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Can you really change your personality?

Jun 17, 2021

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be someone else for the day? Or a different version of yourself? Perhaps you’ve wished that you were more sociable, more comfortable spending time in your own company, or even being the sort of person who can enjoy an early morning workout. 

All of these examples present a fundamental change in who we are as people or how we conduct our everyday lives. Although change may be difficult, it isn’t necessarily impossible. 

In an article for the Financial Times, columnist Tim Harford explores how two different books: Christian Jarrett’s "Be Who You Want" and Katy Milkman's "How To Change," claim that they can help you change your personality, with the backing of science.

You can listen to our expertly narrated piece right here on Curio.

The Two Approaches:

Jarrett’s "Be Who You Want" focuses on the more lofty-seeming questions such as: can an introvert become an extrovert? Or can a neurotic person become more resilient and confident? 

He builds a convincing argument for the fact that people can change in these ways on a study from 2016, which is based on the Scottish Mental Survey from 1947. It found no correlation between the personalities of participants from when they were teenagers to when they were pensioners.  

Milkman is more concerned with the view of change that comes about from altering your situation. Although this can seem simple and more manageable, forcing yourself to actively make the change can be much more difficult.  

Harford’s Perspective:

“Stories of change are inspiring and straightforward, especially when the narrator knows that they end with an Olympic Gold...”. 

Both authors use elite sportsmen as their examples in boxer Anthony Joshua and tennis player Andre Agassi. It’s true, that when you often look into the background of celebrities, you will find a story of redemption or a seemingly fundamental change in their personalities. But, what both Jarrett and Milkman fail to mention is precisely what their examples had to change and maybe even sacrifice, in order to get to the top of their game. 

That being said, the books do offer some useful insights. 

Jarrett's and Milkman's Main Tips: 

  1. Pick your moment. Big life events, such as becoming new parents, can be great opportunities for change. If that seems too overwhelming, try yearly milestones – New Years’ Day or the start of a new season

  2. Change your situation. Find a social reason to change; having someone around who can help you along the journey or hold you accountable can be very useful. Change may feel uncomfortable at first, but if you change how you act, your personality could develop.

  3. Combine things that you enjoy with the thing you are trying to change. One of the examples given is, if you like bingeing Netflix and want to exercise more, try only allowing yourself to watch it whilst exercising. 

So to answer the big question: Yes. Changing your personality can be done.

We hope that these helpful pointers will prompt you to make the changes that you want to see.