How many times do we hear someone explain that they cannot change because “that’s who they are”? How many times have you felt that you cannot act differently because you have certain inclinations? In both of these cases, we are talking about personality: the set of features that define us and make us unique. But… to what extent can we change our personality?
Personality is not something completely defined by our genes, so for that reason we can intervene and make changes. In fact, let’s do a little experiment and look back at your past. You will realize that you’ve kept parts of your personality and not others. Maybe now you are more friendly or more direct, more orderly or more chaotic, more melancholic or more spirited, etc.
This is such an important concept in psychology. In this article we will talk about what personality is and how we can consciously influence changes in it.
What is personality?
There are several definitions of personality, too many in reality. However, most agree that the personality is a psychological construct that refers to the group of features (psychic characteristics) that an individual has and that determine their tendencies of behavior, thought and emotion.
Within all personality traits that exist, we can find two types: temperament traits and character traits. Temperament traits are behavioral tendencies that have a greater genetic and biological load (we are born with these characteristics). Character traits are the result of the interaction between the person and the environment.
In summary, within the group of temperament traits we find some that are basic and universal such as: novelty seeking, harm avoidance, reward dependence and persistence. And on the other hand, in the group of character traits are self-direction (confidence and ability to direct behavior towards goals that are valuable to us), cooperation, and transcendence (the taste for the aesthetic and spiritual).
All these traits, both those of temperament and character, shape personality and differentiate us from others. In other words, all people have these traits and we differentiate ourselves according to the degree to which we show one trait over another. In psychology, technically, we do not say that someone is not impulsive or that they are persistent. Rather, we say that someone has very low impulsivity or very high persistence, because these features are on a scale.
Can we change our personality?
The answer is very clear: yes, we can change our personality. We can also influence the direction and degree to which we want the transformation to take place. Although a part of our personality is inherited, it is not a definitive part of our genes, as in the case of some syndromes (for example: Fragile X or Down Syndrome). And personality is one of the filters we use to relate to the world. The world is a changing environment, so is a system that must have the capacity to change.
Reasons why it might be difficult to change
Character traits are easier to change. They have less genetic influence and we develop them (mainly) by interacting with the environment. When we are looking for a temperamental change of traits, such as impulsivity, during therapy, the person is usually more resistant to change. However, with perseverance and dedication, in many cases we can achieve positive results.
Even for older people, changing their personality is possible. What usually happens is that the older the person, the more resistant they are to change. This would involve changing a way of being, the way with which we identify and recognize ourselves. This has been “cooked” over low heat for years.
For this reason, many times the person avoids changing some features of their personality, and uses excuses like their age or says “I’m like this, and I have been this way my whole life”. But these are excuses! Changing our personality is possible, regardless of our age, and we are the only ones putting limits on these changes. That said, now the big question is: how can we change our personality?
How can we change?
In order to observe changes in personality, deep and constant psychological work is necessary. In the first place, it is essential that the person really wants to change. And in the second place, small daily changes have to be established in the short term.
Changes that are lasting and positive are those that have been evolving for years. If you plan to change your personality overnight because your way of being brings you problems, I regret to say that your mission has already failed, only because of your approach. You are going to “fall on your face”. On the other hand, if you are able to change in such a short time (sometimes the miracles happen), the most probable thing is that you will soon go back to the way you were.
Remember: you need time for your psychological system to restructure and learn to function in another way. You have to identify what traits you want to change and what everyday behaviors those traits reflect. We recommend that you make a list of everything you want to change and get down to work with those transformations that are less central in you or that you think will be less difficult for you. Usually, one is associated with the other.
How to measure the change
To change our personality, we must objectively evaluate the change. That is, in addition to identifying the traits you want to change, it is good to have some references for “measuring” that change. For example, if the trait you want to change is impulsivity, you have to know how to realize if you are being less impulsive. And one possible “measure” of this is that when you get angry you are able to count to 10 before responding.
If we have personality traits that we do not like or cause problems, it’s a good idea to talk to a psychologist or therapist. Also, if you have doubts about this article, it should be a therapist, taking into account personal characteristics, who can specifically explain how to change your personality.