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Published on January 6, 2021

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

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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.

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      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

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      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.

      12 Proven Ways To Increase Your Intellectual Wellness How to Build Self-Esteem: A Guide to Realize Your Hidden Power How to Build Self Discipline to Excel in Life 10 Powerful Ways to Be More Confident 10 Strategies to Keep Moving Forward When Feeling Stuck

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      Last Updated on October 7, 2021

      How to Make a Change With the Four Quadrants of Change

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      How to Make a Change With the Four Quadrants of Change

      Quitting smoking is the easiest thing in the world. Some people quit smoking a thousand times in their lives! Everyone knows someone with this mindset.

      But this type of change is superficial. It doesn’t last. For real, lasting change to take place, we need to consider the quadrants of change.

      Real change, the change that is fundamental, consistent, and longitudinal (lasting over time) has to happen in four quadrants of your life.

      It doesn’t have to be quitting smoking; it can be any habit you want to break — drinking, biting your nails, overeating, playing video games, shopping, and more.

      Most experts focus on only one area of change, some focus on two areas, but almost none focus on all four quadrants of change. That’s why much of change management fails.

      Whether it is in the personal life of a single individual through actions and habits, or in a corporate environment, regarding the way they conduct their business, current change management strategies are lacking.

      It all stems from ignoring at least one part of the equation.

      So, today, we will cover all four quadrants of change and learn the formula for how to change fundamentally and never go back to your “old self.”

      A word of warning: this is simple to do, but it’s not easy. Anyone who tells you that change is easy is either trying to sell you something, or they have no idea what they’re talking about.

      Those who want an overnight solution have left the article now, so that leaves you, me, and the real process of change.

      The Four Quadrants of Change

      There are four areas, or quadrants, in which you need to make a change in order for it to stick. If you miss or ignore a single one of these, your change won’t stick, and you will go back to your previous behavior.

      The four quadrants are:

      1. Internal individual – mindset
      2. External individual – behavior
      3. Internal collective – culture/support system
      4. External collective – laws, rules, regulations, teams, systems, states

      All four of these quadrants of change may sound like they could carry change all by themselves, but they can’t. So, be sure to implement your change in all four quadrants. Otherwise, it will all be in vain.

      First Quadrant — Internal Individual

      This quadrant focuses on the internal world of an individual, and it concerns itself with the mindset of a person.

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      Our actions stem from our thoughts (most of the time), and if we change our mindset toward something, we will begin to process of changing the way we act.

      People who use the law of attraction fall into this category, where they’ve recognized the strength of thoughts and how they make us change ourselves.

      Even Lao Tzu had a great saying regarding this:

      “Watch your thoughts. They become words. Watch your words. They become deeds. Watch your deeds. They become habits. Watch your habits. They become character. Character is everything.” [1]

      One of the most impactful ways you can make a change in this quadrant is to implement what James Clear calls identity-based habits. [2]

      Instead of prioritizing the outcome of a change (ex.: I want to lose 20 pounds), you prioritize your identity as a person (I want to become/remain a healthy person).

      Here are a couple of examples for you to see the strength of this kind of resolution:

      I want to watch many movies = I am a cinema lover
      I want to clean my apartment = I am a clean person
      I want to harvest my crops = I am a harvester (farmer)
      I want to swim = I am a swimmer

      This quadrant is about changing the identity you attach to a certain action. Once you re-frame your thinking in this way, you will have completed the first of the quadrants of change.

      Second Quadrant — External Individual

      This quadrant focuses on the external world of an individual and concerns itself with the behavior of a person.

      This is where people like Darren Hardy, the author of the Compound Effect reside. Hardy is about doing small, consistent actions that will create change in the long run (the compound effect).

      You want to lose 30 pounds? Start by eating just 150 calories (approximately two slices of bread) less a day, and in two and a half years, you will have lost 30 pounds.

      The same rules apply to business, investing, sports, and multiple other areas. Small, consistent actions can create big changes.

      This works — I’ve read 20 extra pages a day for the past two years, and it accumulated into 90 books read in two years. [3]

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      Here, you have two ways of dealing with change behaviorally: negative environmental design and positive environmental design.

      Negative Environmental Design

      This is when you eliminate the things from your environment that revert you to the old behavior. If you want to stop eating ice cream, you don’t keep it in your freezer.

      If you want to stop watching TV, you remove the batteries from the remote and put them on the other side of the house (it works!).

      Positive Environmental Design

      This is when you put the things that you want to do withing reach — literally!

      You want to learn how to play guitar? Put your guitar right next to your sofa. You want to head to the gym? Put the gym clothes in a backpack and put it on top of your shoes.

      You want to read more books? Have a book on your nightstand, your kitchen table, and on the sofa.

      You can even combine this last trick with my early advice about removing the batteries from your remote control, combining the negative and positive environmental designs for maximum effect.

      Two Sides of the Same Coin

      If you just change your behavior and leave your intentions (thoughts) intact, your discipline will fail you and the real change won’t happen.

      You will simply revert back to the previous behavior because you haven’t changed the fundamental root of why this problem occurs in the first place.

      That is why you need to create change both in the first quadrant (internal individual — mindset) and the second quadrant (external individual — behavior). These quadrants of change are two sides of the same coin.

      Most change management would stop here, and that’s why most change management fails.

      No matter how much you focus on yourself, there are things that affect our lives that are happening outside of us. That is the focus of the two remaining quadrants.

      Third Quadrant — Internal Collective

      This quadrant focuses on the internal world of the collective where the individual resides, and it concerns itself with the culture of that collective.

      There are two different distinctions here: the Inner Ring and the Outer Ring.

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      The Inner Ring

      These are your friends and your family. The Inner Ring is the place where the social and cultural norms of your friends and family rule.

      So, if everyone in your family is overweight and every lunch is 1,000 calories per person, then you can say goodbye to your idea of becoming healthy.

      In this case, the culture of your group, the inner norms that guide the decisions, actions, thoughts, ideas, and patterns of behaviors are all focused on eating as much as possible. [4]

      You need to have the support of your Inner Ring if you want to achieve change. If you don’t have this support, the the best way to proceed is by either changing your entire Inner Ring or distancing yourself from it.

      Beware — most Inner Rings won’t accept the fact that you want to change and will undermine you on many occasions — some out of habit, some due to jealousy, and some because supporting you would mean that they have to change, too.

      You don’t have to cut ties with people, but you can consciously decide to spend less time with them.

      The Outer Ring

      The Outer Ring consists of the culture of your company, community, county, region, and country. For example, it’s quite hard to be an open-minded person in North Nigeria, no matter how you, your friends, and your family think.

      The Outer Ring is the reason why young people move to the places that share their value systems instead of staying in their current city, county, or country.

      Sometimes, you need to change your Outer Ring as well because its culture is preventing you from changing.

      I see this every single day in my country, where the culture can be so toxic that it doesn’t matter how great of a job you have or how great your life currently looks — the culture will change you, inch by inch, until you become like it.

      Fourth Quadrant — External Collective

      This quadrant focuses on the external world of the collective where the individual resides, and it concerns itself with the systems, teams, laws, and rules of that collective.

      This quadrant is about the external manifestations of the collective culture. If the majority of the environment thinks in a certain way, they will create institutions that will implement that way of thinking.

      The same rules apply to companies.

      One example for companies would be those managers who think that employees are lazy, lack responsibility, and need constant supervision (or what is called Theory X in management).

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      Then, those managers implement systems that reflect that kind of culture– no flexible work hours, strict rules about logging work, no remote work, etc.

      Your thoughts, however, may be different. You might believe that people want responsibility, that they are capable of self-direction, that they can make good decisions, and that managers don’t need to stand on their necks if they want something done (this is called Theory Y in management).

      Then, you would want to have flexible working hours, different ways of measuring your productivity (for example, not time on the job but work produced), and remote work, if possible for your profession.

      This is when you enter into a conflict with the external collective quadrant. Here, you have four options: leave, persevere, neglect, and voice.

      Leave

      You can simply leave the company/organization/community/country and go to a different place. Most people decide to do this.

      Persevere

      This is when you see that the situation isn’t good, but you decide to stick at it and wait for the perfect time (or position) where you can implement change.

      Neglect

      This is where you give up on the change you want to see and just go with the flow, doing the minimal work necessary to keep the status quo.

      These are the people who are disengaged at work and are doing just the bare minimum necessary (which, in the U.S. is around 65% of the workforce).

      I did this only once, and it’s probably the only thing I regret doing in my life.

      Voice

      This is where you actively work on changing the situation, and the people in charge know that you want to create a change.

      It doesn’t matter if it’s your company, community, or your country; you are actively calling for a change and will not stop until it’s implemented.

      Putting It All Together

      When you take it all into account, change is simple, in theory, but it isn’t easy to execute. It takes work in all four quadrants:

      1. Internal individual — mindset
      2. External individual — behavior
      3. Internal collective — culture/support system
      4. External collective — laws, rules, regulations, teams, systems, states

      Some will require more work, some less, but you will need to create a change in all four of them.

      But don’t let that discourage you because change is possible, and many people have done this. The best time to start changing was yesterday, but the second best time is today.

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      Featured photo credit: Djim Loic via unsplash.com

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