Why Your Personality Isn’t Permanent
Do you fall into the Dominant, Inspiring, Supportive or Cautious category per the DISC personality assessment? Do you know if you’re an ISTJ or an INFJ in the Myers-Briggs assessment? Or are you considered a Blue in the Color Personality Test?
When it comes to personality assessments, a lot of people seem to look for ways to understand themselves and others better, by taking a personality or strengths finder-type test, hoping to understand the motivations, thoughts, feelings and actions that lead us to do what we do. It can be comforting to come across a grid or diagram that promises to explain where you fall in the scheme of things compared to other humans, and how to best utilize your innate gifts and talents.
Since it’s human nature to have a desire to understand yourself better, the kinds of categorizations that tests like DISC, Enneagram or even Astrology offer, seems to help us peek behind the curtain. For example, you might see your ISTJ Myers-Briggs results as a helpful tool to choose a career path, a relationship, or even the best form of exercise for your personality type.
While personality tests can be fun and might give you a better understanding of things, like why you tend to procrastinate before a deadline or get drained when you’re in large groups of people, unfortunately they can also become a problem as well. When the results of an assessment become the label you use to identify yourself and others, you could be doing yourself and them a disservice.
In the book “Your Personality Isn’t Permanent” by Benjamin Hardy, PhD, he explains that the trouble with personality tests is that they forfeit your right to choose. He explains that your personality is NOT a fixed thing and that you get to choose your own way in life because as humans we have the amazing ability to be flexible.
While tests like DISC and Myers-Briggs are interesting in order to see what you tend to do or what you’re strong in, they’re also just a snapshot in time, not an identity. Unfortunately, while they are intended to give you information, they can also keep you stuck, believing that you are what the test or assessment says you are and there’s not much you can do about it.
The truth is that your personality is something you can choose. It doesn’t matter how long or how strongly you gravitate towards a particular behavior pattern, your personality is yours for exploring, changing, and creating if that interests you and you choose to.
Thankfully, who you have been up until now, is not as set in stone as personality assessments would lead you to believe. You get to decide on purpose, what kind of person you want to be and then become that person without the use of some schematic or diagram to tell you what’s possible.
Dr. Benjamin Hardy points to the endearing, fictional analogy of Harry Potter to illustrate why your personality isn’t permanent. He explains that when Harry was seeking guidance and trying to understand why the Sorting Hat suggested he join the Slytherin House instead of Gryffindor, Dumbledore explained, “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”
Whether your “Sorting Hat” suggests that you would be best served choosing a particular career path or marrying a certain type of person, it’s always up to you to choose instead of letting some assessment choose for you. While it might seem easier to allow someone or something like a personality test to decide for you, it’s still your decision as to who you’ll be and the life you’ll live.
This week on the podcast I’m going to explain how your personality is shaped and how you can choose to be the architect of it.
How your personality is shaped
If you were to describe your personality right now, how would you describe yourself? Are you a Type-A personality, an Introvert, a Planner, or a Procrastinator? If you were to describe your children’s personalities, how would you describe them? Are they Challenging, Easy-Going, High Maintenance, or Gifted?
Besides your personality and your children’s, I’m sure you have many people in your work life and personal life that you could describe their personalities as well. If you’re like me, you’ve probably got a Micro-Manager, a Comedian, and a Glass Is Half Empty-type of people in your life, to name a few, with many different personalities that resonate with you or not.
What author Dr. Benjamin Hardy explains is that the truth about personality is that it’s not innate, it’s trained. He shares that while most people use their past to define their future, believing that the past provides clues to what’s possible for them, they’re missing the incredible opportunity to not be defined by their past and instead to be the narrator of a new story.
Unfortunately, what a lot of us do is look to the past for evidence of what’s possible for our future, believing that understanding and working with our current personality holds the key to our success and our happiness. The issue is that when you look to the past or to a label some personality assessment gave you, you’re probably discounting the fact that your personality and your preferences are changeable and malleable.
The truth is that your current personality is shaped, influenced and formed by context, culture, behavior and many, many other factors. You may only see yourself or others in a certain way, but your personality is dynamic, flexible, situational and changes throughout your life, more than you can imagine.
To illustrate this, you’ve probably experienced times where in different situations and around different people, YOU are different. Even over the course of a day you can display different personality traits like being the Drill Sergeant at home trying to get the kids off to school, to then being the Focused and Productive accountant at work, and then the Relaxed and Romantic spouse at home after the kids are in bed.
If you think about it, as you identify with different roles, your view and beliefs about the behaviors and attitudes necessary for each role changes and shifts as well, which means you’re already changing your personality based on the choices you make for each role. Although you may not have done it intentionally, you’ve been showing how your personality isn’t permanent without even realizing it.
Maybe you’ve experienced this with other people where someone you work with has a particular personality at work; for accountants that can typically be intense, focused or analytical. Then you’re out in a social situation, away from work, and they’re completely different; they’re funny, outgoing, or playful.
The issue with labeling yourself and others with certain personality traits or putting people into categories or types, is that you then believe people are incapable of change, are defined by the past or are by what some assessment says. This fixed view of yourself and others doesn’t allow for the opportunity for growth, change or evolvement.
Unfortunately, personality tests also don’t take into consideration that your personality is a byproduct of things that you were told about yourself, which then steered you one way or another. Whether it was in school, with your friends, your parents, or societal messaging, the assessment and labels you received up until this point in time have had a bigger impact than you may be aware of.
Interestingly, in an in-depth 63 year study of personality traits in 674 participants, the researchers were astonished to discover that their hypothesis, that your personality is stable throughout one’s life, was incorrect. They discovered that, not only does your personality change over time, but it changes far more than you would expect.
What the research has shown is that we are all works in progress, growing, changing and evolving, that we are highly adaptive, and that we have the ability to become whomever we want to become. While it can be challenging to change aspects of your personality that you’d like to change, it’s definitely not as impossible as you might have been led to believe.
Basically, your life is a product of how you think, how you feel and how you behave, but most of us live by default rather than being intentional with our thoughts, feelings and actions. If you’ve been feeling powerless to change an aspect of your personality, the good news is that you absolutely have the power to do so if you want to.
You do not need to be at the mercy of your past or the personality traits you’ve adopted over the years. If there are aspects that work for you, then by all means keep them, but just know that your current personality is just a snapshot in time and it doesn’t need to define who you will be in the future.
How to be the architect of your personality
I’m sure you’ve heard numerous times to work on discovering and then being your “authentic self” but Dr. Hardy warns that that can actually become an issue because people then feel entitled to do only what comes naturally and easily to them. He explains that we then use the excuse that if something doesn’t feel authentic or natural, we can’t or shouldn’t do it.
But just like your personality isn’t fixed, neither is your authentic self. You get to redefine what you believe your authentic self is without needing to search for some elusive “match”.
Your authentic self is that person that you think you are today, and thankfully every day you get to decide how you think about yourself and what’s going to be authentic for you today. If that means you want to be brave today, then your authentic self gets to be brave; if that means you want to be outgoing today, then your authentic self gets to be outgoing.
Your authentic self can be whatever you want it to be. You get to ask yourself how you can do something differently today, how you can show up a little differently, and how you can be a little out of your comfort zone today.
When you challenge your beliefs about you, about what’s possible for you, and you get comfortable with being uncomfortable, that’s when you can be the architect of your personality. If there’s a goal you’d like to achieve that really pushes you out of your comfort zone, you get to intentionally design your personality in order to take the actions to make that goal a reality.
Interestingly, so many women would describe their personality as a people-pleaser and so many accountants would describe their personality as a perfectionist, but that’s just who you may have been up until this moment in time. That is just your personality up until now, without you exercising your right to be deliberate and intentional.
If for example, you would describe yourself as a procrastinator but you would like to have a more balanced life and not be so stressed, you’re going to have to learn your way out of the traits you’ve become accustomed to. Dr. Hardy explains that your goals, not some predetermined set of fixed traits, shape your identity and that over time, through repeated behavior, your identity becomes your personality.
He suggests you ask who you’d like to be in the future, thinking in terms of what you’d ideally want. Not in terms of your current circumstances or identity, but imagining what that future version of you would be doing on a daily basis; what types of freedoms, choices, circumstances, experiences, and daily behaviors does your future self engage in?
Once you’ve decided what the future version of you is like, you only need to set one goal that helps get you to that future version. By choosing just one goal, you create focus and momentum, as opposed to overwhelm and confusion.
I recommend that you start with the end in mind and work your way backwards, getting clear about the obstacles you anticipate getting to your goal and the strategies to overcome those obstacles. For example, if you envision yourself speaking in front of a large group of people at a CPE conference or industry training seminar, but you’ve never done that before and currently consider yourself an introvert, then what would you need to do in order to change that?
It doesn’t have to be a big, giant leap; it could just be joining a local Toastmasters group to begin doing presentations in a supportive environment. You could volunteer to do small presentations, either personally or professionally, in order to get some experience.
The point is that by setting a goal based on a future version of you that isn’t limited by your current personality, you begin to open up to ways of thinking, feeling and acting that you may not thought were possible up until now. The reason your personality isn’t permanent is because you have a human brain that is capable of being stretched and molded into much more than any personality test has told you.
Just know that your personality isn’t permanent, it’s a choice. You aren’t only what some assessment has told you that you are; you are so much more and capable of so much more than you’ve probably given yourself permission to believe.
It will take work, but you get to be the architect of your personality whenever you want. It’s up to you who you want to be so have fun with it!
- While personality tests can be fun and might give you a better understanding of things, like why you tend to procrastinate before a deadline or get drained when you’re in large groups of people, unfortunately they can also become a problem as well.
- When the results of an assessment become the label you use to identify yourself and others, you could be doing yourself and them a disservice.
- If you think about it, as you identify with different roles, your view and beliefs about the behaviors and attitudes necessary for each role changes and shifts as well, which means you’re already changing your personality based on the choices you make for each role.
- Your authentic self is that person that you think you are today, and thankfully every day you get to decide how you think about yourself and what’s going to be authentic for you today.
- You aren’t only what some assessment has told you that you are; you are so much more and capable of so much more than you’ve probably given yourself permission to believe.