The Character Sheet: Version 3

The Character Sheet is a framework for self-improvement. It's inspired by tabletop RPGs, CFAR's Bug List Exercise, and alkjash's Hammertime.

The Character Sheet isn't the best framework possible, and it's not something that everyone will find helpful. However, it is better than most alternatives and it's definitely better than nothing. Most self-improvement frameworks are overly complex or lack a method for prioritizing issues in one's life.

After you follow the steps in this article, you'll have a list of Features sorted by priority. Each Feature represents something missing from your life. Maybe your counters are never clean, or your clothes are drab, or you wish you could stick to that morning exercise routine. The Character Sheet doesn't prescribe an ideal way of life, and a Feature can be anything you want it to be.

You might already have a general idea of the Features you aspire to have. However, the strength of the Character Sheet is that it banishes those vague uncertainties and replaces them with clarity. It's easy to ignore that hole in your life when you don't think about it but much harder when you've spent half an hour confronting its existence.

More immediately, people often find one or two high-impact Features that are also very easy to acquire. In such cases, merely illuminating the problem is often sufficient to spark motivation.

Example. I found that I had been putting off some paperwork due to vague anxieties about interacting with the legal system. Once I realized that the paperwork was relatively easy and one of the highest impact things I could do, I found myself eager to finish it.

Creating a Character Sheet has three main steps:

  1. Identify bugs in your life
  2. Reframe the bugs as missing Features
  3. Sort the Features

It's easiest to create a Character Sheet as a spreadsheet since it involves some minor arithmetic and sorting.

Step 1: Identifying Bugs

It's easy to grow resigned to bugs in our lives. We learn to put up with the problem, work around it, or simply endure it. You might feel that this tendency is a sign of mental fortitude. There's some truth to that, but wouldn't it be nice if you didn't have to shoulder such a heavy burden? And wouldn't it be so much easier to deal with the big, scary problems if you weren't covered in psychological wounds from a host of lesser ones?

The first step to self-improvement is identifying the issues that plague your life. We'll start with three exercises designed to nudge your subconscious mind into noticing the things that grate on it.

Slice of Life

The Slice of Life is the most generic tool for finding bugs and is usually what yields the most. Envision your day from start to finish and note down anything you're unhappy with, no matter how small.

Some sample questions to get you started:

  • Do you get up on time so you aren't rushing out the door for work?
  • Is your sleep quality anything short of excellent?
  • Do you eat a healthy breakfast?
  • Do you have to hunt through an unfolded pile of laundry to find your work clothes?
  • Is your transportation reliable?
  • What about while at work?
  • Are there any unpleasant procedures?
  • Any coworkers you don,t get along with?
  • Do you feel burned out at the end of the day?
  • Is your hygiene where it should be?
  • Do you go to bed on time?

Try to identify at least fifty bugs from the Slice of Life and write them down in your spreadsheet.

Design

The space around you affects your psychological state and can help or hinder your goals. You can't seize the day when you spend half an hour searching for clean clothes, or digging through your cabinets for the correct cooking utensils.

Worse, these Design issues can have a domino effect. For example, if your kitchen is not organized, for example, you may be more inclined to eat out. This could affect your finances, and also lead to a degradation of your health and make your car messy if you're the kind of person who eats fast food in their car. This will build up and lock you in a never-ending cycle of stress.

Questions to Consider

Are there remnants on the wall in the form of posters from your regrettable Scene phase? Do you have a place to put your keys and pocket items whenever you come home so you don,t keep misplacing them?

This can also be virtual space; do you have a cluttered bookmarks bar in your web browser? Are there programs that could be accessed quicker through a shortcut? Do you need to organize that cluttered desktop, or set restrictions on yourself so you don't end up scrolling through Facebook mindlessly?

What about your car? Your mode of transportation is a crucial resource towards accomplishing your goals. Could you put a small box in the back seat for all your trash, instead of letting it accumulate on the floor? Or maybe you could invest in a first aid kit for emergencies, and stow it in your glove box. Perhaps you could make a stash of granola bars to curb your tendency to buy fast food while you are out.

What about your work space? Do you need to move your gaming consoles into a different room from where you usually work?

Try to identify at least fifty bugs from Design and write them down in your spreadsheet.

Hamming Questions

Answer the following questions and condense the answers into pithy statements that describes a bug or goal.

  • What's the limiting factor on my growth and progress?
  • What's the key resource I have the least of, or the key bottleneck that's preventing me from bringing resources to bear?
  • What do I feel I'm "not allowed to care about," or that I generally don't think about because it feels too big or impossible?
  • If my life were a novel, what would be the obvious next step?
  • Where is the plot dragging, and what do I need to do to move my story forward?
  • What sorts of goals am I already pursuing, but in a bad/convoluted/inefficient/distorted way?
  • Which problems in my life are the largest order of magnitude?
  • What changes could I make that would result in a 100x or even 1000x increase in either personal satisfaction or positive impact on the world?
  • If I say "Everything in my life is fine, and I'm on track to achieve all of my goals," what feels untrue about that? What catches in my throat, that makes it hard to say that sentence out loud?
  • What feels most alive to me right now? Alternately, what feels most endangered?

Write down the answers to each of these questions in your spreadsheet.

Step 2: Reframe Bugs as Features

People are notoriously averse to thinking about problems — particularly complex, difficult-to-solve problems. If you leave your list of bugs as-is, you've created a long list of negativity. Even if you start off full of energy and excitement, it won't take long for that to wane and transform into an aversion to even remembering that the list exists.

That's why we'll reframe all those negative issues as positive Features to aspire to. It won't completely solve the problem, but it'll help.

Go down the list of Bugs and, next to it, rewrite it as a Feature you wish you had. Try to include in the Feature the reason why you wrote down the bug in the first place. This will help anchor the Feature to an underlying subconscious want and boost its intuitive stickiness.

Example. The bug my kitchen is always a mess can be reframed as my kitchen has enough space for me to cook dinner without having to clean first.

The bug my computer desktop is covered in hundreds of files can be reframed as I can see my computer's wallpaper clearly.

The bug I never eat breakfast can be reframed as I always eat breakfast.

While reframing bugs, you might notice that you have duplicate bugs. Delete the duplicates.

Step 3: Sort the Features

Right now, your Character Sheet is a jumbled mess. Features that might take five minutes to solve are next to Features that could take months or years to acquire.

A naive approach might be to sort Features by how impactful they are. However, this only captures part of the relevant information, because the resulting list won't account for the difficulty of acquiring a given Feature. A Feature that's a multi-year project is much less critical than a Feature that takes five minutes, even if the second Feature isn't quite as impactful. We thus need to rate each Feature on two dimensions: impact and difficulty.

Ratings should be between 1-5, but the exact meaning of a one or a five is specific to your situation. A good way to calibrate your scale is to read over your bug list and try to pick out the most and least impactful (or difficult) Features.

To rate your Features: Use this spreadsheet to simplify the process (optional).

  1. Add two columns next to the description of each Feature
    1. Label the first one Impact
    2. Label the second one Solvability
  2. Go down the list of Features and rate each one's Impact from 1-5, where 1 is the least impactful and 5 is the most impactful.
  3. Go down the list of Features and rate each one's Solvability from 1-5, where 1 is the hardest to solve and 5 is the easiest to solve.

Note. Do not combine step 2 and 3 into a single step. Rating all your features for a single dimension at a time will help you calibrate your scale. Also, remember that the absolute meaning of the rating is less important than the relative value compared to your other Features.

After you've rated all the Features on Impact and Difficulty, add a third column to the spreadsheet and label it Priority. For each Feature, set the Priority equal to Impact times Solvability.

Sort the spreadsheet by Priority. This will give you a list of 100+ Features ranked by which ones you should tackle first.

Appendix

i. Every month, do a check-in (we affectionately refer to this as a "Level Up" session). Fill out this form so the ROSE Testing Board can follow your progress. If you don't feel comfortable sharing your progress, simply follow the prompts on your own.

ii. This article is meant to represent the 80% most important elements of the Character Sheet exercise. If you want a slightly deeper dive, take a look at our reference document here.

iii. It can be nearly impossible to notice issues with your life until someone else points them out. That's why we've included a list of 100+ bugs sourced from everyone who's filled out a Character Sheet in the past. Read through them, see if any resonate with you, and note them down if so.

  • I'm too conflict avoidant
  • The floor is sticky and unclean
  • My windows are covered in condensation from humidity
  • My back hurts
  • The dining table is dusty
  • I let some customers walk over me.
  • I want new pots and sharper knives
  • I don't do enough yardwork
  • I don't have a degree
  • I buy stuff on impulse
  • The inside of my car's windshield always fogs up
  • I don't cook as much as I want to
  • My closet is full of clothes I never wear
  • I snack on pastries and chocolates at the office
  • My wifi router needs to be replaced
  • I never eat breakfast
  • I don't have a car
  • My fan is covered in dust
  • There are cracks in the walls
  • I feel burned out at the end of each day
  • I'm too focused on sex
  • The porch light flickers intermittently
  • The bathroom toilet is half-buried beneath discarded tubes from toilet paper
  • I go off on long rants about people
  • I have a hard time showing appreciation
  • The inside of my house is too dark
  • I keep tripping over my ethernet cable
  • I am too quick to offer solutions when someone needs to just be listened to
  • I stay up too late playing games
  • Some podcasts are too quiet, others are too loud
  • My music library is disorganized
  • I only shower once or twice a week
  • My fingernails are fragile
  • I don't have any professional certifications
  • I don't have a proper task list
  • I forget important dates such as birthdays
  • I bottle up my anger
  • I don't know how to play an instrument
  • The carpet is always full of dirt and dust
  • My teeth are always dirty
  • I don't have any backups of my data
  • My social network is small
  • I'm out of shape
  • I eat too much at lunch
  • The kitchen counters are covered in stains
  • I get into credit card debt easily.
  • My toothbrush is never charged
  • I eat too much junk food
  • My posture is poor
  • My work space is cluttered and messy
  • There are too many books and not enough shelves
  • I don't talk to my family enough
  • There are glass bottles scattered across my floor
  • There is a hole in the ceiling
  • I have a hard time starting projects
  • I have too many email accounts
  • The dishwasher leaves dishes covered in grit
  • My downloads folder has too many useless files
  • The dishwasher rack is wobbly
  • I can't lucid dream
  • My closet is a disorganized heap
  • I lie too much
  • I'm overweight
  • I waste food by letting it go bad in the fridge and freezer
  • I'm too stingy with money
  • I don't set clear, well-defined goals
  • My floor is littered with computer cables
  • I drink too much beer
  • I don't know what to do with my hair
  • The trash is overflowing
  • I don't have an investment strategy
  • My skin looks grimy even after a shower
  • I'm always a little dehydrated
  • Half my pans are scratched and useless
  • I lay in bed for hours every morning
  • The cabinet door is broken
  • I don't have an exercise routine
  • I don't get enough fresh air during the day
  • I don't know any con artist maneuvers
  • There isn't enough space in the cabinet for all my pots
  • I waste too much time on social media
  • I get distracted easily
  • We live on a dirt road that's undriveable during rainstorms
  • Water drains across my floor during heavy rainstorms
  • I can't pull apart a log of wood like Captain America
  • The stove is covered in burnt residue
  • The washing machine is gross and grimy
  • I struggle reading faces
  • I forget to take my medicine
  • I have semi-annual blooms of house flies and ladybugs
  • My body is covered in unwanted hair
  • I can never find a pair of scissors when I need them
  • There is rotting food in the fridge
  • My hair brush is full of torn hair
  • My cabinet doors never close properly
  • I suck at telling stories
  • The kitchen sink leaks water
  • I want new pillows
  • I'm bad at following up on relationships
  • I never each lunch
  • The outside of my car's windshield is scratched and hard to see through
  • I don't meditate regularly
  • I don't save enough money
  • The kitchen sink is heaped with old dishes
  • My shower looks like a mold farm
  • I have trouble finishing projects
  • The rear yard never gets mowed
  • I am currently unemployed
  • My wardrobe is monochromatic
  • I wake up tired
  • I can't drive
  • The drawers in my desk make it hard to sit ergonomically
  • My projects suffer from unexpected issues
  • My bathroom mirror is covered in flecks of toothpaste and dirt
  • I always forget to cancel unwanted subscriptions
  • I'm addicted to nicotine
  • I'm emotionally unstable, particularly when sleepy
  • I can't dance
  • I over promise and under deliver
  • My long term projects end up forgotten
  • The kitchen never has any clean hand towls
  • I don't water my plants enough
  • I sometimes answer from the wrong email address
  • My walls are bare and need more art
  • I don't talk to my friends enough
  • My computer screens are mounted a few inches too low
  • I don't go to dentist or doctor appointments
  • I can never find anything in my browser bookmarks
  • There is laundry scattered across my room
  • I don't know any martial arts
  • There are thousands of unread emails in my inbox

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