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Understanding and Changing Traits


This will be the first chapter on changing traits (or Habits).

Chapter 1 The trait

The first step is to identify the trait you wish to change. why change it, the importance of changing it, the consequences of not changing it and the type of trait it is ( Influenced, emotional or Habitual)

Exercise1-A: Questionnaire Trait identifier.

Answer the following questions honestly:

1. The specific trait I wish to change is ___________________________



2. My trait worries me or those around me.

3. My trait gets worse with time and circumstances

4. This trait is destructive.

5. I am (am not) completely aware of this trait (circle one)

6. People around me, in my opinion, are unable or unwilling to help me.

7. My behavior is not my fault. It is present because I grew up in a bad environment or because other people around me force me to act that way.

8. I often feel hopeless, extremely tired or helpless.

9. I feel I am constantly judged by others.

10. I feel (ugly, stupid, awkward)

11. I was bullied at school

12. I bullied others in school

13. I hurt animals on purpose when I was a child

14. I have seen a physician at least twice in the past 12 months

15. I have seen a physician over 5 times in the past 12 months.

16. I have been diagnosed with _______________________ (medical condition)

17. Most of the time I feel _______________ (one emotion)

18. I don’t like for people to try to “convince” me

19. I should not have to “explain” myself to others

20. I keep my opinions to myself most of the time.

21. I admit that I need professional help.

22. Most people around me feel I need professional help.

23. I do take recreational drugs.

24. I spend more than _$_______________ in recreational drugs weekly.

25. I spend more than _$_______________ in alcohol weekly.

26. I am addicted to _____________________ (list all addictions including drugs, cigarettes, alcohol and sex or pornography).

27. I have attended therapy before. _______ years ago.

28. In the past 12 months I have thought of hurting myself or others around me.

29. At one point in my life, I did attempt to hurt myself or others around me.

30. I have been “baker acted” before. (provided with emergency services and temporary detention for mental health issues against my will)

31. I was, or am, in an abusive relationship. I stayed, or choose at the present time to stay in that relationship because I have no other option.

32. There is a history of abuse in my childhood.


Now find a comfortable place to sit or lay down and distract your mind for a while, NO TV OR ALCOHOL, take a walk, exercise, stretch, meditate, pray, get some coffee, eat something. Just shake it all off for at least an hour. You have just taken a beating with this test. Recover before continuing.

If you are back, follow these instructions carefully. Take exactly 7 slow breaths. They don’t have to be deep (although it is advisable) but it is required that they are slow. Close your eyes and place in your head the most relaxing thought you can have. This could be a memory of a place, sitting next to someone you love, etc. Think of that moment you felt totally safe. If you are presently at that place, look around you, breathe everything in. Remember, 7 slow breaths. Let’s move on to the next exercise

Exercise 1-B:

We are now going into the second part of the assessment. I promise. If you are honest and open, you will have a much better picture. You are almost there.

For this exercise you will need a notebook and a pen, not a pencil.

Using the answers you gave before, write a letter to yourself describing all about you. There is only one rule. Once written, you can’t erase anything. What you write stays.

Example: “My behavior (or trait) does not worry me but it worries those around me. I don’t see it but people around me are telling me it is getting worse. It is destroying my relationship with _________________. The specific behavior is that I drink too much and I argue a lot when I do… ” Go point by point and write everything. Remember, you may not erase anything. Take your time. Make it as short or as long as you wish but cover every one of the answers.

DONE?… Great. We will work a lot using this information.

Remember the break you took before? Now it’s time for your second break. Just like you did before, including the 7 slow breaths. When you are done, return.

Exercise A-C 3 steps to Perception:

Step one:

Read what you wrote. Be honest (you are talking to yourself, no need to be dishonest). What emotions do you feel when you read what you wrote? Be specific. Frustration, anger, sadness, etc.

Pay special attention to your handwriting. Does it look different in some parts? What parts? What emotions were involved? Write your answers down in the notebook. Most importantly, do you feel you need professional help?

Step two:

Picture the person you love the most. Now picture this person sitting down right in front of you and telling you the same things you just wrote down about themselves.

How do you feel? Are you worried or alarmed? Are you concerned? Again, be honest in your answers. Can you see the importance and the impact of those words to those around you? Can you see the importance of this change? Most importantly, would you ask this loved one to seek professional help?

Now write your answers in the notebook.

Step 3:

Have a loved one read the letter. Let them read it one person at a time. Don’t get, for example, your mother and father together. Explain to them that their objective is not to judge whether your emotions are right or wrong. These are your emotions, your feelings, your thoughts. Only you can tell what those emotions are. Their mission is to tell you, how they feel after reading your letter. What do they think about what you wrote? What emotions do they think are attached to the letter? Did they notice the different handwriting? Are their answers different to yours? How are they different? Are they closer to your own answers or are they closer to the answers you gave when you pictured your loved one telling you these things? Are they asking you to seek professional help?

Write the answers in the notebook.

This exercise has several purposes. The main three are:

1. To help you determine if professional help is needed

2. To identify the trait

3. It tells you how those around see you. If everyone around you feels, for example, that you need professional help, or that you drink too much, or that you are depressed, maybe you should listen. Ask them why they feel that way? If everyone else says you should change a different trait than the one you chose, you should listen.

There is nothing wrong with them trying to “convince” you. They are not forcing you or getting mad at you for not seeing things their way. They are not trying to hurt you. Remember, you chose them. If they do get upset, or try to take control, tell them you will consider what their opinion is but the final decision is still yours. Tell them that you have decided to change this particular trait because you feel it is the most important and that it will, more than likely, influence other traits including the one they think should change. Most traits are connected to other traits. By changing one trait, you will change the others. In fact, you will find that changing some traits, eliminate other traits completely. What you can’t afford to do is get upset yourself. You are in control. It is your decision.

Now that you have identified the trait, let’s look at some basic tools you can use to help get you on your way.

Basic tools for changing a trait:

Tool #1. Adopting a habit.

A trait may be corrected by choosing the correct action and words. As an example, try this.

Learn to pay attention to details:

Next time you are somewhere and your mate tells you they like a $50.00 piece of jewelry or a $60.00 purse, secretly take a photo the item with your phone camera. When your anniversary or spouse’s birthday comes around, go back to the store, show the clerk the photo and buy that instead of a $150.00 bouquet of flowers. I can promise you, it will mean a whole lot more and you will save money in the process. After doing this a few times, it will become a habit, your spouse will appreciate this greatly and you will be a considerate, thoughtful “sweet” hero. No one has to know anything about the camera photo.

Benefits: Monetary, attention exercise, happiness builder

Tool #2 Learn how to vocalize appreciation for each other BOTH OF YOU:

The trait may also be corrected by adopting another habit. For example, saying “I love and appreciate everything you do for me” just once in a while instead of assuming that “they know” by your actions. Saying “I’m sorry” or “I will try harder” could solve everything also. There is no such thing as “Love means never having to say I’m sorry” (sorry girls, the movie “Love Story” is definitely wrong on this one. You can’t have it both ways).Instead, a better example is displayed in the movie “Ghost” (If you haven’t seen it, try your best to watch it. Great movie and no, it’s not a “chick flick” guys). In the movie, Demi Moore’s character, Molly Jensen, had one major complaint about her boyfriend Sam Wheat (Patrick Swaze). He never said “I love you”. He only responded “Ditto” when she said she loved him. It was not until after death that Sam learned how important this was to her. Classic example of what I am talking about. By changing this trait and getting in the habit of saying “I love you” once in a while, you can remove destructive emotions. And since these emotions are connected to other emotions, you may solve “feeling unappreciated,” “feeling lonely”, “feeling neglected” or “hurt or “ignored” or “angry”, and many other emotions in your loved one at the same time. Does this make sense?

Benefits: Communication opener and builder, Builds confidence, Stress reducer, Happiness builder

Tool #3 Learn how to be expressive:

Cuddle watching a movie, walk around the block where you live holding hands, gain expressive gestures.

Benefits: Intimacy builds, builds self esteem

Tool #4 Set aside time to talk:

Don’t have dinner in front of the T.V. every day. Sit at the table and ask each other how your day was.

Benefits Communication builder, stress reducer, Removes coldness from relationship

We will discuss others later on but these, trust me, work and they are really good basic tools

Next we discuss some basic communication tools. Communication is in fact a necessity in order to change effectively. It is also a building block for the relationship.

Exercise “A” Learning to observe and project the right image.

Have a conversation with someone. You are going to tell the person about a movie you saw one. What was it about? what happened? good or bad movie, etc. BUT YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED TO TALK OR WRITE IT DOWN! You will use only hand and body gestures, or facial expressions, etc. Body language.

See how close you come to conveying your message effectively.

Exercise shows how important unspoken language is and how you can use it to your advantage.

Exercise: Basic Communication skills developer:

A- Prepare your mind. Be honest. If you are not able to dedicate your full attention to the person, try to ask to have the conversation at another time. Then make sure you do.

“The best remedy for a short temper is a long walk” Joseph Joubert

B- Listen. I mean REALLY LISTEN! Do not talk or interrupt. Look at them while they are talking. Try to relate to what they are saying to you.

C- Paraphrase. After they are finished talking, say in your own words what you understood they said. You would be surprised how many times you think you clearly understood but didn’t. Paraphrasing is an excellent tool to avoid misunderstandings.

D-Listen more than you talk. Listening is an art. Some people are born with this ability (my wife Nora, for example), and it is the most important tool you can use in having an effective conversation.

E-Be consistent between your speech and your action. Don’t say you are not upset if you really are. This sends conflicting messages and it is the fastest way to kill effective communication. Statistics show that the female population is most guilty of this. If you are mad or upset, say so.

F- Stick to one subject. Don’t talk about three or four things at a time. Statistics also show the male population is in need of this most of the time. When it comes to listening and conversations, we are not as “multi-task” as women are so talk to us about one or two subjects at a time. NO NAGGING PLEASE! That has never and will never work at all.

G-Never have sensitive conversations over the phone. It is always best face to face.

H- Rehearse (I bet this is a new one for you). While driving, imagine you have the person in the car with you and have the conversation in the car. Listen to what you say. Does it make sense? Is an emotion such as sadness or anger what is doing the talking? Repeat and repeat until you find the way to remove as many emotions from your conversation.

I- Be fair and open minded. If you see you were wrong, admit that and say that you will work on that as soon as you finish working on the present trait you are trying to change.

J- If at any point, the conversation turns violent in words or actions, finish the conversation and state clearly that you don’t wish to continue the conversation at that time but you will come back to the conversation later. If the person insist, tell them that you need time to think about what the person said and then HONESTLY com back to the conversation

K- Pay special attention to body language and facial expressions. Body language can be a lot more accurate than words. Learn how to read these.

Again, we will come across more later but these are basic conversation tools for you to build upon.

You may be saying to yourself, “This is a lot of work. Why should I do this?

You may be asking yourself the reason why you should do these things? To answer this I will start by telling you a story about a former client. We’ll call him Lucas. Now Lucas saw no need to change something in him in order to handle a similar situation. He told me that not saying things like “I love you” or “I appreciate the things you do” are part of his personality. It was just the way he was and she had to accept that instead of trying to change him. He felt he showed these things rather than saying them. “Should I say these things or prove them?” Sounds familiar? On the other hand, he told me that she was the best thing that had happened to him in his entire life. “I would take a bullet for this woman”, he told me. So let me get this straight. You would take a bullet for her, take the risk of getting killed or ending up in a comma or in a wheel chair for the rest of your life, but you will not consider changing for “the best thing that happened to you in your entire life”? DOES THAT MAKE SENSE TO YOU?

The truth is that to say these things embarrasses him and scares him because it places in a vulnerable position. He feels threatened, forced, and scared.

I told Lucas “Remember the time she got mad at you and you asked her what was wrong? Remember she simply told you “nothing” or “If you don’t know I’m not going to tell you? Didn’t you simply hate that? (Yes girls. Most of you do that). “Guess what Lucas? You are guilty of the same sin. You are asking her to know something simply because you think she should know. You are giving her a choice. Choose between me showing you evidence of my love than just hearing that I love and appreciate you.” This is nothing but an excuse Lucas. Why should she settle for one or the other? How would you like it if she asked you “would you rather see me cook or do the laundry?” You are entitled to all of her and she is entitled to all of you.”

Realizing that was one of the first steps Lucas took in order to realize he needed to change the trait. A highly intellectual man, Lucas kept his eye on the goal, not the obstacles.

A famous American writer by the name of Henry James said once:

“Obstacles are those frightening things you see when you take your eyes off your goal.”

The Price-Prize Factor

Now it’s time to look at our first theory. I call it the “Price – Prize factor”.

There are two reasons why a person refuses to pay for something:

1. The price tag is too high

2. The prize is not valuable enough.

Luckily, there are three solutions:

1. Lower the price tag

2. Raise the value of the prize

3. Come to full understanding of the value of both.

When considering the price you are paying, take a good look. A lot of times our minds are cluttered with what I like to call a “ghost price tags”. This is a lot like monopoly money. They look real but they are not. All it takes is for you to take a closer look and realize that. In Lucas’ case, he feels attacked, embarrassed, vulnerable and scared. However, there is no reason to feel he is paying that price.

Right now, ask yourself just 2 questions about the last argument you had.

1. How did you feel? (Narrow it down to 1 word. Attacked, Neglected, Ignored, etc.)

2. Why did you feel that way?

Specify the reason you felt that way.

It you can’t come up with a logical answer to the second question, you answered the first question incorrectly.

The feeling is a “ghost price tag”. The price you think you are paying (placing yourself in a vulnerable position, undergoing attacks, being embarrassed by someone, etc.) is not real. You are actually paying considerably less.

Let’s say that, after doing this, you still believe the price tag is too high. The next question is, “can we lower the price?” For example, your spouse asks for you to have a football party at your house. You hate these because of the work involved before, during and after. Can you lower the price by saying “I will do this for you. I will get the snacks and you can handle the cleaning afterwards.” Maybe you can lower the price by saying “We can do that as long as there is no alcohol involved”.

Make sure you are just lowering the price you would have to pay, not completely eliminating it. By that I mean, don’t make the other person pay for everything. The time will come when you will ask your spouse to do something for you. You are not going to like paying full price then.

Another option we can use instead of, or in addition to lowering the price is raising the prize.

Recently, my wife came to me with this proposition. She wanted me to go to her daughter’s graduation party at a park. She knew her ex-husband was going to be there, it was going to be hot, there was going to be people there that I did not get along with, liquor, (I don’t drink at all), etc. It was not going to be pleasant for me. She told me that, if I went to this party, she would go with me to my daughter’s wedding in Pittsburgh even though she is not a fan of airplanes and did not know anyone there other than my daughter.

This is a classic example of raising the prize. A fair trade. It was worth it to me to pay the price she was asking (going to this party), when I realized the prize I would get in return (going to my daughter’s wedding party with her by my side).

Now let’s go back to Lucas. Did he understand the value of the prize? I would say so. She is “the best thing that happened to him in his entire life”. Did he think that the price he would pay is too high? Yes. Why? Because did not have a full understanding of the value of both, price and prize. His perception was influenced by a “ghost price tag”. Once he realized the actual value involved, the fact that compromising is a two way street and that his spouse would have to compromise also, that this would result in peace for both of them and the entire family, that she had not changed him but HE had decided to change for the good of the relationship in exchange for other changes she would make for the same reason, the price paid for the prize obtained became a bargain. He stopped looking at the obstacles when he kept his eyes on the goal.

Look at your prize (the reward you will receive). It can be a happier relationship with a loved one, a better and higher paying job, a certification or diploma, better communication, a healthier life, or a combination of prizes. Establish that first.

Now take a look at the price you are paying. You are reading about changing, making an effort to change something, biting your tongue instead of lashing out, maybe you are going to group therapy, Alcoholic Anonymous, Therapy, counseling, you are writing your thoughts, listening more, trying harder to understand everyone around you. Are there any “ghost price? Are you ready to remove those from this price since they don’t belong there?

Is the price you are paying a fair price for the prize? Do you fully understand all the rewards you receive? Do you stand a risk of losing something you have right now? What is it worth to you to keep that from happening? Can you raise the prize? Can you lower the price? Can you trade things (“Can I trade cooking for cleaning the dishes”)? Negotiate. Compromise. “WORK THINGS OUT”

This is a lot to think about huh? Why don’t you do that before going to the next chapter?