New Year, New You: Can You Change Your Personality?

There is quite a lot of debate around whether it’s possible to change your personality, or whether it is something that is pretty fixed across your lifetime. For a while now, science has been providing evidence to support the former – that your personality can change across your lifespan. And now, new evidence is weighing further support to this idea.

But first, let’s remind ourselves of what personality is. And the answer to this isn’t straightforward, with different answers and viewpoints. But to keep it simple, let’s go with the scientific perspective, and say that personality can be divided up into five main traits – the so-called big 5. These are extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability, and openness to experience. Each person has a bit of each of these traits to a greater or lesser degree. So when talking about whether you can change your personality, the question revolves around whether you can intentionally dial up the desired trait that you are weak in to make it stronger, or, vice versa, dial down an undesired trait you are strong in to make it weaker.

Setting personality goals

To answer this question, a research group from the US has looked across a broad set of data  – a so-called “mega-analysis” of over 2000 people spanning six years – to see whether having a goal or desire, to change your personality one way or another, actually results in a change in your personality in the way you desire. And what they found was that the answer was yes. Setting goals and desires about how you want your personality to be – such as wanting to be more extroverted, conscientious, or agreeable –  robustly predicted a corresponding growth in that particular personality trait. And this was shown to be applicable for all five personality traits (although to a lesser degree for agreeableness and openness to experience) so it didn’t really matter which one you wanted to change, the evidence suggests it is possible to do so.

Give it time.

But they also found that these changes don’t happen overnight. They are small and incremental over time – although the data in the study was taken from 16 week periods, so that amount of time seems enough to initiate a significant change at least. Other evidence suggests that it might even be possible to make a considerable change after only six weeks.

Steps for changing your personality traits

So how do you go about changing your personality (if you want to)?

  • Well, the first and most important thing that this research shows is that you need to have the desire to change your personality, and an idea about how you want to change is. Is it that you want to be more extroverted, or more talkative? Or maybe a bit more conscientious, such a better at time management? The science suggests that you first have to know what it is about you that you want to change and set that as a goal. In other words, write yourself a “change plan,” which outlines the specific behaviors or traits that you would like to change and have it in mind as you go about your daily life.
  • The second thing is that you have to start changing your behavior. Changing your behavior is one of the best ways to start shifting your personality. So maybe think about the way you act in various situations and then think about what you could do to shift your behavior slightly to help you achieve your desired trait change.
  • Alongside this, it’s probably important that you also start to consider what barriers you might come across when trying to change your behavior. Change associated with anything is typically associated with feelings of fear and anxiety, so readying yourself for these feelings and not letting them stand in your way, if possible, is important.
  • Choose new activities that will help you achieve your goal. There may be various habits or activities that you do in your life that align with your current set of traits but that won’t really help you achieve your desired trait levels. So think about whether there are any new activities that you could do or different choices that you could make that will help you achieve your desired goal.
  • Finally, the most important thing is to keep in mind, and stated by the scientists who ran this latest study: “individuals who desire to change their personality traits can do so.” So, as with all goals, if it’s important to you, don’t give up and you’ll get there in the end.

If you would like to know more about how to set effective goals or how to initiate changes in your personality traits, then please get in touch with Synaptic Potential.


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