You don’t eliminate a bad habit or tendency — you work to transform it.
Self-knowledge as a key to happiness is nothing new; four centuries before the birth of Christ, Socrates said, “Know thyself.” Acknowledging our strengths, weaknesses, gifts, and faults is clearly an asset in life, but it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by our faults, as though they were much greater than our strengths. Have you ever felt that a certain personality defect is ruining your life and sowing discord around you? Fortunately, it’s possible to learn how to manage these faults and minimize their negative impact.
First of all, be patient and determined. If you have several vices you’d like to correct, address them one at a time. This work is not actually about eliminating a tendency, but transforming it. Therefore, the focus should be on replacing each defect with a virtue. To do this, you have to be kind to yourself. Find the strength to admit your faults, and then learn to use these traits in a positive way so that they don’t hinder you or your relationships with others.
Here are five faults you can correct with a bit of work:
Anger is considered one of the seven deadly sins — but there’s the emotion of anger, which we have to a real or perceived injustice, and then there the reaction we have to a physical or emotional wound. The latter is the real problem.
Repressing our emotions isn’t helpful, therefore, the goal is not to avoid anger altogether, but to control its expression and repercussions. Repressing anger will only lead to internal tension. So, what can you do?
Try to transform this fault with the virtue of temperance. Look for words to express your anger: What am I feeling? Why? If you lose your temper, take time afterwards to analyze the situation: What happened? How did I react? How could I have reacted differently?
If it helps, write out your thoughts. Try to recall these thoughts the next time you are hurt or frustrated. Learn how to control your reactions in the moment and take time to distance yourself from the situation before reacting. This will allow you to choose a more temperate approach. Visualization and relaxation techniques such as mindfulness exercises and meditation can be helpful, as well as various forms of art, since they favor emotional expression.
Another option could be to find a sport or activity that allows you to release your negative energy and tension. Find the way that’s right for you to release what’s inside, whether it’s calm or energetic!
The lack of desire to do what is necessary can lead to other problems, which is the reason laziness — considered part of “sloth” — is also considered a deadly sin. As a result of procrastinating indefinitely, lazy people find themselves with an ever-growing list of unaccomplished tasks. Eventually, they will be subject to external pressures that will leave them with no choice but to get to work.
How can we overcome laziness? If you lack desire to do a necessary task, try setting yourself a realistic deadline. If you have several things to do in one week, give yourself small objectives for each day, alternating with things you enjoy doing. In this system of alternating action and reward, it will be less psychologically difficult to accomplish your tasks. Don’t forget that by delaying your tasks, you make them accumulate. They won’t diminish over time. Why not do the dishes right after supper? It would take only 15 minutes, while five days of dishes would take an hour — and in five days, you won’t have a choice but to wash them because there will be no clean dishes left.
Concentrate on the satisfaction you will feel once the task is accomplished, keeping in mind the snowball effect: neglect a task once, then again … and in the end a month will go by and it still won’t be done! Beyond the displeasure, keep in mind the result. Once your task is accomplished you will be free to rest without guilt!
Timidity is often perceived as a fault by those who suffer from it. As mentioned earlier, in order to overcome a defect, it has to be turned into a virtue. Timidity can be seen as an extreme form of discretion or reserve, which is not always a bad thing. Discreet people are often appreciated because they observe and listen. They are also independent, frequently because they’re afraid to disturb anyone. In the book of Joshua (1:9), we read “I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
At the root of timidity, there is often fear, doubt, and a lack of self-confidence. How can we replace this fear with courage?
In the first place, you have to be aware of your timidity. Recognize situations that might be challenging for you so that you can anticipate them and prepare your reactions. Overcome your worries by working on self-confidence. Put yourself in situations in which you are obligated to interact with others, without setting unrealistic goals. You don’t have to give a speech in front of hundreds of people. Instead, decide to say hello to the people you meet while looking them in the eye. Repeat this until you feel at ease, then set another goal — asking for advice from a salesperson at a store, for example. Proceed gradually. If going to a restaurant makes you nervous, first go on a picnic, where you have more freedom to choose your interactions with others …
Make your life easier by planning. Prepare what you will say, write it down, act out scenarios in front of the mirror… Challenge yourself to offer and receive compliments and criticisms. Your opinion is just as valid as anyone else’s! Be patient with yourself and think of the benefits you and those around you will reap because of your courage. Desiring to overcome timidity already shows strength of character!
4. Judging and gossiping
“To watch over mouth and tongue is to keep out of trouble” (Proverbs 21:23). Pope Francis has spoken strongly against gossiping, calling it the “terrorism of gossip”: “The person who gossips is like one who throws a bomb and runs away; he destroys with his tongue, he does not make peace.” Gossiping is also prohibited in the 10 commandments: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16).
To combat gossip, we must resist it. First of all, don’t spend time with people who gossip, or participate in their conversations. The things they say don’t reveal the character of the person targeted, but their own. The desire to cause harm to another is the attitude of a sinner. If you witness gossip, speak out against it and walk away.
As a general rule, respect the secrets of others and reflect before speaking. Pray for people touched by unjust and unfounded stories. Choose to say good things about others or say nothing at all.
5. Jealousy and envy
Like timidity, jealousy is often rooted in insecurity and lack of self-confidence. Being jealous or envious betrays a dissatisfaction with what God has given us. “A tranquil mind gives life to the flesh, but passion makes the bones rot” (Proverbs 14:30). Sometimes jealousy is a twisted form of love, which can also be destructive—as much for the jealous person as for those around him.
The first important point is to admit that you are jealous and recognize your sinfulness. Also, don’t pretend to admire someone when you are actually jealous or envious.
Then, pay attention to what you have instead of what you lack. This will help you avoid coveting what others have, appreciating instead your own blessings. If you are jealous in your relationship with your spouse, try to remember why he or she is with you. Your spouse chose you, despite having other choices. The fact that you are still together is evidence of your mutual commitment.
Another important step in overcoming jealousy is to stop comparing yourself to others. Deny yourself the right to be envious, and instead, be grateful in your prayers. Celebrate the successes of others, just as you appreciate being celebrated. The success of one person does not necessarily mean the failure of another. Trust that God has a plan for all his children!
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