We usually don’t think of our personalities as something we can design.
I remember the day I realized I was selfish. It was a painful and slow process to get to that point. My coach had to work really hard with me about it. And I had to almost lose my marriage for it to sink in. You’d think it would have gone down as a very bad and embarrassing day, but it went down as one of my proudest, most powerful days.
There was a very specific conversation my coach encouraged me to have with my husband, because I couldn’t come up with a reason for why we weren’t very intimate or friendly that didn’t sound like total BS. I first, timidly, then pleadingly, asked him why we weren’t more connected. He didn’t even want to answer, but I finally got him to tell me the truth.
He told me that when he speaks to me I almost always interrupt him, and that whereas that might work in some relationships, to him it feels like being physically assaulted and it is really hard to get back on track. And what’s worse, he pointed out, was what I interrupt to say is something that has nothing to do with his agenda in speaking, but only to do with my own anxiety and it completely derails the conversation. It makes it no fun and it means he never gets to finish his story or make his own point the way he intended.
By the grace of god and my coach, I actually listened (maybe for the first time, ugh) to his whole point and let it sink in. Then I had a very unsettling feeling that people had been trying to give me this feedback about myself forever and I had never listened. Perhaps the consequences had never felt significant enough for me to care to change. I flashed to memories of my parents and brother calling me selfish and other conversations I had derailed in service of my theory: If what I have to say is more important, in my mind, I can talk over you. Yuck. I was mortified by my behavior for the first time.
My 16th anniversary is coming up, and that will make 21 years with this amazing man. That day was the turning point in my relationship with him (and my relationship with myself). I met my darkside for real and felt the impact of it. I remembered the vows I made to him, something akin to: love, honor, and cherish. And then I realized I was blowing them off and that I had no integrity.
We tend to think our personalities are fixed, but they aren’t. They only feel fixed because we believe our excuses. Some of mine were:
“It’s his fault we don’t communicate” and “I have to say it or else I’ll forget.” WHAT?
Personalities only feel fixed because we keep having the same thoughts and taking the same actions over and over. On that fateful day I changed my thought from excuses to the following theory: “the best way to love my husband and care for my marriage is to listen to my husband fully, and that’s MORE important then my temporary anxiety.” Then I changed my actions. I promised no more interruptions. To this day, many years later, if my husband doesn’t feel listened to, I have to do one of his chores (that keeps me alert). I also check in with my husband everyday and I ask what I can do for him. That action counteracts the personality trait of being selfish. My husband would confirm I am not the same person. I still tend toward the selfish side for sure, but I keep it on a tight leash.
How can YOU change your personality? First, you have to tell the truth about the “bad trait.” Then put some language to it and the theories behind it. You can debunk these and move on to design the trait you do want to have instead. In the meantime, of course you’ll create promises and consequences that go with the person you want to be! Voila! Simple, but not easy. If you want to explore in depth (plus so much more), consider our flagship workshop, Design Your Life Weekend coming to Los Angeles, New York City and Boston.