49 Percent of Your Traits Are Given to You at Birth

Danny Forest


When I read the conclusion of a landmark research about the percentage of your personality traits given to you at birth, I was shocked. The study concludes that on average, a staggering 49 percent of who you are as a person comes from genetics. The remaining 51 percent comes from your life experiences.

I always thought that talent didn’t exist. I thought that the growth I’ve had in the past few years had always been the result of my hard labour. I pride myself on reinventing myself, yet it looks like a good part of it is but an illusion.

What does that mean for you?

For one, if there’s something you’ve been working really hard to change and can’t seem to do it while others can, it’s possible that it’s not your fault you can’t change it. You are hard-wired this way.

This is both reassuring and dreadful at the same time.

I have friends who struggle with mental health issues and have tried every trick in the books to overcome them, but nothing seems to work. It’s a problem I didn’t understand. I used to think that with enough effort, there’s nothing you can’t do or change. If the research’s conclusion is true, I was wrong.

My takeaway from this is that I shouldn’t judge people when they are not “normal” and do not behave “in a normal way”. Sometimes, they just can’t change it.

But! I don’t think this should be an excuse to not even try. No one knows what those 49 percent traits are inherent to them. A change — a rewiring of the brain — is never an easy thing to do. If there’s something you so desire to change, by all means, do like my friends and do everything in the books before giving up.

It’s not all about the brain though. I’m an ectomorph. There’s nothing I can do to change that (as far as we’ve found so far). Ectomorphs have a fast metabolism and can’t gain weight easily. A lot of people are jealous of ectomorphs because they can eat anything they want and never get fat.

Well, it’s not all rainbows and sunshine! Ectomorphs are always hungry. It’s not a nice feeling. If they eat the suggested amounts of calories for adults of their size, they likely lose weight. To maintain my weight, I have to eat about 3,000 calories per day. I’m a short and skinny guy.

I recently hung out with friends in Barcelona and some of them commented on how much we were eating and simply had to skip meals. I’m already hungry 30 minutes after meals where I’m completely stuffed. I always wanted to eat more.

If you’re an ectomorph, you can’t go against the current. You’re skinny and will always be skinny. If you’re an endomorph, you’re overweight and will always be overweight. Maybe we shouldn’t be too hard on our ourselves when we can’t help it.

Acceptance, when used properly, can be powerful.

Another thing this study may mean is that talent does exist. In which case, I’d argue it’s more important than ever to go out there and try as many things as you can since it’s the only way you’ll be able to tell what those talents are.

I call myself a polymath because I can do software engineering, video game production, photography, and write — all that with ease. I always thought that I had become good at those through hard work, but the truth is, I didn’t work that hard to become good at them, especially not with writing. This could be one of my innate talents.

Have I always been doing photography and writing? Not at all!

Before June 2015, I had never taken photography seriously. Even then, I only took photos because I was travelling for a year, not because I enjoyed it or was good at it. After 4 months of travelling, people started to notice my photos, and shortly after, I was already doing contracts for NGOs. If it wasn’t for my travels, I would not have known I could be good in photography.

Before January 2018, I barely knew anything about writing. It’s then that I started writing one article per day on Medium.com. I did that for a month simply to get better at writing in English. Within the first month, I had already become a top writer in 7 categories.

If I had not tried these two things, I might never have known that I was pre-disposed to being good at them. Over the course of the past three years, I’ve experimented with learning three new skills every month on average. I’ve learned over 80 new skills.

While I’ve become an efficient learner and have learned to learn, some skills don’t come naturally to me. For example, playing any type of instrument is still a struggle for me.

But the opposite is true too. It took me some time to become good at Salsa Dancing, but I was a lot better than I anticipated. And I previously thought I had no artistic talent but I frequently surprised myself as I experimented with different styles and drawing techniques.

Jack-of-all-trades sometimes get a bad reputation, but if the above research’s conclusion is true, their method of sampling different skills may just be the best way to discover your inner talents.

For me, the conclusion of that research is life-changing. It’s one of those rare moments when I’ve had my beliefs proven quite wrong. Before, if I had to guess what percentage of my traits came from birth, I would have said 10 percent at most. I always say that your environment shapes you. The reality is more so that your environment helps you discover who you really are. That’s an important distinction.

What do you think of the research’s conclusion?

Do you see this as a positive thing or a negative thing? Or maybe somewhere in between?

Now that you know 49 percent of your traits come from birth, are you going to look at self-improvement differently?

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