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Habits define our personality and our values

Improving Systems and Habits

Scott Miker is the author of several books that describe how to use systems and habits to improve.  This free blog provides articles that to help understand the principles related to building systems.  

Habits define our personality and our values

Scott Miker

Years ago I heard a speaker talk about values, personality and actions.  He made the clear argument that our values determine our personality.  Then he asserted that our personality dictates our actions.  His main point was that in order to change you have to start at the values level.  Change there will mean change everywhere. 

But to me this doesn’t align with what I have witnessed.  We all know people who believe and say one thing but act a completely different way. 

I’m sure all of us have made mistakes.  There were times in our lives when we did something inappropriate or hurtful and had to apologize.  These times tend to feel like it wasn’t really us or that it feels like a different person committed the act.  But if we keep these instances temporary they don’t truly define us.  It is when we do these things over and over that it starts to determine who we are.    

Governments and businesses all fall into this too.  Their actions are usually determined by their processes and procedures.  Their personality is their corporate culture.  Their values are their core values and mission statement, vision statement etc. 

But how many times do we see the mission statement of a company and think “wow, that is nothing like my experience working with them.”

The reality is that it is easy to say the right thing.  But it is completely different than doing the right thing.  And yet corporate leaders and politicians are all about saying the right thing.  But once elected or once past the strategic process, the execution falls apart. 

There is a great paragraph in Donella Meadows’ book, Thinking in Systems, that says, “If a frog turns right and catches a fly, and then turns left and catches a fly, and then turns around backwards and catches a fly, the purpose of the frog has to do not with turning left or right or backward but with catching a fly.” 

She goes on to connect this to governments (and it equally applies to businesses and individuals) by saying, “If a government proclaims its interest is in protection of the environment but allocates little money or effort toward that goal, environmental protection is not, in fact, the government’s purpose.  Purposes are deduced from behavior, not from rhetoric or stated goals.”

To me this applies to the relationship between actions, personality and values as well as processes and procedures, corporate culture and core values.  To determine your values first doesn’t mean that your personality or your actions reflect that.  We all know people who we label as hypocrites because their values aren’t reflected in the way they behave.

The speaker actually had it backwards, in my opinion.  The reality is that our repeated actions and behaviors determine who we are.  What we do is actually the important part.  It is also the part that we have control over. 

By changing our habits we can change our personality.  If we are a passive person and want to become more assertive, we don’t just simply change how we think about our values or personality.  All we can really do is change our actions.  If we do that over and over until these new actions become habits, then we will, in fact, change our personality.

As our personality follows our actions, our values will start to align with our personality.  The biggest problem with starting with values is that these are ingrained in us.  It isn’t as simple as saying something different.  We have to do something different for it to be real.   

That is why I view everything from the starting point of actions.  By doing this you can start to change and improve all three aspects.  But if you start at values you will likely find that it becomes empty words with no action or behavior to back that up.  You will still do the same things and this will be reflected in your same personality.

If you are truly serious about improving then find ways to consistently change your behavior.  Make very small steps forward and do them over and over again.  This will start to become habit and you will start to shift into a different personality and will start to hold onto new values. 

Beware of the negative aspect of this too.   If you start bad behaviors then over time this will start to influence your personality and change your values.  To me this explains how someone of strong character can change and eventually have a fall from grace.  They took a few negative behaviors that repeated them until their personality and values no longer represented whom they were. 

If you are interested in improvement, start with your behaviors.  Find a few small changes you can make and work to solidify these new habits.  Once they become strong habits it will be easy to better define your personality and values.  So don’t make the mistake of thinking that you can simply think of core changes to make them real.