DR CUMMINGS: Be more than you are

March 16, 2014 

When I lived in the monastery, we used to gather in a quiet circle on Saturday evening after Vespers for a spiritual exercise called “accusations.” All of us monks would kneel down and one by one, we would “accuse” ourselves of faults in our behavior. The idea, of course, was to improve ourselves, to avoid those bad things -- whatever they were -- in the coming week and “to be more than we were.”

It didn’t work. Well, it didn’t work for me, anyway. There aren’t a whole lot of bad things a monk can do in a monastery, and I found it difficult to keep trying to create them. Like every other monk, I wanted to improve myself, but this system seemed archaic.

How about you? How do you pick things to improve upon? Do you start with your weight and then with your hair? Do you have a system that helps you measure the improvements you make? Perhaps you know those behavioral idiosyncrasies that drive your peer group crazy, and you can focus right in on the important stuff like: “I talk too much,” or “I’m kinda bossy.” No? Well, here’s one way to analyze it:

Are you an extrovert? There are two kinds. The first we call directors. They need to manage their anger. They want to get the job done right now, and they lose patience with slow responders. So if a director wants to work on improvement, the plan will involve working on empathy, understanding, caring and trying to participate and collaborate instead of shouting out orders. Gen. George S. Patton was a director. So is President Vladimir Putin in Russia.

The second group of extroverts we call socializers who need to sit down and work on details. They would rather party and talk than hit that deadline. They’re loads of fun to be around, but they hate it when the party’s over. If a socializer is really intent on improvement, the focus will be on the promises made and the schedules to be hit, and maybe toning down the bubbling optimism when objectivity is required. President Clinton is a socializer.

But maybe you’re an introvert. We call the first group relaters. They make great friends. They are loyal, predictable and consistent, but quite often they hate change. When they’re forced into some kind of change they have a tendency to become passive-aggressive. “I’ll take it now, but I’ll get you later.” Relaters can make great improvement by working on speaking up when they’d much rather be silent. Many hospital nurses are relaters who sometimes find themselves intimidated by extroverted doctors.

The second kind of introvert we call the thinker: cold and logical and usually right. They’re great for defining problems, gathering information and critiquing your ideas, but they’re slow to show feelings. This is the ideal personality for the jobs that require perfectionists: air traffic controllers, heart surgeons, editors and accountants. When I imagine the “ideal thinker,” Einstein comes to mind immediately. And when I try to wonder how he would design his improvement plan, I think it would include two tough choices: recognizing that others can be right and making time to laugh.

Most of us find we use one of these four a lot, but we also find we may use the other three as well if the circumstances warrant it, which, of course, widens our potential for improvement tactics.

How about you? Any accusations to make?

For a Dr. C. video on this topic, click on: www.youtu.be/sQnzKVwUwIM.

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