Personality can change, but it will take time.

The psychological community as well as the general public have long believed that while individual behaviors, beliefs, values, and motivations may change over time, a person’s individual personality is fairly stable through life. This means that if you are generally an empathic, outgoing person early in adulthood or even in childhood, you are likely to remain so as you get older, even into the end of life. Likewise, if you are generally a shy, quiet individual, you are likely to retain many of those corresponding traits for life. Conventional wisdom for decades has claimed that while a person might be able to change how they exhibit these traits or the effects they may have, the traits are endure. Scientists often group personality traits among the “Big Five” trait dimensions:

  • Extraversion: characterized by adjectives like outgoing, assertive and energetic vs. quiet and reserved
  • Agreeableness: compassionate, respectful and trusting vs. uncaring and argumentative
  • Conscientiousness: orderly, hard-working and responsible vs. disorganized and distractible
  • Negative emotionality: prone to worry, sadness and mood swings vs. calm and emotionally resilient
  • Open-mindedness: intellectually curious, artistic and imaginative vs. disinterested in art, beauty and abstract ideas

None of these traits are necessarily better or worse than others in general, but we all want to look for ways to overcome struggles and insecurities that we attribute to aspects of our personality. Contrary to popular opinion and historical assumptions, however, a growing number of studies are finding that personality may evolve and grow more over time than we previously thought. If you want to be more deliberate about refining your personality, there is plenty of reason to believe that you may be able to make profound changes over a long period of time, even if grand, immediate changes are unlikely.

Time for a change?

If there are aspects of your personality that you are interested in changing, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  1. Ask yourself why you want to change a particular trait. Do you believe that the desired change will ease your anxiety or make you more productive? Perhaps it will, but perhaps you could reduce anxiety or increase productivity without needing to change anything indelible about your personality.
  2. Be patient with yourself. Personality change is necessarily slow and incremental. Even as we learn more about the malleability of personality, it is still clear that any amount of change may take years or even decades to crystalize. Try not to get frustrated if you don’t experience immediate returns.
  3. These tips can only help when applied to the self, not others. The most important criteria for change is that the person must want to change. Even if a person wants to change, however, the changes will be much deeper and more enduring if it is self-initiated, rather than initiated by someone else.

Finally, only you can change you. There are no tricks or quick-fix, and you cannot expect any self-proclaimed “expert” to tell you the way you can or should change.

Be critical of any self-development program that touts instant, or even radical, change. Just as it takes many years to develop patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, it will take some time—perhaps many years—to alter them. But the good news is that change is possible.” ~ Scott Barry Kaufman

Interested in psychology or counseling? UMHB’s undergraduate Psychology Department offers classes that are designed to provide students with information which will promote an attitude of increased objectivity concerning the behavior, feelings, and attitudes of other people as well as themselves. Additionally, our Master of Arts in Counseling program helps students develop the skills to become a licensed professional counselor or licensed marriage and family therapist. We invite to check out our website or stop by for a visit!