Seems like an obvious thing, now doesn’t it, but we so often forget. What we call selling out, selling our soul or our true selves is not one single event and poof – you’re all different now. It’s a slip and slide of multiple events, correlations and repetitions.
When people referred to strengthening one’s person as “building a character” this was not a figure of speech. It was exactly right. What you want to become and strive to is something that is built and constructed rather than an overnight accidental occurrence. Things we practice eventually become the default and we literally become them – because the truth is in the actions and behaviours we exhibit. So we may be in a few situations that demand us to wave common sense, to be meaner or more unkind than what is natural to us, we may be forced to lie, cheat or withhold something and one such occurrence may not seem as a big deal. It probably isn’t but now, if there is no immediate consequence or it is delayed sufficiently that you don’t attribute feeling bad to this “sell out”, there is a precedent and a pathway built into you that will make it easier next time, and even easier each time that follows, until that thing becomes a part of you. The brain is plastic and it adapts to what it thinks you want from it. So if it believes you want and need to shut of your conscience or guilt or that you’re working on your chess skills it will help you do so and make the action easier each time you do it. This applies to all things you undertake – good and bad alike – there is no judgement in brain plasticity.
The first time you do a new thing a huge amount of brain area lights up in order to make sense of it, learn it and orient itself. The brain literally needs to build new structures to do this thing and this is why practice makes us better. The pathways are already set up and cut in and repeating the action strengthens them and allows us to get more sophisticated in whatever it is we’re doing, be it learning how to write with your other hand or plotting revenge. As you practice, the brain surface that activates is lesser each time, until it moves way back into the brain where routinized action is. At that point this thing becomes a part of you and you cannot just shut it off. You need to build a new structure that shuts the previous one and then the third one that substitutes/overrides it. Yet, if an action was practiced enough to have become deeply routinized, every time you’re stressed the mechanism that keeps the old bad habit you think you’ve kicked in check stops working properly and your habit returns. We never really kick old habits fully. We just substitute them with different ones to fill in the already existing pathway.
Build a character you feel comfortable in by building the habits that support it and don’t practice what you don’t want to become because it will become a bit more you each time you practice them. Practice makes perfect or disastrous – depending on what is practiced. Everything you do matters so don’t give up bits and pieces of yourself thinking it won’t show up in the final tally. Actions and behaviour can become a habit just as easily as emotions, moods and people can. What you choose to let into your daily life makes a difference in who you are and are becoming. Being in a constants state of transition and development can be a blessing and a curse in equal measure.