AAt some point, most of us have been assigned a neat label for our personality, as if it were a clothing brand. It could have happened during a job interview, for an online dating profile, or on a social media quiz that matches your traits with a character from game of Thrones. Or maybe you’ve endured a conversation with friends in which everyone is declared “introverts” or “extroverts,” the two tribes into which the world’s population can apparently be divided. The dogma of personality classifications, says psychologist and author Dr. Benjamin Hardy, is that they reveal “your true authentic self, and that [once you have] you figured it out, you can finally live your true life. “They are supposed to be empowering and presented as ultimate. They work on the assumption that the personality is something rigid, cast in plaster.
Speaking about Zoom from his home in Florida, Hardy says this is all “false.” In his recent book Personality is not permanent, argues that personality is not fixed at all. Some changes occur naturally as we go through our lives, but we can also consciously alter our traits if we want to. He speaks of personality – “his constant attitudes and behaviors, his way of presenting himself in situations” – as a collection of skills that can be learned, such as riding a bicycle.
There is something unromantic and clinical about seeing traits as learned skills, because we tend to see our personality as the key to what makes us. us. Hardy thinks that’s part of the problem. It says that our “identity”, how we choose to define ourselves as a person, is what is important. Personality, which he sees as a “surface level,” is simply behavior that stems from living our identity. Therefore, you may see yourself as a powerful and charismatic man, and the resulting traits may include confidence and a keen sense of humor.
It is a somewhat confusing point, but the most important thing is the recognition that we can change, both our identity and our personality. This should be liberating. “Most people have defined their current selves too much. If you say “I’m an introvert”, it’s a label. And because the identity of most people is a fixed mindset, their imagination and willingness to change is quite stunted, ”he says. “It’s not that we can’t change, it’s that we don’t think we can.”
Personality is not permanent is the latest addition to a growing body of research in psychology that changes the long-held assumption that personality is static. The realization that it is malleable represents an intriguing addition to the lexicon of self-optimization. In the past decade, the wellness movement has increased interest in self-improvement. This has tended to focus on physical well-being (eating, sleeping, and exercising) and improving our mental state through practices like meditation. Although many of these overlap with personality (if you get plenty of rest and exercise regularly, you are likely to be more optimistic), the explicit goal of improving personality traits has rarely emerged.
Could it be that, in the future, we strive to be more fun or kinder with the same intensity that is currently dedicated to toning our abs? Could personality be the next to be sculpted and commodified in our quest to be more and more impressive people?
The idea that personality is fixed at a certain age has endured for more than a century. The most accepted theory is that it solidifies at age 30 (as someone who has just celebrated that milestone, I find this thought alarming). This goes back to William James, the late 19th century professor whom Hardy calls the “godfather of American psychology,” and is easily explained. Often times, “you’ve established a path for yourself in your 30s, you’ve settled into a career and a family and you stop doing so many ‘firsts’ things,” Hardy says. “Whereas if you are trying new things, your personality will keep changing because you are out of your comfort zone. I think people stop doing that as they get older, not because they can’t, but because they are on track. “
Dr. Wiebke Bleidorn, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, has another explanation for the doctrine that “personality is fixed.” In the 1960s, psychologist Walter Mischel suggested that personality was not real; it was just a construction. Personality psychologists reacted by doing their best to show that it existed. “There was very little room for the idea that personality changes because we had to show that it is stable and predicts all kinds of outcomes,” he says. “Then, as often, the pendulum swung a little too much.”
Now, psychologists are working to provide a more accurate and nuanced perspective. Her research shows that normative personality changes will happen as we live our lives: attending school, moving houses, and our first romantic relationships all have a significant impact (surprisingly, she says, not having children). Aging means that traits such as self-control and awareness are intensified. Changing environments: workplaces; friendship groups – also have an effect.
But what if we want to spice up the personality, add some humor, subtract some meanness? It is important to be specific about your intentions. “You must ask yourself: What is my personality right now? What would my ideal personality be? And what do I have to do to minimize the distance? “Bleidorn says. She advises turning to psychotherapy. Although we think of psychotherapy as addressing stress or relationship problems, she says that” at the end of the day, it is often also a personality intervention. Because what people want is to change their patterns of thoughts, feelings and behavior, and that is our definition of personality. “
Hardy prefers to start by imagining the person he would like to be, and says the traits will follow. However, when I press him to modify specific traits, he says that it is a “deliberate practice”, a psychology term that refers to a repetitive and very self-conscious process. “You should always push slightly above your current skill level, receive feedback and some level of training. You look at yourself and analyze yourself, like a soccer player. “If the goal is to be outgoing, that could mean seeing a life coach, forcing yourself to approach people at parties, or making conversation in cafes. I say That sounds like learning anything else. He says yes. “Personality is a skill that can be learned, just like learning to walk.”
If the goal is to be more confident and outgoing, Nick Hatter could be your man. The London-based life coach uses techniques from fields including positive psychology, hypnosis, and psychodynamics (discovering unconscious motivations). When working on personality changes, you ask questions to help clients determine what motivates and triggers them. “Many self-help books only give advice, but the problem with advice is that it doesn’t really give you that deeper level of self-awareness that will help you make different decisions,” he says.
Is there a limit to how much we can change our personality? Some experts think that certain elements, such as the forces that motivate you, are established. But while Hardy admits that some transformations will be more difficult, like getting gregarious if you’re terribly shy, he doesn’t see any limits if you’re willing to do the job.
It sounds seductive on paper, but whether it is realistic is another matter. When wondering out loud if this could be the next frontier for self-optimization, most experts suggest that it’s too big of a claim, given the level of commitment and the number of hours it takes to potentially alter traits. “I don’t know if people want to go that far; it is not easy ”, emphasizes Bleidorn.
However, some spike in interest seems inevitable. “I think there will definitely be [an increase in personality improvement]”Says Hatter, adding that working on emotional intelligence is already becoming more popular in corporate settings. “You get a personal trainer for the gym, why don’t you get one for your personality?”
The awareness that it is even an option will be the first step for many. “When it comes to optimizing yourself, you see people online improving and you realize, ‘Okay, I can do that.’ You think they can break you, but don’t think you can change your identity and your personality, ”Hardy says. “More and more people will realize that they really can, and then they will.”
Benjamin Hardy’s Personality Is Not Permanent is published by Portfolio at £ 15.99. Buy it for £ 13.91 at guardianbookshop.com
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism