The Rubber Band Theory

A few weeks again, I came by the brilliant TED talk called "The power of introverts", done by Susan Cain, which in turn got me interested in her book, "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking". While Susan's TED talk gives a good overview of many of her book's insights, I could easily recommend the "Quiet" to anyone even remotely interested in the topic: it's a great read, and the amount of insights and actionable advice packed into the book is at times astonishing (and I've only got half through it so far).

As an introvert that at times struggles with the society's expectations and requirements (attending business school, an environment notoriously famous for pushing even the extraverts out of their comfort zones, doesn't help), I found many things that Susan discusses in the book to be extremely relevant to me, but here is one quote in particular that I wanted to share with you:

"[Dr.] Schwartz’s research suggests something important: we can stretch our personalities, but only up to a point. Our inborn temperaments influence us, regardless of the lives we lead. A sizable part of who we are is ordained by our genes, by our brains, by our nervous systems. And yet the elasticity that Schwartz found in some of the high-reactive teens also suggests the converse: we have free will and can use it to shape our personalities.

We might call this the “rubber band theory” of personality. We are like rubber bands at rest. We are elastic and can stretch ourselves, but only so much."

I find this "rubber band theory" metaphor brilliant. While this insight might look trivial to some, this is actually a relatively recent discovery; it's also something that eluded the scientists for a long time. For years, many people either believed that the personality is something that's entirely shaped by the environment, or that, while there is a genetic component to it, the environment and person's free will still play an overwhelming role in shaping one's personality. Well, as it turns out, this is only true up to a point.

Some might find this fact disheartening, as it means that one doesn't necessarily possess a full control over his own personality, no matter how much effort she applies. But to me, that's not the point. The "Quiet" provides enough evidence to prove that being an introvert shouldn't be seen as an issue: while there are some disadvantages associated with it, the advantages are no less significant. That, coupled with the results of Dr. Schwartz research, suggests that instead of trying to completely revamp our personalities to fit whatever image of ourselves we have in our heads (something that often proves to be impossible to do anyways), we would be much better off focusing on learning how to utilize what we traits we already possess to our advantage.