Personality – Definitions

Last week I presented the debate among experts on the topic of Personality and the degree of influence that nature and nurture have respectively (read here). This week, I will discuss how I define some of the concepts linked to the subject of Personality. Next week, I will present some practical steps to master your personality traits in a way that supports your personal growth objectives.

 

“Two things define your personality, the way you manage things when you have nothing, and the way you behave when you have everything.” – Unknown

 

Personality

Personality can be defined as a set of characteristics or qualities that make an individual distinct from the others. These characteristics include the set of habitual behaviours, cognitions and emotional patterns that evolve from biological and environmental factors. For example, different people react differently when they are in group situation; some people feel comfortable right away and might take the lead of the group’s actions, while other people need more time to adjust and might feel more comfortable with following what other people in the group decide.

Behaviours and actions

As individual, each of us is exposed to various stimuli or inputs, coming from our environment or from within us. Our behaviour can be define as the way we respond to these stimuli or inputs. This response or action is influenced by our endocrine system and by our nervous system. The endocrine system is the collection of glands that secrete hormones directly into our circulatory system, while the nervous system transmits signals to and from different parts of our body. As such, the way we respond to stimuli, our behaviour, can be automatic and reflexive. However, we know from the teaching of great thought leaders like Victor Frankl, and from our own experience, that between stimulus and action, there a space where we can apply intention and purpose, and thus make our action conscious and subjectively meaningful.

The mechanism leading to action involves a stimulus that triggers a set of physiological reactions, that are then translated into specific action or inaction, consciously or unconsciously chosen among several options. The process of identifying and choosing among the available options is the decision making process. That is where we apply filters like intention, belief, and purpose.

Habits

I define habit as a behaviour for which the chain of reaction to a particular stimulus has been automated. It is characterized by the consistency of action or inaction that follow the stimulus, and by the reduction of the space between stimulus and action. Choices to be made between available options are recorded into the subconscious during your habit’s formation, eliminating the need for making decision every time the stimulus is activated. The more a particular habit is embedded into our mind, the more difficult it is to change it.

This is powerful tool used by our brain to limit the need for making choices because of the difficulties and pain associated with the decision making process. The most cited example to illustrate this point is the process of learning to drive. The first time you had to pull out your car from the driveway, your brain had to wrestle with multiple stimuli including for example, the stress that was mounting inside you, the noise and fear of the traffic around you, or the instructions of the monitor sitting next to you. In the midst of this ‘chaos’, your brain had to decide which actions to take: which pedal to use first? Throttle, brake, or clutch? What does this road sign mean? Etc… Today, you execute all these sequences, and much more, without thinking.

You must be aware of the power of habit and use it to your advantage in your effort to become and remain the free captain of your life. Charles Duhigg wrote an excellent book on the topic called The Power of Habit that I recommend reading.

Peace, Joy, Love

Max

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