We all have our own unique goodie bag of personality traits. Some work really well for us in some ways, some don’t work well for us in others. Growing as a person, then, means celebrating and strengthening the traits that you love, in the appropriate situations, and evolving the ones that don’t.
Today I am going to talk about the latter: how to evolve traits that aren’t working for you in certain situations in your life. Like being critical with your partner, or anxious as you lie in bed at night. We often don’t believe that we have much control over these traits. We see “this is who I am” to be an immovable truth; we say “I am not a morning person” with the same conviction as we say “the sky is blue.” As if there is not a whole lot we can do to change either one. But I am here today to tell you that it is indeed possible to evolve your character traits. We do this by stopping, or “leashing,” traits we don’t like, and cultivating the ones we do. It sounds simple, but how exactly do you do it?
At Handel, we’ve observed three levels that a person advances through in developing their character traits. The key to moving between levels is awareness and being focused on your dream traits.
Tier 3: Go with the Flow
In Tier 3, you are easily triggered, tossed around by your impulses like a cork bobbing in the sea of bad theories, and aren’t aware that you have any choice in the matter. You follow where your moods lead.
For example, one of the traits I admire is caring. When I am operating at Tier 3 in caring, there are moments when I naturally am very caring: when there is a death in someone’s family, or when I am coaching a client through a rough situation, or catching up with a long-time friend. In those situations, caring for others comes naturally to me.
But then there are situations when I get angry at people and my knee-jerk reaction is to revoke my care in a grand explosion of rage: when someone cuts in front of me in line, or makes a mistake that costs me time and money, or makes a comment that offends me. In those cases, I “go with the flow” and retreat to my familiar island of “you are an idiot.” I operate from the perspective that I have been wronged, and therefore, in my defense, I shut off the other person.
In either case, I follow whatever mood pops up in the moment, without active design of how I would like to be.
Tier 2: Observe and Correct
Once you become aware of the traits you have that you don’t like and realize that you actually have a choice in engaging them or not, you can move on to Tier 2. Tier 2 is the stage where you notice behavior that is not aligned with your admired trait, drop it like a hot brick, and maybe even pick up the admired trait in its place. Or you notice behavior that IS aligned, and you celebrate it and engage it more often.
For example, I have gotten darn good at catching myself in the middle of a mental rant about someone, and taking some time to cool off and remember that I actually do care about the person in front of me. “You do remember that she is your good friend, right?” You know how this goes.
Tier 2 is all about being aware of the feelings and moods that come up, and deciding what to do with them. As you get more skilled in this tier, you identify each trait more quickly, and in more and more subtle forms, and adeptly decide whether to engage or not. However, Tier 2 is still a reactionary tier. You see what is coming down the pike, and decide if you want it or not. I used to think that Tier 2 was as good as it got, but now I know there is more.
Tier 1: “Source” Your Trait
This, as far as I can tell, is the “holy grail” of greatness. In this tier, the thoughts that enter your head come directly from the trait you admire. When I am “sourcing” my caring trait and someone makes a costly error, my first response is to look at the whole situation, understand how it happened, and see how that person really was trying their best. Even if not, I see how no one is perfect and how we can do it better next time. The angry, insulting thoughts don’t even come into my head, because I am living in a world of care.
This tier really is where we all want to be. I am not talking about brain-washing or faking it. I am talking about seeing the world through the lens of our great traits, and behaving accordingly, proactively cultivating and radiating the qualities that we admire, such that they become second-nature. This is what I mean when I call this tier “sourcing” your trait. You are the source and origin of your daily experiences.
I will not claim to be an expert on this fabulous Tier 1, but the times when I have attained it have been superb. I highly recommend it.
The key, then, to being great is to advance from Tier 3 to Tier 1. So take a minute to identify the negative trait you want to leash, and to design the new trait you want to call forth. This means writing out a few sentences about how each trait feels and what you’d be doing if you were a person who acted according to the new trait. List where in your life you’re still at Tier 3 regarding this trait. Practice catching yourself engaging in the negative trait, and see if you can drop it. Once you can, you have moved up to Tier 2.
Get more and more skilled at choosing which traits you engage by making promises about both leashing the negative trait and cultivating the new one. Keep the promises day in and day out until the act becomes second nature. When this is the case, you are ready for Tier 1. The journey to Tier 1 is a whole blog post in and of itself. For now, the journey from Tier 3 to a solid Tier 2 is more than enough to keep most of us busy.
What traits do you want to strengthen within yourself? What trait must you leash first?
A blog by Dr. Samantha Sutton, VP of Courses and Seminars and Senior Coach at The Handel Group
Reprinted from The Daily Love
Image courtesy of