What exactly are middos? The Rambam refers tomiddos as dei'os. People tend to relate to their middos as innate human functions similar to sight, hearing, hunger pangs and feelings of satiation. However, it is clear that the Rambam did not consider middos merely as physical functions that are not subject to change. Rather, he defined them as dei'os - intellectual perceptions that can be modified and even changed entirely from the negative to the positive. Truth be told, it seems that middos have qualities of both bodily functions and intellectual perceptions as will be explained.
If we take a minute to think about our middos, we will discern that they are in effect what we would call self evident truths. It is abundantly clear to a hot-tempered individual that he is to respond with rage to anyone who dares ruffle his feathers. It is patently obvious to one who is arrogant that he deserves honor and praise for his many qualities. Similarly, one who is lazy feels that it goes without saying that he must refrain from a good deed if they require any amount of exertion.
Where do these ideas come from? For the most part they are a product of one's imagination. The mind conjures up all types of pictures and possible situations that drive a person to act in a specific manner. For example, the mind of the lazy individual is self programmed to depict the most farfetched dangers that could possibly happen in any given situation. This in turn causes him to refrain from putting in any effort to engage in the performance of good deeds because of the various dangers involved.
Yet, if we delve a little deeper, we will discover that what we thought to be self evident truths are actually mistaken realities. Anger does not gain anybody positive recognition. If anything, the opposite is true; it engenders disdain and even hatred toward one who behaves irascibly. Likewise, arrogance is an entirely misplaced feeling since people haven't created their own qualities and virtues, and therefore, they don't deserve the credit. Additionally, laziness is fueled by fears that are completely unfounded.
A little contemplation of our middos in light of the above truths can go a long way. Imagine a scenario that will cause an immediate arousal of a specific middah, and a less then positive gut reaction. Being that the scenario is merely a figment of our imagination, we have the liberty to take a moment and determine what the proper reaction should be. If we know toward where we strive, we can condition ourselves with proper pictures of how to respond to all types of challenging situations. We can replace our negative mindsets with a positive frame of mind thereby changing our intellectual perceptions (dei'os) - otherwise known as middos.
Avodas hamiddos is based entirely on the concept that it is possible to change and channel one's intellectual perceptions which are the basis for his middos. If we lacked the ability to change our mindsets there would be no purpose to work on our middos because there would be no way that we could change them for the better. Nevertheless, deep down, middos our also innate functions of our body which cannot be uprooted entirely. They can be properly channeled but they cannot be gotten rid of.
So our middos are here to stay. The question is merely how they are going to look. If we make a concerted effort to work on them, we can change them from rotten apples to shiny diamonds. It's up to us. Start today. Depict a scenario which rubs you the wrong way. Think about the way you normally would react, and determine the way you should react. Should you blow up at your annoying neighbor or should you turn your eyes heavenward and realize he is merely a stick in Hashem's hand? The more we mull over it, the easier it will be to react properly when the situation arises. It's tried and true, so why not try it too?