(This article continues on from my last article about the role that genetics plays in creating change in your life)
Psychologists generally consider that from the ages of 0-7 are the formative years for who we are. It’s where our personalities really start to take shape. But our personalities are actually formed even before we are born. Right from our conception and growth in the womb, you are created with an exclusive chemical and biological make-up that will ultimately influence how you react to your world. This unique combination comes solely from the two sets of gene’s you inherited from your parents. Your one of a kind genetic code shapes who you are in every way possible, physically and emotionally. And that includes your personality too.
Personality is Child’s Play
To illustrate this, if you’ve ever noticed how children interact then you may have observed the vast differences in their personalities. One child, after having a toy snatched from their hands by another child, may act angrily and try to snatch it back. Or they might try to hit the other child. At such a young age this is probably an automatic response; more of a reaction than a considered conscious choice. But another child, because of their own unique genetic make-up, may simply cry. Another still may look stunned, wondering why the other kid was so mean. All these, I would put forth, stems more from genetic make-up than from learned behavior at this young age. Kids mostly react to stimuli without conscious thought, and while some of their behavior is taught or drilled into them by their parents, mostly it is instinctive.
It’s from this observed behavior that we ultimately end up classifying kids as “shy” or “cheeky”, or a “handful”. Parents can often recognize a child’s personality and how it differs from their other siblings right from when they are a baby even before they learn to communicate. In fact, Professor Thomas Bouchard from Michigan State University has actually concluded that many of our personality traits, including shyness and extroversion, are genetically inherited. And we often carry those same traits, behaviors, and beliefs right up through adulthood, unless we do some subconscious or mental re-programming on ourselves to change them.
What About The Family Environment?
Sure, as kids we do learn a great deal of how to interact with others and what beliefs to believe in from our parents and other authority figures. But the difference in how a child interprets a parent’s behavior, or their strictness, or the love they show, comes more from how the child is genetically wired than from learned behavior. One child may grow up being defiant and slowly simmering with hatred and rebellion with a parents strictness or over-smothering behavior; another may grow up being insecure and scared of confrontation or of being singled out for ridicule; another still may view it as the way their parents show they care and totally disregard how their parents and others behave towards them, and grow up completely independent, confident, and well adjusted adults regardless.
Put three different kids within the same family unit and you will see three different adults when they grow up, each with their own take on the world. So while I think your parents influence is definitely a factor in how you perceive your world, I also believe it depends on our chemical and genetic combinations too.
Can You Really Change?
So what does all this mean? It means we all think in different ways based on a combination of both how we were programmed to think via personal experiences in life and our biological make-up. Recognizing that is one step towards creating lasting personal change and happiness. You need to know what your basic natural personality is before you can work on changing it. By doing that you can work on creating the life you desire in gradual steps that push you slightly outside of your comfort zone. I’ve seen many people who go excitedly into personal change and try to make huge leaps forward only to find out that, just like an over stretched rubber band, they snap back to their old self after a while because they pushed it too far too quick with solutions that weren’t suited to them. If you want lasting change and not simply a quick-fix band-aid solution that doesn’t stick, then gradual steps that push you within the outer edges of your limits are the way to go.
But those limits also differ for each person (which is why it’s important to know yours). Some people’s tolerance for stepping outside of their comfort zone is higher than others. Thrill seekers are one group that immediately comes to mind. Their search for the next buzz can see them reach the brink of fear and go beyond, and come out the other side loving it. They might view a bungy jump as a walk in the park and look to go white water rafting immediately after it. On the other hand, someone more conservative might need a stiff drink and a lay down after jumping head first off a bridge with only a large rubber band strapped to their feet to limit their fall. Change and being stretched is all relative to your personality.
So creating the life you desire requires knowing what your personality type is and working on what you want changed in your life from that framework. It is possible to change your personality – after all we are evolving it all the time as we grow – but what technique worked quickly and effectively for another may not work for you. It takes a little self discovery, time and effort.
And just like compound interest where the biggest returns are seen only after a while, so too is it with personal change. Stick with it long enough and the growth you will get will be exponential in the end, even though in the beginning it seems as though you’re getting nowhere. Respect that principle, be happy with your own uniqueness in the now, know your limits, and then the gradual steps you take towards change will eventually transform your life, and your personality, dramatically.
In the next article we’ll delve into the four main personality types we all have. Once you work out what yours is, it makes everything easier to understand – from personal relationships and why there are communication breakdowns to your work personality and how to become more productive and a better leader.