Updated: May 21
Is there a best personality? An optimal personality? A well-balanced personality?
These are questions I've been pondering ever since a couple of years ago, when I became fascinated with personality. I studied various personality tests such as
DISC: useful for teamwork
Four Tendencies: useful for getting ourselves and people to do things
16 Personalities: a comprehensive personality test
Vedic Personalities: useful for career
Five Elements Personality: useful for health
I've learned that there is no "best" personality because each personality has their own strengths and weaknesses. But we can optimize and balance our personality by leveraging our strengths and correcting our weaknesses.
Recently, I've been studying The Middle Way, and I realized that the optimal personality is when we apply the Middle Way to our personality traits. Basically, we don't want excess or deficiency in our personality traits. Instead, we need the right amount in the right situations. When we follow The Middle Way, we will attain peace and happiness.
Here are some examples:
Kindness is a wonderful trait, and no one likes a mean person. Most of us could improve our kindness, consideration, and care towards others. As Aesop said,
"No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted."
At the same time, we need to be wise with kindness. Examples of unwise kindness includes
Making the other person spoiled, entitled, and ungrateful
Making the other person dependent on us and weak
Doing improper favors and things to make them happy
Therefore, when we help others, we need to make sure they feel gratitude and not entitlement. We also need to help them become independent in the future rather than dependent on our help forever. Finally, we should not break any rules or do anything illogical out of emotional attachment to them.
We also need a certain amount of strictness when teaching others. For example, the first time someone makes a mistake, we could teach them kindly. The second time, we can be a little more strict. The third time, we would need to be more strict and serious. If we don't, then they might develop a bad personality that would hurt everybody in the future.
Attention-to-Detail is a great attitude to have towards matters, and carelessness must be corrected.
The Daoist sage Lao Tzu said,
"All great matters are accomplished in the small details."
(From Dao De Jing. Original Text: 天下大事必作于细。)
But if we become too attached to perfecting the details, we may create problems such as
Being too demanding towards others, which creates conflict
Wasting time on unimportant things
Create unnecessary stress for ourselves
Missing the big picture
Therefore, we need to make sure our attention-to-detail does not give unreasonable pressure to others, waste time, or lose sight of the big picture.
Planning is definitely an important ability. Confucius said,
"In all things, preparation leads to success, and lack thereof leads to failure. Prepared speech prevents stumbles. Prepared tasks prevents hardship. Prepared actions prevent remorse. Prepared principles are inexhaustible."
(From The Doctrine of the Mean. Original text: 凡事豫则立，不豫则废。言前定则不跲，事前定则不困，行前定则不疚，道前定则不穷。)
To not plan properly is to be negligent. But excess planning also has negatives, such as
Becoming rigid and unable to deal with things outside our plan
Becoming stubborn and creating conflict with others
Becoming indecisive and then procrastinating
We should do our best to plan during the planning stage. The planning stage should not be too long either. Once the planning stage is over, it's time to act, and when we act, we need to go with the flow, to adjust the plan as we go along.
Being serious and conscientious about our work and relationships is a great trait, but sometimes we need lightness too. If we are too serious, then we will feel stressed, and others will feel pressure from others. If we are too light-hearted towards things, then others won't trust us to do a good job.
It is good to push ourselves to do our best, but if we push ourselves too much, we burn out quickly. Marathon runners have found that running at 85% intensity results in optimal performance. It is quite a lot of effort but also sustainable.
I think this applies to our mind as well. When we do time-consuming mental work, we should do it at 85% intensity for optimal performance.
It is great to be serious about commitments and promises, but we must also be wise. Circumstances are always changing. If what you promised made sense back when you promised it, but now it no longer makes sense, then don't be stubborn, and don't create unnecessary trouble for small things. Always act for the greater good.
For example, I said I could do some extra tutoring classes for my school. Later, I had more important matters come my way. I felt bad about cancelling on my previous promise, which shows that I am too serious about small promises, and I need to improve my lightness.
Nowadays, it seems life is becoming more and more fast-paced. From the moment people wake up, people are rushing. We rush to get dressed, rush to brush our teeth, rush to eat our meals, rush to get to places, rush to finish TV shows, even rush to fall asleep! If that's the case with you, then you probably need to slow down to find The Middle Path.
The Words of Children is a book that the Chinese use to teach their children how to be good from a young age. The first line of this book is,
"All speech and actions should be peaceful and serene. Most mistakes result from haste."
(Original Text: 一切言动，都要安详，十差九错，只为慌张。)
On the other hand, some people do things too slow. They take forever to pick their clothes, to do their work, or to make a decision. If that's the case, people are probably complaining that you are delaying them, and you should try to increase your speed.
The Middle Way is to do things with a calm and serene mind. When we do things calmly, we focus well, make less mistakes, and complete tasks in a timely manner.
Self-Reflection: For which things do I need to slow down or speed up?
My personality is
More logical-focused than kindness-focused
As you can guess, I've been guilty of all the problems mentioned above.
I've been working on improving my kindness and empathy. I've learned to prioritize the other person's happiness over being right. That one rule helps me resolve most conflicts.
For attention-to-detail, I've learned that this is my strength, but I shouldn't demand it from others because other people have different strengths and weaknesses. I'm also learned to let go of perfectionism because that creates stress for everybody. If I make a mistake, just learn from it. Then I've made good use of that mistake, and that's a happy thing.
I am a big planner, but I've come to realize that life rarely goes according to plan. Before, I would get frustrated and try to plan better next time. Now, I realize that I should learn to go with the flow, to let go of my past demands, and to respond as best as I can in the present moment. I still plan carefully, but I work on being more flexible and open when implementing the plan.
For conscientiousness, I'm a very serious person as all my friends know. Being light-hearted doesn't come natural to me. When I get too serious, I get stressed. Stoicism reminds me that in 100 years, everything I'm stressing out about will become dust. There's no need for me to get so worked up right now. Moreover, since my goal is optima performance, then I can't be 100% tense, I need 15% relaxation.
For speed, I am a go-go-go type of person. I really have to work on being more slow and serene. As a teacher, I have made progress with speaking slower and less in front of my students. When walking, I've improved on being more stable and steady. But currently, I still eat very fast. While eating, my mind is often thinking about all the things I need to do. That hurts my digestion, so I still need to work on conscious eating.
There is no best personality type, but whatever our personality is, we can learn to optimize it by using The Middle Way. When we follow The Middle Way, we will attain peace and happiness.
Where do you stand on these personality traits? Are you excessive, deficient, or following The Middle Way?
Weekly Wisdom Newsletter #184
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