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Published on January 6, 2021

Is It Possible to Change Your Personality to Become a Better Person?

Is It Possible to Change Your Personality to Become a Better Person?

The notion of whether it is possible to change your personality has been an ongoing topic of research and debate over the years. Is personality inherited or developed? Nature or nurture? Can people truly change? For many years, research showed that our personality was mostly stable. However, evidence continues to emerge that we can—and do—change parts of our personality across our lifetime.[1][2]

Personality can be defined as “the combination of characteristics or qualities that form an individual’s distinctive character.” You can likely think of some qualities or characteristics that have been with you your whole life.

For example, I am and always have been an optimistic and adventurous person. I love a challenge and thrive in change and unpredictable environments. These characteristics were true when I was six years old —climbing a 60-foot tree in the backyard, when I moved to New Zealand on my own at 16, and when I left for Australia out of college at 21. They are part of who I am and likely won’t change.

I am always seeking something new and different and avoid anything that feels too routine or predictable. Right now, I’m writing this article from Hawaii, where I relocated from Los Angeles in the middle of a global pandemic.

There are likely traits that have been with you your whole life, too. Perhaps you’re logical, hands-on, even-keeled, organized, positive, outgoing, encouraging, thoughtful, spontaneous, disciplined, cautious, friendly, challenging, or sensitive.

In my twenty years of coaching and consulting and working with people, I have found it is not an either/or debate—it is both. Ultimately, we are all born with a predisposition and characteristics innately hard-wired in us. And, over time and with age and experience, we can build and change parts of our personality, behavior, and actions as we grow and evolve as human beings.

So, the short answer to the question is yes, you can change aspects of your personality. But before you do, here are a few things to consider.

Know Yourself

Many ancient philosophers, from Aristotle to Socrates and Pythagoras, touted the benefits of “knowing thyself.” One of the most important things to do before you try to change yourself is to know yourself.

You can get to know yourself better through self-reflection and a little soul searching.

Another great way to gain self-awareness and learn more about yourself and your personality is to take an assessment. There are all sorts of great profiling tools out there. Some of the most popular include; MBTI (preferences), Strengths finders (strengths), DiSC (personality), and my personal favorite—Instinctive Drives (core drives and motivations).

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If you’re interested in learning more about yourself, you can take any of these tests, free of charge by creating a profile on one of my favorite tools for personal development—Cloverleaf.

Be True to Yourself

Shakespeare famously said,

“To thine own self be true.”

We read books about how we should do things, take courses on how we are supposed to behave, and model what we see others doing to improve ourselves.

There are many reasons we want to change who we are—many of which come down to fitting in or meeting the demands or expectations of others. We often wear different masks or show different parts of ourselves based on the situation we are in.

However, if you keep changing to meet others’ needs and expectations, you’ll be like a ship at sea getting blown wherever the wind takes you. I’ve worked with many people who have tried to change themselves to fit in with society, their families, and others that they have entirely lost their sense of self.

Bronnie Ware is a palliative care nurse who has worked with hundreds of patients in the last few weeks of their lives. When she talked to them about the most common regrets they had or things they would have done differently, the number one answer was this:[3]

I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. So, if you are working to change something about your personality, do so with thought and an abundance of caution. You are uniquely you. Perhaps it is not your personality that needs to change —but the job, situation, environment, or relationship you are in.

Set Yourself Up for Success

When making any efforts to change, it’s essential to keep the following things in mind:

1. Understand “Why” You Want to Change

To make a lasting change, you must have a compelling and meaningful reason for why you want to make the change. It must come from the inside out—not from the outside in.

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You must see the reasons for change and believe in the benefits of doing so. If you’re trying to change your personality because everyone else thinks you should but deep down, you don’t believe it is essential or feel it is important, it doesn’t matter how much you try—the changes won’t stick.

2. Get Specific About “What” You Want to Change

You might say, I want to be a better person, but you must get clear and specific about what that means. What does that look like? Do you want to be happier, more optimistic, or disciplined? Do you want to be kinder, more thoughtful, or less selfish? You want to be more social and personable instead of ‘all business’? Get specific. If you don’t know what you want, how are you going to get it?

3. Take Action on “How” You Want to Change

You cannot change things about your personality by just thinking about them. Real change, especially with things that have been with you for a long time, require time and dedicated effort. It’s not easy to start doing different things differently and exhibiting behaviors you want to show.

You need to create a habit. How long will that take? Research has shown it can take anywhere from 18 to 254 days for a person to form a new habit and an average of 66 days for a new behavior to become automatic.[4][5]

Additional research from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology studied personality changes over the course of 15 weeks. The study highlights the importance of specific, dedicated activities and challenges that support the behavior you are trying to change.

Merely wanting to change does not appear to be sufficient to evoke trait growth. Successfully changing one’s personality traits may require actively and successfully implementing behaviors to change oneself. Even then, certain personality traits were more malleable than others.[6]

The Onion Skin Model for Making Changes

For years, I have used the onion skin model (© Link-up International Pty Ltd) to show the distinction between what people see on the outside (our personality, behavior, and actions) and what’s influencing those from the inside (our hard wiring and innate motivations). The I.D. in this model stands for Instinctive Drives, which is a profiling tool I mentioned earlier.

Ultimately, if you want to change your personality on the outside, you must shift something inside. The further towards the outer layers of the onion, the easier the change. The deeper you go, the more difficult it is.

Let’s take a look at a few of these layers.

    Onion Skin Model

    The Easiest Thing to Change? Your Attitude

    Studies on confirmation bias have widely proven we find what we are looking for.[7] If you’re looking for the good, you’ll see that. If you’re looking for what’s wrong, guess what you’ll find? You guessed it.

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    The easiest way to change how you see or feel about something? Change your perspective and show up with a positive attitude. Choose hope and optimism over fear and negativity.

    You might be more-hard wired to see the risks or what might go wrong while others are naturally more optimistic and positive, but you always have the power to choose and improve your attitude. One of the quickest ways to shift your attitude? Practice gratitude. There are also other mindset shifts you can make today to shift your attitude.

    Invest in Education, Training, and Skill Development

    The best investment you can make is one in yourself. First, identify what that personality trait is that you want to grow, change, or improve. Then, go out and find a way to change it. There are hundreds of thousands of podcasts, online courses, resources, and books on any topic you could want to change.

    Want to be more conscientious? Learn how to be more efficient or organized through time management courses or books. One of my favorites is the classic The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Looking to be more agreeable or relate to others better? Take a course on developing your emotional intelligence (EQ). Hoping to be more curious or open-minded? Seek out stories about other people’s lives who are different from yours.

    Build Your Self-Esteem and Confidence

    While much of our confidence and self-esteem is hard-wired in us from our early experiences, we can also grow these attributes.

    One of the best ways to increase your confidence or self-esteem? Take action. When you are idle, sitting around wondering what to do, thinking about what can go wrong, and questioning yourself and your abilities, you will always feel self-doubt and fear. Instead, take action. This will inspire further action, momentum, and confidence.

    Understand Your Values and Beliefs

    Understanding your values and beliefs is key if you want to change your personality.

    Values are the guiding principles or ideals that are deeply important to you. Sometimes, you don’t even realize what they are. Still, they influence every decision you make and have a massive impact on how you interact and show up in the world.

    There are no good or bad, right or wrong values—just your values. The critical step is to be aware of your values since they influence everything about you and how you show up in the world.

    For example, if you value relationships, you will likely make time for people important in your life and go out of your way to make people feel special. If you value health, you will probably look very disciplined when you wake up at 5 am every morning to work out.

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    If what you value and what you want aren’t adding up, something needs to shift. For example, I’ve worked with many highly successful entrepreneurs who want to spend more time with their family or take more time off but find it difficult as they keep defaulting to work. Why? Because they value success, money, ambition, power, hard work, or something else that is overriding what they are trying to change.

    It is critical to dig deep and understand your values so you can either be more closely aligned to them or re-evaluate where they might not be serving you. There are lots of ways to discover your values including journaling, working with a life coach, and values cards.

    Beliefs are an attitude that something is the case or that some proposition about the world is true. Everything stems from your beliefs. For many, beliefs are formed from a very young age, and you may not even realize you are holding them or how much they are influencing you.

    Take Sam, a client who reached out to me to improve his confidence. His boss shared that he needed to be more confident, especially in board and executive team meetings if he wanted to continue his path up the corporate ladder. As we dove in, we found that Sam believed confidence meant being cocky and egotistical and that he had to be an ‘uptight suit to’ be a high-level executive. (This was the furthest from the person he wanted to be in the world.) We also discovered he highly valued being humble and approachable and was worried that he might lose his openness and willingness to learn if he showed up too confident.

    With awareness of his values, shifts in beliefs, and new strategies to be more confident, he changed his behaviors (while maintaining humility and authenticity). As a result, he was able to secure a promotion, and more importantly, greater trust and respect from the leadership team.

    Common limiting beliefs I uncover with clients include, “I’m not good enough,” “I don’t deserve good things,” “things never work out for me,” “It’s not possible to enjoy my work and get paid well.” How do you think someone will show up in the world if they are walking around with these underlying beliefs?

    Contrast that to someone who believes that “I am worthy,” “everything is happening for my greatest good,” “I believe in myself,” “people are doing the best they can,” and “miracles are possible.”

    It can be hard work to uncover your values and often painful and challenging to look at limiting beliefs. This is usually best done with a coach, therapist, or counselor. But once you do, you will notice that you can more quickly shift your behaviors and how you show up in the world.

    In the words of Gandhi:

      Gandhi Beliefs

      Conclusion

      While some parts of your personality may be hardwired and stable, you are not stuck. You don’t just have to live with traits that may be hurting your life or relationships. With clarity and a clear understanding of what you want to change, a deep understanding of why you want to change, and dedicated time and effort, you can change your personality.

      However, remember to be cautious not to make changes because someone else said you should. Ensure the changes you are aiming to create are in alignment with who you are, who you want to be, and ultimately, how you want to show up in the world.

      More About Changing Personality

      Featured photo credit: Daniel Salcius via unsplash.com

      Reference

      More by this author

      Tracy Kennedy

      Lifehack's Personal Development Expert, a results-driven coach dedicated to helping people achieve greater levels of happiness and success.

      Why Negative Emotions Aren’t That Bad (And How to Handle Them) How to Practice Mindfulness Meditation to Calm Your Thoughts 30 Self-Care Habits for a Strong and Healthy Mind, Body and Spirit How to Listen to Your Inner Voice for Greater Fulfillment How to Build Self Esteem (A Guide to Realize Your Hidden Power)

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      Last Updated on January 21, 2021

      7 Steps to Reinventing Yourself and Reach Your Goals

      7 Steps to Reinventing Yourself and Reach Your Goals

      Even though there are some people who feel great about their job and have somehow managed to find a good lifestyle that suits them, many still feel trapped and dissatisfied. There are people out there that are desperate for a change, be it in their personal life, their career or something else. The worst thing you can do is to keep your feelings bottled up and soldier on. Depression affects a good chunk of the population but making a change can be scary and difficult. However, if you decide to face the fear of failure and reinvent yourself, there are certain steps that you have to take to improve your chances of success.

      1. Decide on what you want to focus on

      Never plan a big change in your life and career, with only a vague idea of what you wish to accomplish. Sit down and think about all the things you are interested in, would like to do and see yourself investing a great deal of time in. Your motivation can be money, passion, reducing stress, being free to make your own decisions, or having more free time on your hands eventually. Find a path that suits you and bravely make the first step.

      2. Always try to make some time for your new passion

      We can all be busy and have hectic schedules, but if you really want to make a change you’ll need to find a way to make time for your new passion in life. You’ll need to spend a lot of time learning new skills and acquiring great amounts of information, so most of the free time you have will have to be used up for improving yourself. Even if it’s just fifteen minutes on a break or if you have to sacrifice your TV hour after work to studying, you need to make the sacrifice. Only by completely doing away with useless procrastinating activities like watching TV, YouTube clips or playing games, can you find enough time to earn a living, work on reinventing yourself and improve your mind and body.

      3. Keep educating yourself and look for resources

      A lot of people complain about the lackluster education system and rightfully so. Today you need a bunch of forms for everything, and although efforts are being made to switch to online forms that would make everyone’s life easier, we are still a long way from enabling quick and efficient decisions to be made within the education system. Changes are made very slowly as it takes ages to process all that written information.

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      This is why you don’t develop any applicable skills or learn a whole lot in school – everyone seems to be focused on bureaucracy instead of effective education. This is why you have to do all the research and learn on your own if you want to get anywhere. In this age of online courses, cheap eBooks and video tutorials it’s not very difficult to find the information you need from respected sources. Start off slow and learn about the basics, then branch out and keep devouring books on the subjects you wish to specialize in.

      A good way to get started is to look at the bibliography listed in the more basic books and do some online research to find out who the most trusted experts on the topic are, and just get their books. Even if you’re very busy and strapped for time, devote an hour a day on reading and if you have plenty of free time, fill it up with reading and research. If you get bored, then switch to improving your general knowledge to keep things interesting.

      4. Do plenty of networking, both online and offline

      Between all that reading and your usual obligations you’ll have fairly little free time, mostly in the evenings or on the weekend, and you’ll want to make the most out of it by relaxing and having some fun. You may also take a few breaks during the day and scroll through your Facebook and Twitter feed for something interesting. These are great opportunities to do some networking. While you’re out about town, try sparking up conversations with people.

      Keep going out, hanging out with your friends and meeting new people. Ask around to find out if anyone knows someone who works in the industry you are interested in and offer to buy that person a round of drinks in exchange for a short conversation. When on social media, look for people that share the same professional interests and follow industry influencers to get some inside info about new trends and tactics. Always be on the lookout for networking opportunities.

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      5. Create a schedule, but don’t look too far into the future

      Having a clear schedule is a good idea when you are trying to make the most of any given day, and setting goals helps keep you motivated and on track. However, you can get bogged down on plans for the future, career choices you’ll have to make and the money you will be able to earn, so much that you lose sight of smaller goals.

      You can also psyche yourself out and lose motivation, or spend a good amount of time daydreaming instead of doing something useful. In the begging it’s all about learning the basics, steadily developing deeper knowledge, getting a bit of experience and becoming more proficient in your new chosen profession. Only once you’ve become good at it, can you start thinking about career-building opportunities and make long-term plans.

      6. Take care of your body and mind by staying fairly fit

      If you have health problems, don’t sleep well, and have dietary deficiencies, living a fast-paced life and reinventing yourself is going to be a whole lot harder. Physical exercise can help keep your hormones in balance, prevent chronic aches and pains, and lower the risk of a lot of illnesses. It will make you feel more focused and full of energy.

      Getting plenty of quality sleep is also incredibly important for keeping your mind fresh and working at 100% capacity – which is the key to fast learning and reducing stress.

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      A 30-40 minute workout session or 10-15 minutes of active running will tire you out and make it easier to fall asleep, which combined with some stretching and keeping your bedroom in complete darkness will help you get those 8-9 hours of sleep your body needs.

      Eat a decent amount of fruit, vegetables and unsaturated fats (olive oil, nuts, and fish oil) during the day to keep your mind and body working at optimal levels and to keep your immune system in check. With 3-4 hours of exercise per week and some healthy food in your diet, you will be much more positive and productive.

      7. Hang out more with people who are supportive and can help you grow

      Most people won’t welcome change, particularly if you are doing something that doesn’t fit the side of your character that everyone has gotten to know over the years. Some will even discourage you or try to distract you. You will be pressured to spend more time with others, and time will become a very valuable resource to you.

      This is why you should quickly and efficiently cut off everyone that keeps pulling you back or expects a lot from you without giving anything back. You know the kind, constantly asking for favors, looking after their own interests above all else and nowhere to be seen when you are in a pinch and need some help.

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      Focus your efforts on people who give you support, aren’t afraid to tell you their opinion without judging you and that can actually help you out. You need to be around people you are compatible with and whose company you enjoy in the little spare time you have, and around people who can help you improve.

      There are no guarantees, and you might fail once or twice before finding a good path for yourself, but that shouldn’t discourage you. It’s better to work hard and overcome adversity in the end, than to toil away feeling miserable.

      Featured photo credit: Sharon Christina Rørvik via unsplash.com

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