Before we discuss changing who we will become, perhaps we should take a personal inventory of who we are right now. I see the personality as composed of four inter-connected parts: the body, the intellect, the emotions, and the conscience.
Who we are in body is simply our physical manifestation -- the head and limbs, the organs and tissues, the very cells of which we are composed. If we decide to change our body we must first change the actions we perform with our bodies: our activity level and our intake of food. Although we may commit to making a permanent change at a specific moment, the change itself is a process that takes quite a while to occur. Small changes are made each day, small changes that typically go unnoticed. Over time, with persistence and perserverance, we begin to notice improvement in our body. Notice that we don't actually change our bodies, we change our bodily habits -- aside from plastic surgery, there is no more direct way to do so. As we continue to train our bodies, we begin to train our desires as well -- altering appetite and the itch to be active. The very habits we struggled to implement in the beginning become easy as the growth encourages the change. The habits become self-perpetuating -- getting the process started is the hard part.
Note the pattern: first the decision and altering habits, then growth, and last the desire for the new habits.
At the beginning of the process, we don't want to change, we're complacent with who we are. The decision to change is radical, it goes against every fibre of our being, against our very nature to maintain the status quo. Altering habits is therefore a very difficult process which we should expect to feel unnatural, uncomfortable. The decision has to come before the growth because we must deliberately create positive habits and fight our innate complacency if we are to grow. Most people fail to grow because they mistakenly expect the desire for the new habits to start before the change in behaviour. They wait to change their lifestyle while they try to muster the desire for these new habits. As we have seen, this is completely backwards.
Now let us examine the intellect, the reasoning part of ourselves. The intellectual habit which we can change in order to grow is our way of thinking. This action may seem either too easy or too impossible a task. Either it seems as simple as repeating positive affirmations or as paradoxical as controlling an obsessive thought. Thoughts do occur to us and we can't really change that fact. What we choose to dwell upon, however, is something we can control. Having a flash of lust run through your mind is one thing, daydreaming about every torrid detail is quite another. As we groom our mental habits, replacing faulty thinking, we are sure find some contradictions and assumptions that just don't fit anymore. Eventually, though, our thinking will form a coherent whole that represents who we are.
As we examine our emotions, we must also examine our attitudes and perceptions. Many people feel that emotions are impossible to control, that they well up unchecked from the core of our being. Losing control of your emotions, whether having a short temper or a meloncholy disposition, is not pleasant and is not respected. Adults are expected to maintain discrecetion, the polite social grace to hide or supress our purest feelings. As anyone with a bad temper can tell you, however, changing your emotions is easy to say but very difficult to do. The habit we must foster is that of maintaining a good attitude. Someone can anger us, but we must focus on who we are, who we want to be, and then just 'let it go.' If you allow someone to agitate you, they've won and you have lost. Can we groom a good attitude? YES! We can consciously give others the benefit of the doubt, cut them some slack, expect the best, appreciate the mediocre, and ignore the worst. These are the elements of optimism, the practice of which breeds happiness, contentment, and more optimism.
Lastly we examine our conscience, the part of us which decides what is right and what is wrong. Some of this part seems innate, some indoctrinated by our families and society, but most of it is left up to us. Guilt is a common indicator of wrong-doing or wrong motives, but even the remorseless demonstrate their discernment as a fear of getting caught. The habit of revering good and abhoring evil makes us aware of our every action. Contemplating good and evil causes us to judge ourselves, to see things about ourselves that we had previously ignored. This self-examination encourages us to do the right thing and encourages the desire to do the right thing, another self-perpetuating cycle.
These four dimensions of our character may either be aligned with God or aligned with our own selfish desires. For each facet of personality there is a corresponding facet of the soul and a corresponding set of sins we may commit:
. . . . (need some sort of conclusion) . . . .
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Last revision: January 28, 2000