Personality is a complex set of all the attributes you have, such as your attitudes, temperament, and emotional dispositions. In my article, ‘Influence- how powerful it is’, I stated that the human personality is shaped by natural brain chemistry (nature) and the environment (nurture). Natural brain chemistry is influenced by genetics. For example, you may have a tendency to be anxious, to worry a lot, to be insensitive, and so on, if you have a brain that has been naturally wired to bring about these actions. But the good news is that no matter how unfavorable one’s brain chemistry may be, we are still very much in control of our lives.
Simply because you have an anxiety gene does not mean that you cannot overcome your anxiety. The human brain is more complex than we think, and people have done things with their minds that we would normally not expect of them. You are not wholly defined by your natural brain chemistry, but also by the power of your choices. A child who has a gene that predisposes him/her to be quite an alcoholic can choose to desist from drinking alcohol, if he or she exercises the power of choice. It is true that alcoholism has a genetic link, but like many other behavioral traits, it does not have to define who you are.
Our personalities are also shaped by our experiences. For example, the ways your parents raised you, the kinds of neighborhood you were raised in, the religion you practice, your religious beliefs, the schools you attended, the friends you had, the social class of the people you interacted with, the parental care you had, what part of the world you grew up in, how other people outside your home treated you, what is expected of you by the society you live in, and so on, have enormously contributed to who you are. You are probably cruel because you’ve known cruelty your whole life, or probably kind, because you’ve mingled with kind people.
From the very moment you were born, your personality began to take shape. Your parents’ behaviors towards you affected how you feel about yourself. A very strict father would raise a child shy, timid, and lacking in self-confidence. A very lenient father, however, would raise a disorganized and disruptive child. Everybody you come across affects you one way or another. Whether or not you had an interaction with them, you are affected by the way they behave. The books you read, the movies you watch, the gossips you hear, they all shape you. Therefore, being raised in a good environment, with loving, positive and supportive people will do a child a whole lot of good.
While our personalities are shaped by our natural brain chemistry and the environment, we can also influence our personalities through the power of choice. This is what I call shaping one’s personality the hard way.
Naturally, we are inclined to behave the way our brains want us to. In addition to our natural brain chemistry, we have, over the years, acquired several attitudes, habits, and ways of behaving from our environment and the numerous experiences we’ve had through life. All these have given rise to what is known as our ‘personality’. And since we respond to the demands of our personality, choosing to act in a contrary manner will be rather uncomfortable, even painful. Choosing to cope with this discomfort and pain can help alter our brain chemistry over time, and make us become that which we desire for ourselves. Isn’t that wonderful?
You probably have a natural disposition to be anxious, and you want to overcome your anxiety. Because you have an inclination to be anxious, acting contrary to how your brain has been programmed to behave can be very uncomfortable. Yielding to the natural inclinations of your brain would mean settling with those programmed behaviors and thoughts. But summoning the courage to act otherwise will be highly uncomfortable over time, yet highly rewarding. Therefore, we can overcome our negative attitudes and emotions by setting ourselves up for the discomfort we are bound to experience in the process of doing so.
What some people achieve so easily, you may have to achieve the hard way, possibly because their brains have been naturally programmed to excel in those areas, and your brain has not. For example, a child who is very good at mathematics may have a gene that has made that possible, and another child who is terrible at the same subject may not have that gene that enhances that. This does not mean that the child poor at mathematics cannot excel in the subject. It simply means that for him to excel, he may have to do it the hard way, what the first child would do so easily. The first child may be an easy gainer in mathematics, while he has to be a hard gainer.
The same can also be said about people who excel in other areas. While Thomas may have what seems a natural fearlessness to take part in risky adventures, Nick may not have such ability, and may therefore require courage to do what Thomas does. While Thomas seems to be engaging in risky activities so effortlessly and comfortably, Nick would have to do the same in great discomfort and pain. You can achieve just about anything, but you may achieve certain things the hard way, while other people may achieve those things the easy way.
Now, this does not mean that every child who is performing poorly in his/her academic work is responding to a genetically programmed brain. Like I clarified, a host of factors can contribute to our behaviors. The experiences you have had and are having can influence how you perform at school. A child who feels unconditionally loved, and who receives positive and encouraging feedbacks from those around him/her will likely give a good performance in his/her academic work, while another child who is brought up in a dysfunctional home may have academic challenges as a result. It is difficult to state that a particular factor is responsible for a certain way of behaving, simply because that certain way of behaving may have resulted from a combination of different factors.