In this article we will explore the science behind whether you can actually change dramatically who you are simply by using your conscious and subconscious minds, or whether in fact you are the way you are because of your genetic make up. And if it is because of genetics and your inherited biology that dictates your view of the world, is there really anything you can actually do to create any lasting change at all? After all, changing your genes is like trying to change your blood type. So are you locked by your genetic code and destined to repeat your past behaviors within only a small range of personal change? Or, on the other hand, is the way you think totally under your control so you can become anything you want if you do indeed know how to program your subconscious mind?
A lot of people whole-heartedly believe it’s your thinking and the way you were brought up that determines who you become, with parents getting a large portion of the blame for you turning out the way you did. I tend to agree … up to a point. Sure, parents have a great influence on how we turn out, but I also think we mustn’t solely attribute who we are to how our parents and others treated us as we grew up. There’s more to it than that.
“I was born this way” – Lady Gaga
Let’s take a look at the “Nature vs. Nurture” debate. This hotly debated topic has raged on for years, and has had many researchers trying to find out whether it’s our genetics that actually determine who we are or whether it’s the family and social environment that we are brought up in that ultimately shapes us into the person we are today.
While there’s no denying that the genes passed onto us from our parents have a great influence on how we look – eye color, height, physical appearance etc. – the question is this … how much of those genes actually determine our personality too? Can our parent’s genes actually control how we ultimately think, and therefore influence our seemingly personal choices and the outcomes we get? Or does our way of thinking (and therefore our subconscious mental programming) become shaped largely from the environment we are raised in? In other words, is it being brought up in a loving environment (or lack thereof) that makes a person achieve greatness, or are they already born that way?
The shaping of who we are
To try to work this out, Thomas Bouchard, Professor of Psychology at the University of Minnesota, conducted a famous study of twins who were separated at birth, and found some fascinating results regarding the role genetics play in determining our personality traits.
Professor Bouchard first became interested in conducting this research in 1979 when he read about two identical twins that were reunited after a life time apart. James Lewis and James Springer, who affectionately became known as the “Jim twins”, were separated a few weeks after birth, and when they found each other again, a striking number of coincidences emerged:
- Both of them had married and divorced women named Linda
- Both married again to women named Betty
- Both had childhood pets named Toy
- Both were trained and worked in law enforcement
- They both named first born sons James Alan Lewis and James Allan Springer
- They both drank and smoked the same and chewed their fingernails right down
Fascinated by this, Bouchard applied for funding and studied the pair, to which he found they had “… a very strong genetic influence on almost all medical and psychological traits.”
This led him into setting up the Minnesota Twins Project, where he focused his studies mainly on identical twins.
FYI: Identical twins come from a single egg fertilized by a single sperm, which then splits into two after the egg starts to develop. This means identical twins essentially have the same genetic make up. Fraternal twins, on the other hand, come from two separate eggs fertilized by two different sperms, so their genetic code is completely different despite being carried in the womb at the same time. They are no more closely related than any other normal brother or sister. By studying identical twins that had been separated at birth and adopted out to different families, Bouchard’s research strived to find out what similarities the twins shared when they were eventually reunited. In this way Bouchard hoped to discover what factors of our personality are truly affected by our genetic make up and those which are simply part of our childhood upbringing and individual experiences.
In one fascinating case Bouchard came across, identical twins Oskar and Jack, who were born in Trinidad and separated shortly after birth, highlighted how a completely different upbringing can still lead to some remarkable similarities.
Oskar was taken to Germany, where he was raised as a Catholic child and a Nazi follower. Jack was raised in the Caribbean as a Jew.
When they first discovered each other existed, the similarities were immediately obvious as soon as Oskar stepped of the plane to meet his brother:
- Both wore wire rimmed glasses and had mustaches
- Both liked spicy foods and sweet liqueurs
- They each liked to fall asleep in front of the TV
- Both often forgot where they left things
- They both had a habit of flushing the toilet before using it
- They each read magazines from back to front and dipped buttered toast in their coffee
Bouchard was amazed by many of their similar idiosyncrasies, their mannerisms, the questions they asked, their temperament, and the way they did things, despite them being separated for their entire life. (Holden, 1980)
In fact, in a lot of Bouchard’s work over the years he concluded that shyness, political biases, work ethics, views on relationships, extroversion, conformity, and a load of other social traits were largely inherited from their parents genes and not learned habits.
Our genetic destiny
So what does all this mean? Does it mean we can’t change who we are because we are genetically hardwired that way?
No, I don’t believe it does. It simply means that while it’s inevitable that some of our personal traits may be inherited, it doesn’t mean we are locked into a destiny beyond our control. You can change your thinking, and the way you think has a direct relationship to the outcomes you receive in life.
And even though we share a similar genetic code with our family members, we are still not our parents and we are not our siblings. If you have brothers or sisters, then you will know how different in personality, likes and dislikes, and opinions they are to you. And despite being brought up together in the same environment, I’ll bet your thinking differs greatly to theirs.
So, as mushy as it sounds, love yourself for who you are because you are genetically unique. But also remember this — it’s your past and present thinking patterns that have been giving you the outcomes you’ve been getting in your life so far … and that’s the part that you can change.