Change Your Brain to Change Your Personality
If you want to change your personality, you will need to change your brain. Personality is, after all, fundamentally a brain function.
Your personality is the distinctive arrangement of all your traits and characteristics. It is the way you think, feel, and behave, your way of being, of becoming, and of meeting life’s challenges. It is what makes you definitely you. This process begins even before you are born.
Genes and personality
Think of it as a deck of cards. You are dealt your genetic hand at conception. What determines which characteristics will show up, which will remain hidden, depends a lot on your life experiences. From the beginning, what you do and what happens to you shape who you are.
For most people, personality need not be a life sentence, a rigid template that determines what will befall you. Most of us have a built-in flexibility factor that allows us to learn to deal with the hurdles thrown in our path. As life goes on, we learn to adapt to change, which makes a variety of experiences and expressions of ourselves possible. So yes, normally personality modifies throughout life.
Sometimes you may want to accelerate this modification process, climb out of a rut, hasten change. That means changing your brain.
Numerous studies show that psychotherapy produces change. Other brain-changers include everything from regular yoga, meditation and exercise practice, to new health habits, to medication, to profound life experiences.
We’re talking about anything that spurs the brain to, in effect, learn a new language. It is this intense learning process that literally changes the structure and functioning of your brain.
Retrain your brain
Think of the difference between short-term and long-term memory. Remember a killer exam in college that you had to pass? You pulled an all-nighter, cramming for the exam, and you not only passed, but you got a pretty good grade, right? Now think of some of the things you learned while preparing for that exam.
Here’s why you can’t: this kind of learning is transient. You stuff as much information as possible into short-term retention. But by design, this memory capacity helps us hold things in focus only while needed.
In contrast, long-term memory results from long-term effort. The work, practice, persistence, and patience prompt changes in the structure of the brain cell. It may even stimulate the creation of new ones throughout the life span. Connections grow among these neurons, and new abilities can develop.
Find new possibilities
Researchers in neuropsychiatric laboratories are demonstrating that learning and significant experience can trigger previously unexpressed potentials. To return to our genetic deck of cards: these possibilities encode in our genes from the start.
Neuroscientist Eric Kandel, who won the 2000 Nobel Prize in physiology/ medicine, showed in a sea slug that genes change in the learning process. “If you have a long-term memory,” he explains, “you alter the expression of genes in the brain and you grow new synapses [connections between brain cells].”
It is an exciting and optimistic time in the medical, psychiatric, neuroscience, and personality world.
Personality change at any age
In the years since Kandel’s elegant work, progress is exploding in our understanding of the brain’s neuroplasticity . Now we know that no matter how troublesome your personality may be, biologically your fate is never really sealed.
Through experience, learning, and psychotherapy, you can turn up long-covered cards and expand your hand at any age.