Within five years every hair on your head, every cell in your body and even every atom within every one of your brain neurons has turned over. So, every five years – anatomically – you are a completely different person. And believe it or not, over a lifetime, even your DNA will evolve.

Okay. But what about personality? An individual’s personality is a constant through this crazy physical-anatomy turnover. Right?


Personalities are influenced by situations. And people’s responses will change as situations act upon them over time. Our own beliefs and our own shared situational experience cloud how we judge personalities. But we so desperately want to categorize others that we only pay attention to the consistencies and we ignore the inconsistencies.

Well, this is all fairly terrifying. But what about memories? Memories stay consistent throughout a lifetime. Right?


Emotionally significant or traumatic flashbulb-type memories are essentially inerasable, but even they drift as much as your daily memories do. In fact, every time we think about memories, we corrupt them. It’s like making a copy of a copy. Or, playing the game of telephone. We drop details and fictionalize facts over time.

So, what does this mean for the basic human need to seek stability and consistency?

That likely won’t change, but we can decide to embrace the chaos and use it to our advantage.

Our brains seek patterns and once we’ve learned a connection we tend to overlook things that vary from that. Brains are lazy, and they skip forward to conclusions. The challenge is to teach ourselves to unlearn patterns and accept inconsistent information. In every facet of life, there is an illusion of continuity. We want to think that we, and others, have a consistent identity. But, clearly, we don’t. We’re changing all the time.

Once we accept that our own perception is untrustworthy and that the only real consistency in the world is change, we can use our perception to affect positive change. Here are some ways:

  • Assume positive intent. If someone brings you a problem, assume they mean well and are looking to you for help. But, don’t make it about you. Be cognizant that everyone has their own personal hurdles and did not intend to frustrate you.
  • Reframe reality. There’s a very famous marshmallow study that pop culture misconstrued as a study in the consistency of delayed gratification leading to a more successful life. Kids that could wait 15 minutes without eating the marshmallow would get another one if they waited. In reality, it was an exercise in reframing reality. The kids that were encouraged to imagine that the marshmallow was a picture (and not a real marshmallow) could wait longer without eating it.
  • Change what you can affect. Reimagine what you can’t. The ability to stay calm through chaos is a leadership trait, but it’s something that needs to be cultivated. Let’s say you get cut off in traffic. Our first response is to make it about us. We think the other driver did it on purpose. Well, how do your emotions change if you reimagine that the driver is a parent with a child that needs to get to the hospital. Is that true? Probably not. But, it allows you to stay calm about something you can’t affect and head into work with a clear mind.
  • Each day is a new day. Literally. You are a new evolution of you every time you wake up. Seriously, the cells in your body are constantly turning over. You do not have to be tied to your biography from last year or even the day before. Take life one second at a time.

Check out the transcript from the NPR segment that inspired this post. I had seen pieces of this information before, but never in one place with so many layers.

Originally published at intrinsicalities.blogspot.com