Creating Yourself

People often think they are ready-built.  No changes thank you!  Completed at birth.  Reflecting this thinking, we see that our society is full of clichés like ‘you should love me for who I am’ or ‘I just need to love myself more’ or ‘this is me, if you don’t like it then leave’.  These expressions assume an ‘intrinsic’ self (often claimed to reflect individual genetic difference) that we are born with and which is fixed or unalterable.

The problem with this view is that it leaves us powerless to influence both ourselves and others.  You cannot change what is set in concrete.  It supports stubborn resistance.  It supports the idea that we lack control over our behaviour ‘this is just who I am so lump it’ as though our genes can somehow override us.  Most importantly though, it is highly unlikely to be true.

In reality, our genes or any intrinsic ‘self’ has very little to do with how we behave, especially given that humans are 99.9% genetically identical to each other (yet we are not all behaving the same) and we share many of our genes with bananas (about 50%) and moreover we humans have fewer genes than your average banana!

On the other hand, what humans do have is an incredible capacity to learn and build our brains in-the-moment, based on what we learn.  In fact, our entire personalities are likely created simply by what we have paid attention to, learnt, remembered and habitually practiced over and over in our day-to-day behaviour.

This means that our personalities are largely voluntary!  Even when we are very old we can still change ourselves.  We can all create improved (or deleterious) versions of ourselves whenever we think it necessary.

For example, if we like certain aspects of ourselves (like our friendliness or skills at dancing) then we can make sure we pay more focussed attention to those parts and practice them more in our behaviour.

Alternatively, when we don’t like certain parts of ourselves (like being anxious, angry or food-obsessed) then we can decide to slip these unwanted mentations straight out of our attentional focus and not practice them mentally, instead shifting our attention onto an activity we want to strengthen in our brain (like remembering dance steps).  Very soon, our dance steps become a larger and larger part of our mental experience whereas our anxiety, anger or food obsessions become smaller and smaller until we lose awareness of them altogether.