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Leveraging Personality as a Starting Point to Personal Development

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The world is a perception arena. We take in information that is objective but we have to subject it to our own filters so as to know what to do with it Click To Tweet

Genetically, human beings are 99.9 percent identical. This leaves only 0.1 percent to account for the variance. Ironically, this 0.1 variation causes massive differences in who we are as individuals. Seven billion of us who inhabit the earth are different, but our difference is housed in just 0.1 percent variation.

You will agree with me that this is mind-boggling! Part of what makes us different is personality. We all develop differently. Who we become cannot be mapped onto even our blood siblings. Although we might have similarities, somehow, everybody is different.

In this article, we shall explore one of the contributors to our differences, or uniqueness, if you will. Personality.

What is personality? How does it develop? Why is it important to know and understand personality?

What is personality?

Personality is a dynamic organisation of psychophysical systems that create a person’s characteristic patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. In simpler terms, your personality is the way you think, feel and behave.

The world is a perception arena. We take in information that is objective but we have to subject it to our own filters so as to know what to do with it. Our thoughts are just one way of sifting through and classifying this information. Since thinking is a tasking activity, we develop thinking patterns so that we do not always have to think of each piece of information seperately. Rather, we classify the information and find patterns within it, and then use the patterns to inform our response.

This is where our personalities start to differ. We each develop different thought patterns and this might result in different responses to identical information. Once our patterns segment, the difference is magnified in our feelings. We feel differently about different things. These feelings guide our projections which occur through our behaviour. It is at the behaviour level that the differences manifest.

How does personality develop?

It has been established that our thinking shapes our personality. But how does thinking different result in different personalities?

This is a controversial question among personality researchers. The proverbial nature vs nurture debate. Are you born the way you are or does the environment you grow up in shape you? As it turns out, both are true.

There are some things that are hereditary and they highly influence our thinking. For instance, intelligence. This is essentially our capacity to think through given information. It is greatly hereditary. Our intellectual capacity (the ability to perceive, to observe, to imagine, to think, and to reason) determines our reaction in various situations. How you perceive, observe, imagine, think, and reason speaks to your personality.

Your genetically inherited physical traits also  have an impact on your personality. If you are born tall in a society that favours tall people you think of yourself as better off in comparison to your shorter counterparts, and vice versa. This can affect your self-esteem and self-confidence either positively or negatively. Whatever direction this makes you swing, your personality is for sure influenced.

Sex differences also play a role in the development of personalities. Generally speaking, boys are– temperamentally– more aggressive than girls. On the other hand, girls are more emotional than boys. This means that boys mostly think in terms of win-lose, and hierarchical structures, whereas girls think about caring for others and cooperating. This results in different approaches to life and circumstances that they face in their development.

Your emotional tone is also inherited. Basic emotional patterns are formed during pregnancy. This sets the basis for emotional development in the child.

On the other hand, our values; beliefs; and expectations are a result of socialization and unique experiences, especially during childhood.

Can personalities change?

You should know that personalities are not exclusive. As a matter of fact, we have all aspects of personality within us, only that there are some that are more highlighted than others, considering your pattern of thought; emotions; and behaviour. They appear on a ranking order.

However, personalities are fairly constant throughout one’s life. They are solidified by mid-childhood. People can change personality, but it doesn’t happen drastically. This is because of continuity. Since you exist in a society, people need you to be the same person tomorrow as you are today. If your personality shifts all the time the society is no longer habitable for you and this may be treated like psychopathology. Circumstances might force you to adopt a lesser prevalent trait just to get through a situation, but in most situations, we are adopted a particular way.

How do I know my personality?

In studying personality, scientists have been at work to try and create a personality taxonomy that would help us classify and understand different people and their different experiences. From a lexicon analysis of close to 9000 adjectives in the English language that could hint at a personality, research has been narrowing this down and seeking to simplify it.

Today, we have a five-factor structure that seems stable, efficient, and reliable. The five-structure personality model has evolved to be known as the Big Five Personality Traits. These five factors do not mean that personalities can be comprehensively summarised in the categories. They just reflect the five different levels of extremes that personalities can manifest. They are bipolar traits. This means that they represent the extremes of a particular personality characteristic. These five traits include Extraversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, and Neuroticism and Openness to experience. They can be anagrammed as OCEAN.

O – Openness to experience
C – Conscientiousness
E – Extraversion
A – Agreeableness
N – Neuroticism

The strength of the Big Five Taxonomy is that it can capture a broad level of abstraction in the commonalities among most systems of personality traits, thus providing an integrative descriptive model.

These different traits explain the different personalities that one might embody. Each is distinct and has its own characteristics. If you do not have any of the characteristics then your personality is the polar opposite of the trait. The following are their polar opposites.

Extraversion – Introversion
Agreeableness – Antagonism
Conscientiousness – Lack of direction
Neuroticism – Emotional stability
Openness to experience – Close mindedness

As much as these are bipolar traits, we all have them; it is the scale that varies. In the case of extraversion and introversion, one does not have either exclusively, rather both, but one tends to be stronger than the other.

Extraversion Vs Introversion

Extraversion implies an energetic approach toward the social and material world. It includes traits like sociability, activity, assertiveness, and positive emotion. Extraverted individuals are talkative, assertive, and energetic. They tend to have more friends and dating partners and are usually seen by their peers as having higher social status.

These individuals prefer and perform better in social and enterprising occupations. They are also more likely to adopt community leadership roles. Subjectively, they tend to experience more well-being and more positive emotions than introverts.

On the other hand, introverts prefer calm, minimally stimulating environments. They tend to be drained after socialising and regain their energy by spending time alone. They feel more comfortable focusing on their inner thoughts and ideas. In addition, they prefer few, quality interactions.

Agreeableness Vs Antagonism

An agreeable person is usually warm, friendly, and tactful. They are optimistic and easily get along with others. They are pro-social and communally orientated. In addition, they are good-natured, cooperative, and trustful. This is why they tend to be better liked by their peers, and their close relationships tend to be more stable and satisfying. They highly value altruism, tender-mindedness, trust, and modesty. Agreeable individuals prefer social occupations and are more likely to hold religious beliefs, perform volunteer work, and serve in community leadership roles. They are less likely to engage in criminal behaviour.

Individuals with antagonism tend to experience less empathy and put their own concerns ahead of others. Other people find them hostile, competitive, and antagonistic. They tend to have more conflicts in relationships and often fall out with people.

Conscientiousness Vs Lack of direction

Conscientiousness describes socially prescribed impulse control that facilitates task and goal-directed behaviour. This includes thinking before acting, delaying gratification, following norms and rules, planning and organising, and prioritizing tasks. Conscientious individuals are orderly, responsible, dependable, emotionally stable, and calm.

Conscientiousness has emerged as the only general predictor of job performance. Highly conscientious students tend to earn higher grades; workers tend to perform better in a variety of occupations. They also tend to live longer because of their orderliness and responsibility. These people tend to exercise and maintain a healthy diet, and avoid risky behaviour like smoking, substance abuse, and criminal behaviour. Lastly, they are also more likely to hold conservative political attitudes and religious beliefs.

People who are low on conscientiousness can be said to lack direction. They tend to be laid back, less goal-oriented, and less success-driven. They are more likely to engage in anti-social and criminal behaviour. Also, they are easily distracted and tend to follow their impulses, hence they struggle with self-discipline. This makes other people see them as irresponsible and unpredictable.

Neuroticism Vs Emotional stability

Neuroticism reflects a lack of emotional stability. Its traits include anxiety, nervousness, sadness, and tension. Neuroticism is highly associated with subjective well-being and psychological health. A highly neurotic person tends to experience lower levels of overall life satisfaction in specific domains such as jobs and relationships. Their psychopathology risk to anxiety and mood disorders is also increased.

Low neuroticism, also referred to as emotional stability, reflects low emotional reactivity. It’s the ability to not get easily upset. It also shows stability and calmness in emotions. These individuals tend to experience more positive feelings as compared to their counterparts.

Openness Vs Close-mindedness

Openness describes the breadth, depth, originality, and complexity of an individual’s mental and experiential life. It is marked by intellect, creativity, and independent-mindedness. These individuals tend to pursue scientific and artistic careers. They hold liberal political and social attitudes and tend to describe themselves as spiritual, but not religious.

People who are low on openness to experience (close-minded) tend to be conventional and traditional in their outlook and behaviour. They prefer familiar routines to new experiences, and generally have a narrower range of interests.

Why is this relevant to my life?

The purpose of learning about personality is not so we can define ourselves and stay in those boxes, but so we can know where we are and mark that as our starting point toward improving our lives. Different traits shape your life in different ways. Knowing what trait you are working on specifically allows you to be more effective in your self-development pursuit.

Despite personality traits being stable, people can change their patterns of behaviour, thought, and feeling, through therapy and intervention programs. The Big Five merely point to behavioural domains that people can target for personal development and change.

Also read: False Self-Limiting Beliefs That Are Holding You Back From Your Destiny

Know thyself

Know thyself is one fundamental philosophy that highlights the importance of knowing and understanding who you are. The more you know about yourself, the better you can optimise your functioning and experiences, and the better your life becomes. Knowing your personality is part of knowing yourself. It is important that you know your personality so that you can understand your thought patterns, feelings, and behaviours. By doing this you will find parts that you want to improve and you will be able to work efficiently towards your betterment.


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