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Why Understanding Personality Is Key to Increasing Potential

I recently completed a course on personality theory that I found infinitely fascinating. Today I want to share some thoughts about how this understanding can help us better navigate in the world.

You can think of personality as the lens through which we view the world. It functions by filtering the world so we only pay attention to certain things. This then influences the way we think, feel, and act.

Part of what colours our lens has to do with the environment in which we have been raised. But another significant part has to do with the innate personality traits that we were born with.

Science has shown that much of personality is inborn and relatively stable over timeWho we are runs deep. Indeed, most parents can get a good sense of who their children are by the time they’re toddlers.

I believe this understanding is critically important. 

Not only for knowing who we should become but for helping us understand that other people are fundamentally different. They will never be able to look at the world like you do – neither will you they. It’s this understanding that helps foster greater compassion and tolerance for “the other side.” 

I’d add that as a parent it’s important you don’t force your child to be something he or she isn’t – but instead pay attention to and nurture who they really are.

This is also why we should pick things like our profession based on our personality. Some are of us are naturally creative while others look at art and don’t get it. Conversely, some of us are highly conscientious while others couldn’t care less if they put odd socks on in the morning. 

Most organisations need a combination of both vertical (in-the-box) type thinkers and lateral (out-of-the-box) type thinkers. Indeed, the world needs various personality types because there isn’t a single answer to all of the world’s problems.

Does this mean we can’t adjust the colour of our lens? Does it mean we can’t become something we’re not? No, not at all. Indeed our personalities change naturally as we age. They are malleable. And we should try to expand the limits of our own personality for all sorts of beneficial reasons.

That said, there are limits. After a certain point, you get diminishing rates of return. We all have a proclivity to learn specific skills more quickly than others. We all struggle to understand certain things more than others too.

This is because all of us have limited cognitive abilities. We’re simply incapable of processing all of the objective facts in the unknowable universe. Different personalities are nature’s way of covering all bases.

This is important for understanding different political persuasions, which is heavily influenced by personality. Sometimes liberals have the answer; at other times conservatives do. But, at the end of the day, to quote some Indian dude, “the left-wing and right-wing are part of the same bird.” 

We need diversity of thought. And we desperately need to work together despite our differences. This is how we cover each other’s blind spots.

There’s something else to be aware of too. 

Many of us berate ourselves for our weaknesses while failing to see how they’re intimately linked to our strengths. This is because there are pros and cons at the end of each personality trait spectrum.

Ultimately this understanding can help us find that goldilocks position in life we’re all looking for. The one that suits us best (and this, I firmly believe, best suits the world too). But also help us adjust the parts of ourselves that, on occasion, need adjusting.

Ideally, you want to wear the hat most suited to who you are as much as possible. But you also want the ability to put on a different hat when the circumstances require it. Because life is unpredictable so we must be adaptable. 

The trick is to specialise at what you are but practise what you aren’t. 

But to do that, we must first become clear about who we really are at our core. We must first understand the hand we have been dealt before we try to play it – before we match the game to our particular set of cards.

This is something I want to talk to you about next week by introducing you to something known as the Big Five Personality model

In the following weeks I mean to break explore these five traits in greater detail while placing my own personality under the microscope. In the process I hope to shine a brighter light on who you are too, so we may all deepen our understanding about ourselves and the world we live in. 

This is part of a series of posts on the Big Five Personality Traits. Please find other posts below:


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29 thoughts on “Why Understanding Personality Is Key to Increasing Potential

  1. You have some great insights here. “Not only for knowing who we should become but for helping us understand that other people are fundamentally different.” This one trips me up often.

    I find it interesting that rejection is often my first response to the reveals of personality profiles. I’m happy with the good, but they’re obviously way off base when it comes to flaws and areas that could stand improvement.

    “This is because all of us have limited cognitive abilities. We’re simply incapable of processing all of the objective facts in the unknowable universe.” My brain was instantly aggressive – “I can too!” 😂

    Arrogance is the trait that usually does me in. I’m working on it.

    I’m looking forward to reading more about the Big 5.

    1. You’re not alone – I think we forget that people see the world differently to us – it can make reconciliation difficult. It’s not easy to read about our weaknesses – often they’re the parts we hide even from ourselves. But I do believe the best cure is to bring those parts of ourselves into the light. What I found interesting about this course was the understanding behind our supposed weaknesses – how in some circumstances they can work to our advantage. But also how they are often linked to the parts of ourselves we see as strengths. I’ll talk more about all of this in the weeks ahead anyhow. Thanks for chiming in Michelle – wishing you well 🙏

  2. Personality typing is pie slicing. You can slice personality up into as many slices as you want. If there are a thousand different traits that go into personality you can group seemingly related traits into 5 groups or ten groups or 2 groups or a hundred groups and the groups do not need to be evenly divided.

    I like the Meyers-Briggs system myself. (I’m an INTP.) It is simple. Four traits which result in four spectrums and people get classified by which end of the spectrum they are closer to in each trait.

    But nothing is perfect – or even close to perfect. Any binary personality classification system suffers from people who don’t really fit on either end of the spectrum. All systems suffer from oversimplification. Personality traits may also depend on the environment. I might be extroverted in certain circumstances and introverted in others.

    If we had a good working model of the brain, we could slice our personality pie up into pieces based on which brain structure does what. We’d see which traits are fundamental and which traits are really interactions between fundamental traits and how learning could impact them.

    1. Oh sure, it’s definitely pie slicing but slicing up a pie provides a lot of practical utility provided you don’t take it too far. Of course these models are prone to error but they still provide a decent framework to work with.

      I like the big five because it places you on the spectrum. It doesn’t tell you you’re either introverted or extroverted but whether you’re in 50th or 10th or 90th percentile. It uses a lexical approach – using the assumption that you know yourself better than anyone else – to gain a picture of who you are.

      Indeed our personalities change days to day based on our mood, etc but we all have underlying trends that remain relatively stable over time. The data has show a remarkable consistency in the short to medium term – if not the long.

      It’s my understanding that the Big Five is one of the most up to date models going. It is simple like the Meyers-Briggs – albeit with one extra trait. It starts with the idea that these 5 traits subsume all the others and provide the basic structure that makes up out personality. It then breaks down into a series of facets and sub facets to give a higher resolution picture should you be interested.

      Obviously if you keep breaking those into ever smaller facets eventually you’ll get to the individual itself. The picture becomes more accurate but often we lose sight of the bigger, more important, picture as a result.

      Thanks for your thoughts Fred – you raise some great points 🙏

    1. I think that’s the trick. WE often argue whether it’s best to play to your strengths or work on your weaknesses. Of course it’s both. But I believe it’s best to make major life choices based on your strengths and then work on your weaknesses to strengthen that hand so to speak. Thank you for taking the time to read/comment 🙏

    1. Haha – funnily enough I’m given the same name. Well, actually, my friends use less eloquent terminology but the meaning is the same.

      My educated guess is you would score very high in openness – which breaks down into intellect and openness to experience. AKA creatives. Happily this is the trait most highly correlated with IQ! Unfortunately it’s also correlated with lower conscientiousness and higher neuroticism…

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed it Cathy – it’s a kind of introduction to topic of posts I have planned for the weeks ahead. I hope you find the rest of it as interesting. Wishing you well 🙏

  3. “We’re simply incapable of processing all of the objective facts in the unknowable universe.” I cannot tell you how much this statement hurt me reading it. It has bothered me since I was a kid realising how many aspects of the world I simply have no conception of, and knowing on some level I never could no matter how much I studied, specialized, and experienced. I don’t know what it says about my personality, but I want all the facts, all the considerations, all the possibilities, and I want them all to be in an organized, categorized system with no redundancies. And I know that is practically impossible, which makes me feel kind of hopeless and adrift in the seemingly disorganized complexity of reality.

    But your next statement, that “Different personalities are nature’s way of covering all bases” also rings true and provides a bit of hope. I have definitely experienced a lot of new information I would never have had a clue was there or known how to process if I did, without encountering someone with a different personality/way of looking at things. I love the understanding that can come with personality typing and I don’t really know much about the Big 5, so I’m glad you’re covering it!

    1. Hi Gail. The older I get the more I realise the lessons that come from depth of knowledge in one subject is applicable to many domains. It’s good to have the drive – that thrust for wanting to know – wanting to be in control, but learning to understand our limits and accepting what we cannot control or understand is also important. My theory is we tend to better at one more than the other.

      I hope you find the series of post helpful – the big five is a great model for understanding the self and others. I hope I can it some justice. Wishing you well 🙏

  4. Very true, i believe, AP. <3 When my daughter was a baby, she would always turn over on her stomach. Nowadays, we are warned that babies who sleep on their stomachs may suffocate. Thankfully, she survived, but she showed from birth that she was very independent and determined.

    1. Hi Cheryl! Sounds like she is a fighter! Grit or conscientiousness is one the traits that has researchers scratching their heads – a lot of debate about how much it has to do with innate nature versus nurture. I believe it is a bit of both – but even then – nature is fairly set in stone from about the age of 4. Those early years are very important. I’ve no doubt you had a big part to play in the development of her character. Wishing you well 🙏

  5. i love when you say that the world is unpredictable so we should learn to be adaptable. Part of adapting is learning to embrace the fact that we are all different and getting to know ourselves a deeper everyday because, We are more than we are yet to find out…Looking forward to the big 5

    1. Someone told me there are two great journeys in life. The first is working out what you put on this planet to do. The second is doing it. Im hoping I can help people with the first so they can do the second. Thank you for taking the time to read/comment. I really appreciate it. 🙂🙏

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