Have you ever wondered why you are who you are today?
I mean, your personality today, your self-confidence levels, the kind of life that you’re living, what kind of results you’re producing in your life and so on.
So many people argue that many of the traits that they have are inherited. That where they are today is nothing but a random process that relies on uncontrollable variables.
While on the other hand, many people also argue that it’s all about the attitude. Still that doesn’t explain to us many of the personality traits such as ambition or stubbornness.
In this article, we’re going to dive so deep. We’re going to know how you ended up where you are today. Whether you are contained with that or not, you’re going to understand the”why”.
We’re going to explore anything from genes and how they affect the behavior, to why we develop specific traits. By the end of this article you’ll have known what, exactly, shapes your personality and whether it’s changeable or not.
Also you’ll have known why your life is the way it is; because where you are is a direct proportion of who you are, in most cases.
Let’s Start With the Genes
I’m not a big fan of the school that claims that our behavior and personality are shaped by our genes. Meaning that if you have the gene of shyness you’re going to be shy. That’s nonsense!
When I started studying psychology I completely ditched genes. I didn’t like the idea that you’re stuck with a certain behavior because of factors that are out of your control.
However, the more I read the more I realized that human behavior is more complex than it seems. Lots and lots of variables interact with each other to result in the final behavior that we see on the surface.
Before I tell you how genes affect the behavior, let me tell you how many people get this completely wrong.
I’m talking about people who blame genes for any unwanted behavior. I’m talking about people who give something out of their control the power to shape who they become.
People who assume that shyness, for example, has a specific gene. People who assume that traits like productivity, discipline or intelligence have specific genes. And if you have that specific gene then you’re good to go, otherwise you’re just unlucky.
Such claims drive me crazy!
They tell you that improvement isn’t possible because, after all, those are already written scripts and you have to act upon them.
Second, they make you helpless! If you’re shy, or if you suffer from depression or another mental illness, and I told you that it’s genetic then it’s done! You can’t change the color of your skin, thus you can’t overcome shyness or depression.
That’s not a good mindset. Improvement is possible. Genetics alone, as we’re going to see, are only one part of an equation, we still have power and control over our behavior and personality.
Of course I’m not attacking the scientist who are doing their best to study genetics. Many of those scientist clearly don’t say that genetics govern your behavior that way (links to many in-depth articles from respected researchers are below).
But I’m talking about those who make bold claims about how there’s a gene for shyness or self-confidence.
And even if there’s a gene responsible for the presence of a certain behavior, that doesn’t mean that you’re going to have that behavior, that’s because there are others forces, one of these forces is the environment as we’re going to discuss below.
Here are quick facts about genes and how they can affect your personality development:
- Genes, alone, won’t shape your personality or behavior: many other factors are involved. Your environment can overwrite your genes. Your own choice does matter. Life experiences play a role too.
- There’s no single gene for any single behavior: a combination of many genes can result in the development of a certain behavior. That tells us that genes are very complex and not very obvious. Again, even this combination of genes won’t affect you on its own as discussed in the previous point.
- Studying personality only through genes is a fatal mistake: because there are many other factors that play more important roles. And also because genes can be overwritten. In the rest of this article we’re going to discuss some of these factors and forces.
- Genes as a self-deception strategy: some people use genes as an excuse to stay where they are. After all, it’s out of their control. It helps people continue doing the things that they can’t stop without feeling so guilty about it, like they’re forced to be or to act in a certain way. Of course this is just a self-deception strategy that will never work. The truth is that we have a choice and we have the power.
- Change is possible: when we talk about genes and behavior, we indirectly understand that we’re powerless in the face of issues such as social anxiety, self-confidence or addiction. However, you can rest assure that your personality or behavior is changeable. There’s always a room for improvement.
Below are some useful articles, most of them are from Psychology Today. I used them as resources. I’m sharing them with you so you can check some facts, and for those of you who want to dive deep into this topic, those links are really helpful:
What about the environment?
“You’re the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with” -Jim Rohn.
Your environment can play a big role in shaping who you are. Your environment includes your parents, your siblings, your friends, the media, the community around you …etc.
We humans are social creatures by nature. And one of the things that we fear the most is the fear of rejection. Fear of being rejected by those around us can drive many of our behaviors.
We want to be accepted and we don’t want to look like outsiders, at least most of us.
That’s one way the environment can affect our behavior, by accepting the social norms and acting, mostly, like the people that you belong to. Otherwise when you start acting in a different way, you’ll no longer belong to those people, they’ll reject you.
This effect is very strong. You can be confident and optimistic but if you hung out with insecure and pessimistic people long enough, you’d change.
Another way environment can affect our behavior is by making us form beliefs about ourselves and abilities.
For example, if the little child grew up in a positive and encouraging environment then most probably he would grow up to develop a high self-esteem. While on the other hand, if he was brought up in a toxic environment then he probably would end up with many psychological issues.
Many people talked about how your environment can influence the development of your habits. Meaning that if your environment easily allow you to indulge in a specific habit, good or bad, then most probably you’re going to develop this habit easily.
And one of the best ways to stop a bad habit is by re-designing your environment so that it doesn’t help you to indulge in that habit easily.
For example, imagine that you live in a room with two roommates. Those two roommates eat healthy food and exercise regularly. In fact, they have few dumbbells, a pull-up bar and insane amount of motivational tracks to help you workout. They even give you tips about healthy living every now and then. They encourage you to join them every time they workout.
Working out and eating healthy would be a lot easier for you.
Of course you might have such awesome friends but still refuse to join them and instead lay on the couch all the day doing nothing.
There’s an explanation for why you can easily do something because you’re in the right environment but still do the opposite. And no, it’s not your genes (we’re going to find out below).
Now, imagine that those two roommates were the opposite. They smoke weed all the day. They never take care of their health. They don’t have any dreams or ambitions. All what they do is get high, get drunk and do nothing useful or productive.
Chances are you’re going to get affected too. You might become just like them.
And if this sounds like a “too-extreme” example, then this can happen in the real world when you have a pessimistic or a negative friend, you’ll become negative and pessimistic too after hanging around with him for a while.
Also shy people who hang out together end up reinforcing their shyness even further. They simply don’t get the chance to see how outgoing people behave.
So, the environment can be a very powerful force that shapes your behavior and personality in general. Changing who you spend your time with can really change your entire life (seriously, try it!).
However, there are cases when you are put in a certain environment but you don’t really get affected. Remember the athlete roommates? They can have a lazy roommate who doesn’t leave his bed. The drug-dealers roommates? They can have a roommate who’ve never smoked a cigarette before.
Wonder how this can happen? And again, it’s not mainly about genes, there’s another reason for that. Let’s see.
There’s a powerful force more than genes and environment
In my opinion, since genes are out of our control we shouldn’t worry that much about them. And environment is very powerful, yet in many cases we don’t choose our family and we don’t choose our environment, especially when we’re still very young.
Somehow environment is also out of our control. We can’t control people’s behaviors. We don’t choose where we were born. Yes we still have the power to choose to walk away from toxic environments to empowering environment, but that’s … Hey, wait a minute!
“You have the power to choose.” there’s something right here. The power of choice and making decisions. That’s something that no other animal has. That’s something that we totally have 100% control over. And, indeed, it’s much powerful than all the other forces that shape our behavior and personality.
Decide to be productive, confident, outgoing, hard worker …etc, and then work for that and see it happen in front of your eyes. Neither your genes nor your environment can stop you from becoming that way.
I don’t care if scientist agreed that you have a “couch potato gene”, I don’t care if you live with pandas, you still can change if you decided that you’re going to change.
Look, to put it in simple words, there are 3 forces that shape your personality: genes, environment and the power of choice.
Your own power of choice is at the top of the pyramid. It’s a stronger force than those at the base of the pyramid. And usually your behavior is a result of the interaction between those 3 forces at once.
But when we talk about the negative behaviors and the things that we don’t like about ourselves, rest assure that the power of choice is stronger than the genes and the environment.
That’s why we hear stories about people who were able to break free from the limitations of their environments and change to the better.
This is what separates us the human beings from the rest of the creatures. We’re not machines that are programmed to behave in a certain way. We’re not helpless creatures that are acting based on already written scripts, though we can be machines if we choose to.
And this is where the sense of responsibility comes into play. This is where this priceless character’s trait kicks in. When you realize that you have the power to choose your actions, behaviors and even who you are as a person.
If you want to be more confident, get over shyness, change your situations, become happy or whatever you want, then you should know that it’s not about the environment around you and it’s not even about your genes.
Yes those factors, and many more of course, play an important role. But the most important force is this: the power of choice.
It’s a power that only us human beings have. Nothing can resist human’s will.
Let me give you a real life example. Do you know a guy who’s called Nick Vujicic?
This guy was born with no arms and no legs. Doctors didn’t know why and no doctor on earth could help him.
Now, this guy is a public speaker who speaks at conferences, he speaks to young people (teens mostly) to inspire them and help them get over the feeling “I’m not good enough”.
He’s happy, optimistic, confident, successful and a father of a beautiful son.
This story should tell you that even though Nick’s genes were making him different somehow, still he didn’t give up.
Even though he was bullied at school for something that he has no control over (toxic environment), he didn’t give up.
Yes, genes affect the behavior in a different way than they affect the physical traits. And in Nick’s case it’s not only genes, but also a rare disorder.
However, the concept is the same. Genes and environment (out of our control in most cases) can’t determinate who you become in life eventually.
Nick tried to commit suicide when he was young. Fortunately he decided that he’s going to stay alive for his mother, father and brother, he didn’t want them to suffer.
And now he’s a source of inspiration for all of us. He’s happy, you can see it in his eyes and you can feel it in the way he talks. He’s successful, and most importantly he didn’t give up.
So what about you? I don’t care what “unfair” circumstances you think you were put in because of your genes or environment, you still have the power of choice, choose to fight back, choose to never give up.
But, how do we develop other personality traits and psychological needs?
The pyramid of personality/behavior above can explain many things. But why do people become ambitions or stubborn, or why do you have certain goals and certain motivators only?
The answer is:
- Values and unconscious goals.
- Pain and pleasure.
Let’s explain these two forces in details. Understanding them will allow you to understand the human’s nature, which in turn will help you understand why you do what you do.
In the article Values are the Backbone of Your Self-development Journey I explained how values are unconscious goals that you mind ended up developing as a result of going through certain experiences.
(Read the article about values in order to get the most out of this section)
They are emotional states that your mind wants to feel (or doesn’t want you to feel) on a regular bases. We all have a list of values and they are in a specific order based on which one we consider more important.
For example, if someone is ambitious then it means that his top value in life is accomplishment. But why he has accomplishment as his top value?
That’s a very difficult question to answer. Many variables are involved and it’s a very complicated process.
But, we can safely say that he went through certain experiences that made him believe that success is the most important thing in the world, which leads us to the next point: pain and pleasure.
Those two forces govern all of our behaviors, seriously! We’re designed to seek pleasure and avoid pain.
So, if you went through painful situations where you faced adversity or even poverty then you might want to avoid this pain by becoming successful. And that makes sense because most of the billionaires were poor when they were young. Many confident and outgoing people were shy and insecure at some point.
But again, those are environmental factors and they’re not enough. The power of the choice still plays a big role here. Not all people choose to become successful in such cases, some will give up and become helpless victims.
In brief, facing certain painful or pleasurable situations will result in forming certain values and psychological goals and needs. Still, the way you interact with those values and needs is your choice.
One last question to answer: does this prove that the environment can shape our needs and goals in life?
Hard to tell. Because the way you interact with this environment is going to make a difference as well. We don’t just receive data from the outside world and act based on this data, we process this data and then act based on this process.
Last but not least, as you can see it’s very complicated process. Every person is a different case. Many variables are involved. But if there’s one thing that you need to understand from this article let it be: the power of choice override almost all the other factors.
You can decide to be in a certain way and actually be that way eventually. You’re not a prisoner of uncontrollable situations and factors. You have a choice!
Now I think it’s safe to conclude that ultimately it’s our decisions that shape who we’re and where we are. Yes other factors play some roles as well, but in the end the power of choice can override everything and get over all these circumstances.
We also discussed other factors such as genes and environment and how they can affect your personality and behavior.
Also we discussed other forces that result in developing certain personality traits: Values and unconscious goals and Pain and pleasure. And we’ve seen the connection between them and the environment and the power of choice.
You’re not stuck! You can change as soon as you make the decision. Sure all the other factors will affect you, but eventually change is possible.