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This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Atomic Habits" by James Clear. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What is the connection between genes and behavior? Does human behavior have a genetic component?

There is certainly a link between genes and behavior, but that doesn’t mean that your genetic make-up defines your personality and determines your destiny in life. Rather, your genetic predispositions determine which opportunities will benefit you the most.

Read about the link between genes and behavior.

What Is the Link Between Genes and Behavior?

Everyone has different talents, abilities, and interests, and your genetic make-up has a lot to do with what yours are. Your genes encompass characteristics that create your personality. Although genes are immutable, they are flexible in how they support your life choices. Put your energy toward things that excite you, and your genes will give you a successful edge. When working for you, genetic predispositions give you an advantage. When working against you, they give you a disadvantage.

There is certainly a link between genes and behavior, but your genetic predispositions are not a verdict for what your life outcomes. The environment has a lot to do with whether your genes work for or against you. This is why selecting the right behaviors and environment is crucial for your success. 

One of the best ways to determine which behaviors and environments are right for you is by learning which personality traits you possess. 

The Big 5 Personality Traits

There are 5 personality traits, each with a spectrum of behavior that highlights who you are. All five have biological underpinnings and typically remain unchanged throughout your life.

  1. Openness to experience—from curious and daring to cautious and unvarying.
  2. Conscientiousness—from organized and methodical to spontaneous and relaxed.
  3. Extroversion—from sociable and gregarious to reclusive and reticent.  
  4. Agreeableness—from affable and caring to difficult and withdrawn.
  5. Neuroticism—from fretful and sensitive to assured and resilient.

Understanding your personality doesn’t dictate what behaviors you’re capable of performing. However, your personality does suggest which behaviors you will most likely gravitate toward and be successful with.

Genetics Are Only Half the Battle

As stated, there is definitely a link between genes and behavior. But your inherent talents and personality will not make you successful on their own. Genes make the most of your expended energy by suggesting what you should focus on. But genes do not stand in for hard work.

You must first work hard at something before you know if the behavior or activity is truly in your wheelhouse. Even if you are naturally gifted at something, doing nothing or putting in the smallest amount of effort will not equal success.

Likewise, not having a specific talent or natural gift for a certain activity does not equate to failure. You can succeed at anything you want to do as long as you put in the work.

Genetics are only as useful as the means by which you use them. Find the right path for you and give it your time and focus to succeed.

Genes and Behavior: What’s the Link?

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  • The 4 Stages of Habit Formation you can use to transform your life
  • How more than half of your daily actions are automatic
  • Why some habits stick and why others won't

Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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