Do you want to change your personality? If you're like most people, the answer is yes. Psychologists talk about five key personality traits: extraversion (enjoying being with others); conscientiousness; openness; agreeableness; and neuroticism (responding to stressors with depression or anxiety). In a survey, the vast majority of respondents wanted to change one or more of these aspects of their personalities.
The good news is that it is indeed possible to change your personality. In a recent experiment, researchers asked college students what personality changes they hoped to see in themselves. Then they measured the students' progress on changing those traits over the course of a semester. The results demonstrate that it is indeed possible to change your personality--if you go about it the right way. Here's what you need to do:
1. Have a concrete goal.
Students who just said they wanted to be more self-disciplined or better behaved were setting themselves up for failure before they even began, the researchers said. If you want to make a change, start with a measurable and actionable objective, such as: I want to make new friends, or I want to get in shape for a half-marathon. You'll be much likelier to achieve all or part of your goal.
2. Have a plan.
The researchers gave some of the students goal-setting and goal-tracking help, encouraging them to come up with a plan for meeting their goals over time, and then followed up with them, asking about their progress. Those who did this kind of planning and follow-up made more progress than those who didn't.
3. Get specific.
The more specific you are about the actions you'll take toward your goal, the likelier you are to get there, the research showed. So, rather than setting a goal to make three new friends this month, try setting a goal to attend four parties or networking events, talk to at least 10 people at each event, and come home with contact information and a plan to get together with at least one person afterward.
4. Be realistic.
According to research at the University of Toronto, people fail to achieve their goals because they set unreasonable expectations for how radical a change they can make and how quickly it can happen. When it fails, they assume that their own weakness or lack of discipline was to blame, and they set out again with greater determination but without changing much else about their approach.
Don't be like them. If you're an introvert who rarely socializes, don't plan to become the life of the party in a month. If three times around the block feels like a long walk to you, don't sign up for that half-marathon just yet. Instead, set small, reachable goals, and once you've achieved them, move on to slightly bigger ones.
5. Be patient.
One of the most interesting findings from psychologists is that we will all change our personalities, whether we try or not. Your personality does not remain stagnant over the course of your life, and overall it's likely to change for the better. Most people in their 50s and 60s are more disciplined and more pleasant than those in their teens or 20s, whether they've tried to change or not. Finding work you love makes you more conscientious; a happy marriage or other long-term relationship gives you higher self-esteem and greater emotional stability.
Which means, wherever we are on the personality scale, there's hope for us all.