Use your mind to change your brain: changing your temperament

We all have aspects of ourselves, our temperament, that we wish we could change.

Me—I’ve had a temper all of my life. It can get ugly. But that’s not the most interesting part. What is is that it has changed, improved as I’ve aged. I get angry less and with less intensity. I ultimately attribute that improvement to Divine Grace, but there was also work that I did to bring it about.

Maybe you don’t have a temper, but maybe you’re too pessimistic or fearful or anxious. And it’s easy to think that we’re doomed to stay that way for life. But you’re not.

We can change our temperaments.

What is temperament?

“Temperament” is rooted in a Latin word that means “correct mixture”. The idea is that each person has a mix, like a margarita. And your internal mixture is how your mind has been arranged, or your disposition, which is the way you are inclined to go, act, do, think. And it’s inherent. That means you’re born with a certain concoction that affects the way you act in life. It’s like your preloaded software. We all have our own OS.

But that doesn’t mean it’s not upgradable, or there aren’t bug fixes. Temperament needn’t be like our eye color and height and cheekbone structure.

Temperament is malleable. It may not be completely changeable. But it’s not set in stone. We’re more like clay. Our raw material will always be clay, but it can be shaped. We know this because our brains are constantly shifting and learning.

Neuroplasticity at work

That’s called neuroplasticity.

It’s a fancy word for saying that our brains are constantly changing. And according to neuroscientists, they can be changed. In short, your mind can change your brain. That means your thinking can actually play a role in molding your brain. We can teach ourselves how to be better.

And we do that by reflecting and writing. If we reflect on our lives and the hurtful things that have happened to us or the stories that are shaping us or the quiet ideas that direct our thoughts, and study them to understand what they are doing to us, we can make breakthroughs. And writing those thoughts and reflections down helps us process what is driving us and our thinking, and what we realize will help us change and upgrade our software.

My story of shaping my temperament

For example, my wife and I used to have brutal fights. And my temper would flare like a wildfire. And there were even times when I tried to walk out of our marriage. After several of those episodes, I started wondering if I was the problem. I reflected on my early twenties and how I was engaged to a different girl who broke our engagement. And I saw how that broke me. I didn’t know it at the time, nor for years afterward, that that break up created a deep, deep fear of rejection in me. Years later, when I got angry at my wife and tried to leave her, it wasn’t totally about her and our fight. That anger was rooted in that broken engagement and in the deep-seated fear it had caused. So my temper in this situation wasn’t about anger but a fear of being left again. And taking the time to understand that fear of rejection revolutionized my marriage, and me. And I learned to trust my wife, and I stopped trying to leave her.

The power of learning

See, learning is one of the most powerful things you can do to change your temperament. Too often, we avoid the painful parts of our past, which only makes us less capable of changing positively in the present. But when we look into the darker corners of our story, we will discover new insights into ourselves and why we are so angry or hurt or nervous or anxious. And they don’t all have to be dark. They just have to be stories and ideas that drive us. Once we understand them, we can reframe our minds and teach ourselves to think differently.

Maybe you’re really anxious right now. You should consider asking yourself what is causing you to be that way. Yes, there are external factors, of course. But there are also internal ones that are driving your anxiety, too. Maybe it was an event or relationship or family story that is affecting you. The point is to take the time to reflect and write about them, and you will make discoveries that will reframe your thinking and adjust your temperament.

Changing our temperament has incredible benefits. It not only improves our relationships but can also help you at work, in parenting, meeting new people, adapting to change, and even investing.

Temperament and investing

Warren Buffet says that investing isn’t about being the smartest person, but about temperament. “You don’t need tons of IQ in this business,” Buffet said. “I mean, you have to have enough IQ to get from here to downtown Omaha…You need a stable personality. You need a temperament that neither derives great pleasure from being with the crowd or against the crowd because this is not a business where you take polls. It’s a business where you think.” Source

Having the right temperament is the main differentiating factor between good investors and bad ones. Having a good temperament is good business. It’s an edge.

It’s also an edge in life. And knowing that we can mold our temperament is one of the greatest edges we can have.

I’m not going to lie to you. This isn’t easy; it’s really hard.

But it’s worth it.

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This Is One of the Smartest Things You Can Do

To get smarter you have to feel stupid, sometimes. You ask the obvious question, repeat something back, relearn something you think you should have already learned.

Sure, it can be embarrassing. But, to learn you have to be open to learning. And that means you’re not the master but the pupil, not the teacher but the student, not the expert but the amateur. But it’s worth it.

Your mind will bud, bloom, and flourish. And learning isn’t a flower that dies, it can blossom for a lifetime and can even leave an imprint on your friends, family, neighbors, strangers, and, even, future generations.

You see, the secret to getting smarter is forgetting about looking smarter, but loving knowledge so much that you don’t care about looking stupid to gain it.

That’s the smartest thing you can do.


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You Have Great Power

You are not powerless; you have a choice.

You can choose to avoid the news, build a routine, exercise, connect with a friend, read a great book—hope.

It’s not easy in this time, I get it.

Shifting your mind from focusing on the negative to healthier activities is your decision.

Decide to feed your mind stories that lift the spirit, move your body even if it’s just for a few minutes, take a walk outside, meditate, pray, get to sleep at a better hour, call someone and ask them how they’re doing, and turn off your notifications for the news.

Whatever you do, make decisions to further your health and, where you can, the health of others.

You have far more power than you may realize.

You are powerful enough to change the way you think and feel.

Lots of love,

John


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Keeping perspective in crisis: This too shall pass

Yes, I’m afraid. But my fleeting fear rests on this fact: This too shall pass.

Coronavirus should be taken seriously. We shouldn’t just keep on hanging out with all of our cohorts, sharing food, drinks, laughs in a crowded space, spraying respiratory droplets all over each other like we’re watering the lawn. Gross, but true.

Yet, we can’t live in fear either. Perspective is needed. There have been other epidemics and pandemics. And some of them have been incredibly deadly: AIDS (2005-2012) killed 36 million people, Spanish flu (1918) 20-50 million, The Black Death (1346-1353) 75-200 million. And humanity has survived them all.

So in those quiet moments, when it’s easy to get swept up and think the darkest thoughts surrounded by darkness, where we only see visions that make us tremble, remember this: the days will not always be dark.

Perhaps this is an opportunity to do some business with the Divine. Global crises seem to make those opportunities more opportune than they would have been if everything was bright. But God is humble and takes us no matter what draws us near so long as we do.

But no matter what state your soul is in or if governments start to close down borders, schools, or our favorite eateries and pubs—this too shall pass.

All of the epidemics and global crises that have hit this world have passed. And like a morning mist, they disappear years later as we forget them almost as if they never happened.

We are living through grave and difficult times. It is extraordinary.

But the dawn is coming.

It may get darker before we see the light. But it will come. And it will scatter the shadows before you.

And we will be eating and drinking together, laughing again and sharing our respiratory droplets freely without care, in the days to come.


To pass this time, I’m reading:

  1. Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It (affiliate): Top FBI negotiator, Chris Voss, shares his secrets and tactics of how he won negotiations in life and death situations so that we can negotiate everything from our salaries to getting our children to do what we want. I haven’t finished this yet, but it’s been an incredible read so far. His stories alone are worth the read. But the concepts are simple but awfully useful. This book is a great investment.
  2. The Great Gatsby (affiliate): Beauty—that’s why I read this book repeatedly. Fitzgerald, the author, paints spectacular pictures with words that stir the soul like an ocean breeze as you stand gazing at the sun dipping into the shimmering watery horizon. If you want to draw your mind away from anything awful, read this.
  3. The Four Loves (affiliate): Love is life. Yet, it’s so hard to define. Good thing C. S. Lewis does it for us in this seminal work that gives us a deeper understanding in this essential element of living so that we might all live better each and every day, with or without a pandemic.

Just because it’s scary outside, doesn’t mean we can’t cultivate beauty within. Books and beautiful words do that for us, friends. I hope you fill yourself with them.

Lots of love to you.

John

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This is one of the best ways to see your pain

Pain is awful. But it can be good if you choose it to be.

As if fearing the effects of a pandemic isn’t hard enough, the past several days, my wife and I have been working to manage our nine-month-old baby’s pain after his cleft palate repair surgery.

And that caused me to reflect on this subject that most of us hate but all of us experience: Pain.

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Photo by Road Trip with Raj on Unsplash

Our baby has been screaming. When he’s not screaming, he’s crying. Since the surgical work was on the roof of his mouth, any kind of eating and drinking is painful except for the fact that we’ve been pumping him full of painkillers.

Pain sucks—no matter who has it. I mean, if you have it or your baby has it or anyone else you love has it, it’s all awful. We want it to end, quickly, instantly.

And that’s the culture we live in. We want pills that take away the pain—immediate gratification. For us, pills and pain often go together. No one wants to suffer.

I’m not here to say that using pain medication isn’t good sometimes or that we shouldn’t practice pain management after your kids gets surgery. That’s not my point.

 

Pain is about mindset

Our mindset around pain is the point.

Most of us have a deep aversion to pain and will avoid it at all costs. And saying that pain produces good sounds awkward at best, wrong at worst. But it’s true.

Pain often produces goodness.

Isn’t this how pain often works. It’s terrible, really. We suffer and yearn for the time when it will end, begging God or anyone else to help us as we squirm, complain, rage. Taking medication when we can, self-medicating if we must.

But more often than not, if we decide to quiet ourselves and study the pain or accept it or absorb it, it produces some kind of good somehow somewhere along the line. It’s either the pain itself that teaches us something that we needed to learn or changes us somehow to make us better or grants us something that ends up being good, like my son’s surgery.

As a high schooler, I played sports, and I remember the great suffering I experienced during practices in August under the oppressive humid midwestern heat. When I wasn’t thinking about throttling my coaches for being sadistic middle-aged men, I learned something invaluable: Grit. When I felt like quitting, even dying, I was able to move forward. I could run another sprint, go another play, dig a little deeper. Pain taught me that.

 

Pain is a teacher

Pain is one of our best teachers.

We all face it, experience it. Don’t we? Parents failing us, friends leaving us, lovers betraying us, children lying to us, that old injury, migraines, or our bodies aging are all painful.

And now, during these times of greater uncertainty than we already live with, a pandemic closes in on our lives, as we watch the financial markets plummet each day, our companies panic, our sports teams shut down, our world dazed. It’s dizzying. It’s terrifying. It hurts. A lot.

And it’s in those moments that an opportunity to become greater presents itself. Pain can make us extraordinary.

It’s teaching us. It’s teaching you now. The question is, Are you willing to learn? Can you be a good student?

Patience, humility, kindness, empathy, grit are all molded into us, not in the good times, but in the bad. It’s in those terrible moments in life, when we want to hide but choose not to, those characteristics are forged, strengthened, codified into our minds, our hearts, our souls.

In pain, we’re being taught. We learn.

 

Growth means choosing pain

If you do, you will grow. It’s that simple. It’s just isn’t that easy.

Any great feat demands pain.

Want to get fit? Pain. Want to grow your career? Pain. Want to have a family? Pain. Want to have good relationships? Pain. Want to become a better person? Pain. It’s always a part of the equation of how you improve.

But that’s a choice. You can choose to see pain as your enemy or as a teacher. You can choose to see pain as the worst thing in life, or you can own it and believe that it will cause you to live better.

 

Closing thoughts

I’m not saying we should love pain. Just because it produces goodness doesn’t mean pain is good. In and of itself, it isn’t.

And I’m certainly not saying to go and seek it out. It’s a natural part of life. You don’t need to seek pain, it will find you.

Pain isn’t the objective.

It’s a path that can lead you to better things, if you so choose.

 


Three of the best books I’ve read on pain:

  1. A Grief Observed, by C. S. Lewis (affiliate link): Lewis shares the experience of losing the love of his life and articulates facets of emotional pain that I never knew existed. And somehow when I was able to see them, it helped me heal and grow.
  2. Man’s Search for Meaning, by Victor Frankl (affiliate link): Frankl was a Holocaust survivor. He was at Aushewtiz and somehow made it out alive and not only that set the lens of his psychiatric training on his suffering. It will change the way you see suffering forever.
  3. Problem of Pain, by C. S. Lewis (affiliate link): Why do good people suffer? Why is their pain? If God is good, why do we suffer? Those are all good questions. And Lewis tackles them in this book. It has been one of my all time favorites to help me wrestle with the ache we all feel.

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Want another post about dealing with pain? People enjoyed this one.

Suffering is one of the best ways to find meaning

This post was inspired by the Victor Frankl’s book, about his lessons from surviving the Holocaust, I listed above. He experienced unspeakable atrocities and wrote a book about them. But it’s less about his suffering and more about what learned from them in order to find meaning. You will marvel at his words, stories, and learnings. And you will be better because of them.

True happiness can’t be bought

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The best things in life don’t come with a receipt.

But all of our lives we’ve been told—no, sold—that if we buy this or that thing we will be sexy, better, satisfied, happy. But it’s not true. We’ve been duped.

I remember going into stores and buying this or that article of clothing for my wardrobe, adding another sweater, button-down shirt, jeans, knowing full well that I would only be adding to piles of clothes that I already had and barely touched. But that didn’t matter.

What did matter was that I felt good after I bought it, for a bit. There was a buzz, a shot of happiness. But after a day or two, the buzzing ceased. I was just me again, with another shirt in my closet.

Then I stopped buying because I realized this.

Consumerism is a lie.

The truth is nothing you buy can fulfill you, make you whole, or delight you like the greater things in life.

Instead of purchasing things you don’t need, spend time practicing healthy habits, connecting with loved ones, doing meaningful work, learning, living relationally and spiritually rich lives.

Hug a loved one. Kiss your child. Laugh with a friend. Do missionary work. Read. Pray. Worship. Love.

No one lying on their deathbed regrets spending time with their family or living a life serving a mission greater than themselves or playing tag with their kid or seeking spiritual fulfillment.

Those moments can’t be purchased, but they are invaluable.

And anyone can have them.

It’s your choice.

For your enjoyment

Don’t rush. Take your time. Meander. Roam. Wander.

If you see others scurrying to and fro, don’t follow them. Don’t imitate. Go at you own pace.

Actually, slow down.

Notice what’s around you, the beauty, the aromas, the sky.

Breathe in deeply and soak the world into your body; absorb it.

Smile.

Venture inward and take note of your thoughts, worries, dreams, hopes. Look at the wounds, the victories, the feelings, the fear, the faith.

Too often we live without living and see without seeing.

So open your hearts and eyes, feel and be delighted.

Enjoy.

You can choose

You have the power to choose.

Choose to love. Serve others. Adore yourself. Love the unlovable.

Choose to play. Like a child, enjoy your this moment, all of the moments, see the world with wonder, glee, delight. Playfully move through the world.

Choose to dance. Allow the music on the radio, in your mind, to move you, your body, your soul, feeling the rhythm flow through you.

Choose to live. A life without regret and unburdened by fear is what we all want. In each instance of your life, decide on living honorably, greatly, beautifully.

Today, I hope you choose well.

Love your life

Life’s simplest joys are best: a hug from a loved one, a kind word, a smile, the aroma of coffee right as you take the first sip, friends sharing stories and laughter, children growing, life awakening, a new day.

That’s not seen simply. It takes work.

See, we’re taught at a very young age that more is better, and better is best.

But, the truth is bigger piles of money, nicer homes, grander titles can’t give you what you really want.

Because more is never enough.

In quiet moments we can hear the whisperings that a secret to living well isn’t about getting what we desire but desiring what we’ve got.

When you believe that, you begin to experience the evidences of fullness, bounty, and blessing in your everyday moments, everywhere; and you will realize they are some of the things that make your life truly good and abundant, filling you with abounding mirth and joy.

And you won’t want more.

Because what you have is more than enough.

One of the greatest blessings we often overlook

Time is a gift.

Each second is a boon for your life, it’s a harvest of blessings before you—a feast.

Drink deeply from it, savor each morsel, enjoy, laugh, love—live.

This very second has been given to you. It’s an opportunity and invitation to grow, learn, try.

That dream you’ve wanted to realize, the book you wanted to write, that relationship you wanted to form are all before you, and today affords you the chance to bring them about.

If you have time, you are blessed.

This moment is a blessing.

Enjoy!