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 us 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 there 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.
Joshua, I am so disagreeing about changing your getting up earlier when you work 3frd shift in the warehouse of Aamazon – I have been doing this for the last two weeks. My early morning and night shifting postion made it i can’t keep my eyes open for when I at work. So 310# not for everyone.
Antonette May Caballes says
Very inspiring. I’ve been trying to focused on my personal growth for quite some time.This article is a perfect guide on my journey to change.
Thank you for this post. Just what I needed to read today.
Aimee @ Whispers of Worth says
This is exactly what I am struggling with today, after a difficult conversation with my husband last night about my values and vision. I realized that I value many things, but I don’t attend to them at all. Instead, I found that I value being valued above all else, which is really pretty selfish, and it keeps me from being productive and focused on what really matters in life: caring for my family and home. Today, I am fighting despair over my tendencies, and your post came at just the right time to help me redirect my thoughts in a positive direction. Thanks.
Bonnie McCullough says
How do you deal with procrastination and discipline in the areas you don’t have to improve in but personally want to. For example in taking classes or music lessons or fitness, I am currently healthy and have time to work on these things yet find I get nearly nervous about settling in to study or pick up the guitar to follow a lesson plan. With health and fitness I can do well for a couple of weeks then I hit a patch of “I don’t care” and get off track again. I am doing well with my tasks and deadlines at work, but it doesn’t require applying my mind to it–I handle a lot of details quickly but mental discipline isn’t needed for that. I am doing well shifting mental gears quickly but that isn’t what is needed for these things I want to grow in. Any thoughts?
I love this idea and am trying to give up my “predisposition” and replace it with new behaviors that will hopefully lead me to a place where I am reconciled with who I am and then be in a place to proceed further. I like and appreciate most of what you’ve written, however I am also white, have two undergraduate degrees, and a master’s degree. I was born in Berkely, CA in the 70s to very well educated parents who could afford piano lessons, books, etc. I grew up eating a very good diet prepared and cooked by my stay at home, working part time from home, mother. I am a stay at home mom to two toddlers. We can afford this, it’s not a struggle (we are very far from being rich).
But what I want to know is how easily this is obtained by someone working one to two minimum wage jobs to put food on the table, supplemented with food stamps. A person with no higher education, or someone who does have more education and is still working and living these circumstances. It’s not helpful to tell them that they are there by their own fault. We know nothing about them. Many of these new ideal ways of life seem to be more possible by those who can afford to do so. That doesn’t mean you have to have a certain amount of money. And you can have less money and no debt and someone else can have more income and more debt. But again, these people can still “afford” to live this lifestyle.
Jean Shumaker says
Thank you for this.
Deborah Groom says
This is one of the most relevant and well thought out articles I have read in a long time when it comes to mindful living. I love the call to choose our actions and reactions. Thank you.
Jessica Gilbert says
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post and the article “The Morale Bucket” it touch on several different issues I’m been thinking about lately thank you!
Rhonda M says
Thank you! I can make real change for the better with these strategies.It is time.
I’ve been wanting to read the book Mindset, which you also might find interesting. It explores the difference between having a fixed mindset as opposed to a growth mindset. “A fixed mindset is one in which you view your talents and abilities as… well, fixed. In other words, you are who you are, your intelligence and talents are fixed, and your fate is to go through life avoiding challenge and failure. A growth mindset, on the other hand, is one in which you see yourself as fluid, a work in progress. Your fate is one of growth and opportunity.”
Shelby Webb says
Wow, I needed this today! Thank you.
Wow! I lost over 100 pounds 8 years ago and utilized pretty much every predisposition you shared. Now that I’m somewhat happy with my weight I find myself reverting back into old habits, making excuses for my attitudes and feeling frustrated with life. I had a ‘come to Jesus’ moment last week and decided to change my unconstructive ways, then I ran across this article which I am going to use as an outlined plan for myself. I needed to read this today! Thanks!
Matt Kim says
Great points to keep in mind.
Maintain a constant sense of curiosity, observe your actions and your surroundings, and try to learn from everything you observe. I think the combination of these three habits can automatically disconnect people from their negative tendencies.
This reminds me of Dr. K. Anders Ericsson’s research on deliberate practice. It’s important to maintain a conscious awareness on anything you want to get better at, including daily life!
Emily Bartlett says
I read this post after I wrote my recent blog post on my kids (and me) comparing ourselves to others and needing to work instead on progress for ourselves. I had to quote you on this: “That’s just the way I am,” replace it with, “That’s something I really need to work on.” as an after-note…It fit so well with what I was trying to get across. Thank you!
I would be interested to hear how you (and your readers) reconcile these principles of self-improvement with, for example, some of the concepts set forth by another writer that you reference often (Leo Babauta @ http://zenhabits.net).
Is it possible to “live in the present moment” and be satisfied and content with who we are, what we do, what we have, etc. … while simultaneously striving to change/improve who we are, what we do, what we have?
Personally, I go through this process that you describe, almost every day … I set or affirm my goals, make commitments, devise action plans, and start with the best of intentions … only to fail to live up to my own expectations. I never feel successful or satisfied with what I have done, no matter what I accomplish, because I always could have done better or more. I end each day, feeling like a failure. The net result is a vicious cycle, which often impair my ability to enjoy any success
This has led me to conclude that one of the following statements must be true: (1) I do not genuinely want the change that I claim to want, (2) I do want to change, but I lack the knowledge or ability to change, or (3) I have the genuine desire to change and the ability to change, but I suffer from some flaw or tendency that corrupts, undermines, and sabotages the process.
In my case, I do not think I will ever be satisfied and content with the present, so your advice is well-taken. But I wonder how the “other half” lives, who can just enjoy who they are and what they do, right now.
I worry that, perhaps, I am missing my life while I am busy trying to improve it.
See each day as a fresh new start…and just make wise decisions as you go about your day. Eat an apple instead of cookies…take the stairs…have an extra sip of water…change the TV channel ( you don’t need to watch trash ) …be patient, don’t lay on the horn when the light turns green and the guy in front of you doesn’t notice…hold the door for someone…etc, etc, etc! Then, at the end of the day list all the good decisions you made. :) Always focus on the positive. That would be MY humble advice. AND if you believe in God earnestly seek Him!!! :) :) :)
Gratitude. Write down at least 3!things a day for which you are grateful. Big things, small things… All things. It feels weird at first but write them down every day. You will see changes for sure.
I have had a crush on David Brooks for sometime. This validates my crush!
Tiffany @ HappyThankfulHopeful says
A great reminder to become the person we want to be, and not stay “comfortable” in the person that we are. Also, thanks for sharing the Moral Bucket list – a great read.
Below is a link to a post on “Loving the pieces of yourself others are too scared to possess” – some similar sentiments…
This is absolutely beautiful, and just what I needed. What I love best about this approach to self-improvement is that it embraces both acceptance of your weakness and the proactive spirit that challenges those weaknesses.
The basic step towards overcoming these false convictions is just being aware of them. If you realise the deeper meaning of them, your intuition will direct you properly over time. At least, I can say that from my personal experience.
Joshua, your fragment about your negative tendencies is so sincere! Thank you for that.
Waqas Ali says
I just realized the number of negative predispositions I have been cultivating in my mind. This opened my mind.
Another wonderful post herein. Nice meeting you once again @Joshua, am happy.
You said it all sir, its actually not our future, I mean predisposition. Its so bad to believe in procrastination though, it weakens the mind. Our old enviroment is not enough to affect our today.
Everyone needs a vital future and as such, we must value our future and act fast to changes.
Thanks sir, do have a nice weekend ahead.
Kevin H says
For some people, career building comes easy. Especially for those who were trained by their parents to value studies and hardwork over being social and “enjoying life”. Like David Brooks, the former comes more easily. Definitely agree with you in that confronting your weaknesses is how we build our character. Only then will we be able to face ourselves.
Joy @ Jumbled Up Joy says
Yes!! Thank you for this post! You said what I’ve been feeling so much lately! I get so tired of this defeatist attitude, these excuses we give ourselves. This is a good, practical plan for applying changes to our lives. I’m so glad you posted it!
I think about this so often. I love the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, but I often find myself frustrated with other MBTI enthusiasts, because they consider themselves stuck in their type and expect the world to conform to their personality. Whereas I have found it a powerful way to assess my strengths, and also my weaknesses, and also found in it a way to value, and even nurture, loved ones whose tendencies are quite different from my own. Knowing and owning your tendencies can be such a powerful tool for developing better tendencies– both in how you approach the task, how you allot time and energy to it, and what you see the task to be.
However, I hesitate to call this kind of movement toward change “choice.” In our consumer society, we think of choices as instant and finite, if not outright easy, acts, and we think of them as simple– just “choose” to be more outgoing, more responsible, etc. I prefer to refer to it as development. It will consist of many choices, many strategies, and many setbacks. I also find it is more empowering to think of yourself as someone who can grow in new ways than as someone who has merely “made bad choices.” We can, whatever we may have been before, find and nurture in ourselves the capacity to grow in ways that will reward us and those we care for. What a wonderful thing to discover!
Nikki Olinarez says
Thank you for the great post! Most people believe that our attitude is embedded in us and people should just learn to deal with it. Attitude/behavior is not pre-disposed. We are not born with it. We develop these behaviors during our course of life then it becomes a habit. We all know that habits can be changed/transformed, even the deep-rooted ones.
My approach on changing my behavioral habits is similar to #3. In my line of work we call this “Root Cause Analysis”. I write down the behavior then think of what triggers it and how I can ‘reverse’ it. Then slowly incorporate it i my life. It is hard at first but eventually and slowly you will develop the new habit that you want.
Kim Thompsen says
Hi Joshua. This is the third time this week that change has been brought before me. The first was in my own mind as I thought, “I hope I never become that person who says, I can’t help it. That’s the way I am.”
The second time came during meditation, and now this, the third time.
I think the day I’m not open to change us the day where I begin to die.
Daisy @ Simplicity Relished says
One of the things I teach my students as a private educator is that they are *not* stuck. And one of the things I always applaud is not what they’ve achieved, but how hard they’ve worked. When they realize that the glory and praise come from trying and seeking to do better, they realize that it is always worth the effort. I loved this post, Joshua! Whether it’s academics, relationships, or other life hurdles, we can all benefit from choosing to intentionally pursue improvement.
I truly enjoy the breath of fresh air for my spirit when I read your articles. I am grateful.
Its a great way to uncover our hidden (from us) beliefs
Alice Ann Hengesbach says
Thank you, Josuha. Life is all about the CHOICE! I have said over the years that if I were ever invited to give a graduation speech that it would be short and simple. I would say, “Congratulations on completing this work. I am going to tell you something that no one will ever tell you … You can change your mind! Now go have a great life.”
I like the idea of #5. The things that I am most proud of accomplishing are those where I overcame my own self-imposed boundaries.
As someone who comes from a family that is very prone to addictive tendencies I have been purposefully fighting this misconception my whole life. I choose who I am and can set out to change almost any aspect of my life. I choose to not engage in activities that could lead to an unhealthy lifestyle. I love the quote “you live the life you’ve created for yourself” and that’s how I see it. Thank you for so clearly sharing this topic.
Thank you. This post came to me at just the right time emotionally/spiritually.
Thank you so much for this. A great reminder of where we can go, or where some of us have come from. I especially like #5, intentionally doing the opposite. Very powerful to practice.
I use to relate to so many of the weaknesses you mention, but I am happy to mention I have healed and worked through some of my weaknesses. There are more, no doubt, but after reading this, I have come a long way and I am so glad I continue to work on them so that I live my best life and don’t define myself by my predispositions.
Crystal Thieringer says
This was exactly what I needed to read this morning. This challenge, of leaving behind my predispositions and tendencies, is ongoing. Thank you.
Hi Joshua, thanks for posting this. It’s funny that you’ve written this article because I’ve been thinking about this very thing over the past few days! I know what I need to work on and I see each new day as a fresh start to do the right things. :)
Wow! Thank you!!
I love the word you used for this post – Tendencies. We tend to think of our predispositions or habits as irrevocable. We think, they are with us forever and ever. We can never become something different – it is as if they are sown into our very being.
But it isn’t so. Our habits are just learned behaviors over hundreds of hours. We can unlearn them, if we wish to. We have to believe that. We aren’t one way or another – we just have been working in that particular way for a certain period of time.
“forever grounded where you are today” – great phrase.
I will decide where I will abode, either mired in old stale proclivities or new habit land.
Steve L. says
Thank you for the clarity and wisdom in this post. Steve Chandler, in his book Reinventing Yourself, touches on this theme. He says that we can use our language to describe our lives or to create our lives. It is more than simply reframing. The language of our self talk starts the process moving towards the deeper source. Thank you again.
These skills are very important in ourselves, but also very much in the way we parent and what we model for our children. Having a growth mindset, ie. thinking past whether we are “good” or “bad” at something but simply looking at behaviour patterns and seeking to always improve is what we should be modelling for our kids (as well as obviously practising for our own benefit).
Very beautifully laid out and expressed! Thank you!
I really liked your whole article. I have much to improve.
I also appreciated the wise comments posted thus far.
Keep posting more articles. ..
Stacy B says
I think #2 is really essential–to look internally and decide what is essential for improving one’s character . I think sometimes we “want to improve” or “be better” and don’t necessarily focus in on what that truly means. What is that part of your character that you believe needs to be molded–reworked? Focusing in on what you want to develop is key. Too much change can be overwhelming–but intentional development from inside-outward can be freeing.
Tommy Daniels says
I think that this comment is totally wrong: “External success is achieved through competition with others.”
I think that external success is achieved through cooperation with others.
joshua becker says
That line was a quote from David in his NYT’s article. Within the context of the article, it rings true. He was more or less highlighting the fact that competition with others rarely results in internal change.
Angela @ Setting My Intention says
I recently wrote about “decluttering negative thoughts” and how I’ve stopped saying “I could never do that” or “I’m just not a _____” there is freedom in branching out!
Bethany @ Journey to Ithaca says
I think #3 is the most important strategy. Rather than judging behaviors as “negative,” it can be SO helpful to ask “why?” A lot of our bad habits are due to unmet needs and misunderstandings about ourselves, and that is why willpower alone can never work long-term. Loving self-exploration is the key to change.
michelle t says
Very inspiring. Thank you. Michelle t
Bonnie Lynch says
This is all so applicable to psychological disorders like anxiety. It can be a hard sell, though, to convince those who have suffered for a long time that it’s not just “they way they are,” forever and ever, amen. Having some concrete steps to take to reverse long-held patterns is a great asset. Thank you.