds of succeeding. You can always come back for more later.
Step 3: Set Your Trait Up for Success
Loners don’t last long in the wild. That’s why we all have an insatiable drive to “fit in.” It’s also why the strongest influence on your actions is the behaviour of the people you hang out with.
No matter how driven you are to change, you’ll struggle if you surround yourself with lazy people. Each time you start making progress, your subconscious will try to drag you back in line with the group.
Conversely, it’s hard not to be more “disciplined,” “curious” or “grateful” if the people you meet each day have those traits. Rather than becoming an outsider, you’ll naturally take action to fit in with their characters.
The upshot is this: If you don’t have the character trait you want, there’s a good chance the people around you don’t have it either. But if you want to develop it, you must do whatever it takes to alter that equation.
Change the area you live in, the job you work, the books you read, the places you hang out or the hobbies you enjoy. Look for ways to spend time with people you’d happily trade places with. Do it offline, do it online. Do it one, three, then five days a week.
Just do it.
Set yourself up for success and you’ll surf right into the beach.
Fight the current and you’re in for a long, tiring swim.
Step 4: Make Your Trait a Habit.
As with habit hacking, one of the most powerful ways to develop a character trait is to track it. This creates the focus, clarity and accountability you need to see lasting change.
But assessing whether or not you were “loving” today is tricky. Even if you could do it, that’d mean an overwhelming number of ✘s in your tracker before you could say you developed a trait. These ✘s would cover up the genuinely helpful details of your progress.
Would it make more sense to track the individual instances of being “just” or “loyal” as a way to measure your growth? Not necessarily.
The catch here is this. Even if you counted 50 instances of “loyalty” today, you could overlook the 100 instances of “unloyalty” that also took place.
To keep things simple, it’s more helpful to count the negative instances of a character trait, instead of positives. That way, you can be sure that you avoid being the person you don’t want to be.
The practical solution is this: Every evening, review the day and take note of each time you failed to live up to a trait. To remember it better, you can use time tracking to help jog your memory.
As you string more and more days together, your tracker will look something like this:
Over time, you’ll start spotting trends in your actions. Without thinking about it, you’ll naturally make interventions to improve your behaviour. You’ll also get a much better idea of what the character trait in question really means to you.
One last word of advice: Remember that when tackling a character trait, you’re not changing one habit. You’re changing thousands of them. What’s more, the habits that are critical to your trait may also be the most deep-seated and unconscious ones. Rooting them out will take time.
That’s why you need to be patient with yourself and keep at it. In due time, you won’t be able to recognise the person you once were.
Step 5: Repeat the Process.
Once you’ve got a good hold on one character trait (or, if your priorities shift to another area of your life), feel free to start working on the next.
If you’re using the values tracker in the TRACKTION Planner or FREE productivity templates, shift your existing traits one space to the right and begin tracking your new trait in the furthest-left column.
Over time, you may grow your list of traits to as many as five active targets at once. Some of them may take months, or even years, to develop.
If you get overwhelmed, don’t be afraid to cut back down to one character trait. And don’t worry if it takes long to make progress.
Though the process is simple, changing your character isn’t easy. But the rewards when you get there are worth it.
Living Your Personality Traits: Next Actions
That’s it! We’ve covered everything you need to transform your character traits.
What should you do next? Simple:
- List all the character traits from TAoL’s list of good traits that you’d be excited to work on;
- List the people that inspire you and add their best traits to your list;
- Pick ONE character trait that would most transform your life;
(If you’ve completed a Wheel of Life on page 6 of the TRACKTION Planner, your ONE trait should relate to your lowest scoring area of life.)
- Make a list of people you know who may sabotage or support your progress;
- Set actions to spend more time with the supportive people;
- Open your TRACKTION Planner to page 8;
- Write your new character trait in the first column of the value tracker;
- Add up to four more traits to the remaining columns;
- Set targets for the week ahead; and
- Resolve to act as if you already embodied your primary character trait.
That’s all there is to it!
As I said at the beginning of this guide: the only difference between you and your heroes is character. When you reforge your nature, you’ll find their footsteps surprisingly easy to follow.
For that, there’s no approach as effective as character trait tracking.
So get to work!
➡️ Work through the checklist above.
➡️ Leave a comment and tell me what character trait you’ll work on.
“You cannot dream yourself into a character; you must hammer and forge one yourself.” – James Anthony Froude
Frequently Asked Questions
Examples of negative character traits include Apathetic, Bossy, Cruel, Dishonest and Envious. For more, download the full list of character traits above. For more, check out our full list of over 800 positive, neutral and negative character traits.
Some examples of personality traits include things like Altruistic, Brave, Caring, Diligent and Ethical. For more ideas, check out our full list of over 800 positive, neutral and negative character traits.
A list of character traits is a helpful aid for e.g., writers, game designers or people trying to improve their own characters. Some examples of character traits include Ambitious, Benevolent, Compassionate, Determined, Enthusiastic, Forgiving and Gritty. For more ideas, check out our full list of over 800 positive, neutral and negative character traits.
Examples of positive character traits include Altruistic, Brave, Caring, Diligent and Ethical. For more ideas, check out our full list of over 800 positive, neutral and negative character traits.
A person’s character is defined by their habits of thinking, speaking and acting. This is especially true when people are under pressure, as they are more likely to “show their true colours“. The good news? Character traits are like habits. You can change them quite easily when you know how. Want to learn more? Check out this ultimate step-by-step guide to hacking your character.
The more positive character traits a person consistently lives by, the better and more reliable their character becomes. To develop a good character, then, you need to pick positive core values and work hard to live by them. Want a long list of positive character traits and a step-by-step guide to building good character? Check out this ultimate guide.
Bad character is the opposite of good character. The more negative character traits a person lives by, the worse their character becomes. If you don’t actively work on building your character, you won’t be aware of the negative character traits you may have acquired. Want a long list of character traits and a step-by-step guide to becoming more like your heroes? Check out this ultimate guide.
There are hundreds of common character traits that you’ll see at work in your favourite fictional characters and real-world acquaintances. Some examples of common traits include things like Competitive, Emotional, Rational, Skeptical and Practical. For more ideas, check out our full list of over 800 positive, neutral and negative character traits.