Tendencies. We all have them.
Some are positive: a sense of humor, a love for animals, or attention to detail, just to name a few. These positive predispositions make us proud. They bring beauty into the world around us.
But personal tendencies can also be negative: we are quick to anger, susceptible to addiction, or harbor a quarrelsome spirit. Most often, we recognize these traits as negative and harmful. They’ve just been a part of us for so long we begin to get used to them.
Even worse, we begin to accept them as inevitable.
These negative tendencies can surface in almost every aspect of life:
- Work: We label ourselves as the procrastinator, as disorganized, always late in the morning, or not good with numbers.
- Home: We’re not good with the kids or the housework or being a disciplinarian. We’re irritable in the morning or unable to balance a budget.
- Relationships: We’re not good at forgiving, being the type that stays in touch, or can never find room in our schedule for someone who needs it.
As I consider these negative personality traits in my own life (and the life of others), I am becoming more and more observant of a damaging thought process present alongside them: the belief that these negative predispositions are “just the way I am.” With an almost defeatist attitude, we attempt to excuse our negative behaviors by appealing to an internal force that makes decisions for us.
If you listen closely, you’ll pick up on it. But don’t waste your time listening for others to say it. Listen for it in your own life—especially when the excuse keeps you from making the changes in your life you desperately desire.
Your predisposition is not your future. Your future is what you choose to become. (tweet that)
I have been challenged recently by The Moral Bucket List, an article from David Brooks in the New York Times. In it, David recounts his own advancements in career success, but the lagging nature of his growth in “generosity of spirit.” He makes the case that “resume building” has come easy to him. “Eulogy building,” on the other hand, has been much more difficult. And yet, it is far more attractive to him.
As a result, he has set out on a personal journey to redefine his life in key areas. In so doing, he provides a roadmap to become the type of man he most admires being around. It’s really good. You should read it.
At one point in the article, David speaks of the importance of self-defeat—the need to confront our own weaknesses. “External success is achieved through competition with others. But character is built during the confrontation with your own weakness.” He lists helpful examples.
How then, do we accomplish this? How do we confront our own weaknesses? In what ways specifically, can we overcome our own predisposition?
1. Stop making excuses. It is blame, more than anything else, that keeps us from change. Choosing to blame your predisposition and labeling it as unchangeable will never result in positive life-change. It will keep you forever grounded where you are today. Instead, whenever you catch yourself saying, “That’s just the way I am,” replace it with, “That’s something I really need to work on.”
2. Pick your battles. When I was in college, I was encouraged to “focus on my strengths. Find a career that fits your personality and talents.” This is wise advice. There are countless positive predispositions already present in our lives. Leverage them for greater impact. But there still remain changes each of should pursue in life—some are just more important than others. Becoming detail-focused is not important if there are others around you who excel in that area. On the other hand, a generous spirit is difficult to outsource. These inner-battles we must face on our own.
3. Look for a deeper source. Many times, our outward behavior is a result of internal discontent (or disconnect). We don’t overshop because we want cluttered closets and drawers in our home, there is a deeper issue at work. We overshop because we are dissatisfied with the direction of our life (as one possible) example. Is a behavioral tendency in your life you desire to change? Search your heart for a much deeper ailment than the symptom itself.
4. Remind yourself the battle is worth fighting. The effort necessary to live an intentional life focused on becoming the best possible version of ourselves is hard. Always. If it wasn’t, we would have arrived by now. But the results are always worth the effort—not just for yourself, but for everyone around you.
5. Intentionally pursue the opposing behavior. Even for just a short while, cultivate the exact opposite behavior. When I decided I wanted to become an early-riser, I challenged myself to wake up at 5am for 29 days straight. And you know what? It worked. I became an earlier-riser in the morning. Do I still wake up at 5am every day? Nope. If I need to, I can. But even more importantly, waking up at 6:30am every morning became routine.
This strategy can be applied to other changes we want to make. If you struggle with anger on the inside, force yourself to be the nicest person in the room. If you are constantly running late, seek to be the person who arrives first. Even for a short period of time, pursue the exact opposite external trait to make change easier.
6. Find help. It is human nature to try it alone—especially when we must admit personal weakness. But, if you have tried unsuccessfully in the past to bring about a needed change, it might be time to get some help. Sometimes the necessary help is a licensed professional. Other times, it just requires a good friend or mentor. You’ll just never know which one until you give it a try.
Each of us struggle with negative tendencies in our own way. I too often struggle with jealousy, and procrastination, and need for approval, and lack of self-discipline. For you, it may be anger, laziness, or a critical spirit. We all have weaknesses.
But we can all choose to no longer be defined by our predispositions. We can see them, instead, as our greatest opportunity to grow. And choose our own future instead.