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.