Do you ever wish you could change your own personality? New research shows you can, and it's surprisingly quicker and easier than you might think. In a new study from the University of Zurich, researchers found that people who wanted to become more self-disciplined could achieve that change in just two weeks, using a smartphone app that sent them twice-daily reminders. The same process also worked for people who wanted to be more open to new experiences. You can use this information to make changes to your own personality and habits.
Researchers have known for a while that your personality isn't fixed throughout your life, explains psychologist, author, and personality expert Benjamin Hardy in a Psychology Today post. Instead, he says, it's useful to see personality as points along a spectrum, where you may be more or less extraverted, or more or less agreeable, for example, and that these traits may change over time depending on your experiences. And he says personality is a skill that can be learned.
That's very different from how most of us think of personality, and yet the new research strongly suggests he's right. In this experiment, a total of 255 subjects, both students and people working full time, were assigned to two groups based on changes they said they wished they could make to their own personalities. Researchers chose to focus on two commonly sought changes: becoming more self-disciplined and becoming more open to new experiences.
In each case, the subjects received two automatic text messages each day via a mobile coaching app. The first message, in the morning, reminded them of intentions they themselves had set for the day, which might include things like going to the gym or trying out a new recipe. Morning messages also offered encouragement and reminded participants of what they'd accomplished so far. The second message, in the evening, asked them to fill out a short questionnaire on whether they'd fulfilled their intentions for the day.
Two weeks later, a different personality
At the end of two weeks, participants' personalities had changed. In a self-assessment, those who'd sought to become more self-disciplined said they were more self-disciplined, and those who said they wanted to be more open to experience said that they were more open. Significantly, three people who knew each participant also filled out questionnaires before and after the two-week experiment describing the subjects' personalities. Although these "observers" knew that their friends or partners were participating in personality research, they did not know what changes the participants were hoping to make. Even so, at the end of the two weeks, the observers noticed the same changes: Those who wanted to be more self-disciplined were more self-disciplined, and those who wanted to be more adventurous were more adventurous. When subjects were assessed again six weeks after the end of the experiment, these changes were still in evidence.
It will be interesting to see what further research tells us about our power to change our own personalities. Meantime, there's a clear lesson here for us all. You can change your behavior and even your personality. To do it, you need daily intentions to take action toward your desired change, daily reminders of what you intended, and check-ins to see whether you did what you planned.
These are all things that you can do for yourself, or better yet, that you and a friend can do for each other. You don't need to be part of an experiment, and you don't even really need a coaching app. You just need to want to change, and you can start anytime, including right now.