The Science of My Sister and Me.

Cute picture, right? That’s my uncle, my sister and me when we were in elementary school. We had just come from school when that picture was taken. As all siblings, our personalities are very different. That’s probably why we get along so well with each other now, because we recognize each others strengths and weaknesses. We of course have different habits. When we were kids, she was the very neat and orderly one, I wasn’t. I was always drawing, playing the piano, being creative, she was very social and still is. She wouldn’t dream of going to the movies or a restaurant on her own, I would do it in a heartbeat! But those are “surface” habits.

What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of habits? I used to think nail biting, putting feet on the table, being on the phone too much, you know, mundane things. I never realized that my personality is a habit! Simply put, my personality does not make me “who I am.”

Studies in neuroscience and human behavior have shown that we are not hard wired to remain as we are. So the next time you do or say something negative, claiming “well that’s just the way I am” is actually not the real truth.

So who are we then?

From a biological point of view, our personalities are formed from environmental triggers. From a very early age, we have interpreted the external influence of people and things around us to form opinions, beliefs, and physical and emotional responses to certain things. Thus, our temperament and personality is formed.

As I mentioned up there, I am very different from my sister. I can count on my two fingers the number of times I have seen her lose her temper. Me on the other hand? Countless. My response to stressful situations are usually high irritability and impatience. My sister’s is calm. I admire her choice to go silent when put in a confrontational situation, like a potential argument with someone. Unlike me who would be very quick to “rip someone’s head off,” she is very slow to anger and retaliation.

This shows two differences between me and her. When faced with confrontation, I go “offline”. Basically my logic stops working and my flight or fight response takes over. As for my sister, I believe she is very conscious of stressful triggers, and therefore can choose how she responds. To me, this is the height of human evolution, a very rare gift that people possess.

Now does this mean that I am doomed to always respond in anger, irritability and even rage when put in certain situations? Thankfully, no! Actually I have made marked improvements on these particular issues over the years. My family can attest to that! I still have a way to go though.

I have discovered that I do not have to own these traits, and they do not make me who I am. All they are, are decades of conditioning that my body and mind have learned every time I am in what I have interpreted as a hostile situation. The good news is, it can be unlearned. As it turns out, the brain is not made of stone! It can be re-wired, and it starts with awareness!

Habits are “offline” activities. Things we do and say that we are usually not aware of, and that includes certain personality traits. So if you suffer from certain personality habits that you want to change, where does one start? Start with questions!

Yes. Start with brutally honest questions about yourself if you really want to change. I found these questions from neuroscientist Dr. Joe Dispenza’s book very eye-opening for me. Some of them are:-

  • What kind of person have I been?
  • What kind of person do I present to the world?
  • How would my closest friends and family describe me?
  • Is there something about myself that I hide from others?
  • What part of my personality do I need to work on improving?
  • What is one thing I want to change about myself?

This is what is known as awareness training: making yourself more conscious of your habits and traits. In the next article, I will share on how to move to the next step after becoming more aware of ourselves and our habits.