Personality is both formed and fluid, static and dynamic. If the brain is the most complex bit of matter in the universe, personality may amount to the most complex set of dynamics in the universe.
Sometimes you react reflexively; sometimes you stop yourself from acting reflexively and consider your reaction. Sometimes you operate from the shadows, leading with the dark side of your personality; sometimes you operate from the light. Sometimes you feel yourself to be nothing but a walking addiction; sometimes you act in a principled and disciplined way for days on end. You — we — are exactly this mass of contradictions.
The Autobiography: Figuring Ourselves Out
Nevertheless, we are obliged to figure ourselves out and make any changes that we deem necessary. In working with therapy clients, creativity coaching clients, and meaning coaching clients for more than twenty years, I’ve found that perhaps the most useful tool for self-exploration is writing an autobiography from twelve to fifteen pages long.
If you do that writing, you are almost certain to learn a great deal about who you are. Focus on going deep and being real, not on beautiful memoir writing. Try to arrive at a sense of what motivates you, what subverts you, and why you react in the idiosyncratic ways you do.
The Challenge: Changing Your Personality
If you are brave enough to appraise your personality and arrive at some conclusions about what changes you want to make, you will still be faced with the enormous challenge of actually changing your personality. To do so, you must take three steps: you must state a clear goal with nameable behaviors, you must practice those behaviors in your mind’s eye, and you must adopt those behaviors in real-life situations.
For example, you might name as a goal “becoming more assertive.” Then you name the behaviors that go with that goal, for example, “the next time Jim criticizes me, I will tell him to stop.” Next you rehearse in your mind’s eye. Finally, when Jim does criticize you, even though you don’t feel even slightly up to the task, you manage to tell him to stop.
The Task: Staying Focused on Our Intention
It is splendid to act assertively when we have decided that we want to become more assertive. But if it is our style to be meek, then a single assertive response will not do the trick. We need to repeat our desired behaviors over and over, forgive ourselves when we slip and react too meekly, continue practicing and rehearsing, and pay attention to our goals every day.
We stay focused on our intentions, cherish our successes, and remain mindful of the fact that slips remain a persistent possibility. If you can upgrade your personality in this way, identifying the changes you want to make and then making them, you will significantly reduce your experience of anxiety.
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The Practice: To Do
Appraise your personality for strengths and weaknesses. Start working today on the weaknesses.
This article was excerpted with permission from the book:
Mastering Creative Anxiety: 24 Lessons for Writers, Painters, Musicians, and Actors from America's Foremost Creativity Coach
by Eric Maisel.
Reprinted with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA. ©2011. www.newworldlibrary.com.
About the Author
Eric Maisel, PhD, is the author of more than thirty works of fiction and nonfiction. His nonfiction titles include Coaching the Artist Within, Fearless Creating, The Van Gogh Blues, The Creativity Book, Performance Anxiety, Ten Zen Seconds, A Writer’s San Francisco, and A Writer’s Paris. A columnist for Art Calendar magazine, Maisel is a creativity coach and creativity coach trainer who presents keynote addresses and workshops nationally and internationally. Visit www.ericmaisel.com to learn more about Dr. Maisel, or drop him a line at [email protected] To learn about his innovative breathing-and-thinking techniques, visit www.tenzenseconds.com.