Leaders must constantly evolve to lead their team through every stage of a business's life cycle. Part of the importance of the practice of capacity building is too many of us tend to think things like our intellectual capabilities, emotional resilience, and focus are fixed. In reality, we can change almost everything about ourselves by applying the correct actions and effort.
Dr. Benjamin Hardy, an organizational psychologist and author, recently presented groundbreaking research that suggests that our personalities aren't permanent--we can often change ourselves by altering our environment in the right way.
"Because people's lives become highly routine, both in their social roles and their environments, you begin to see very predictable behaviors and attitudes," Hardy says. "This is one of the core reasons why personality is viewed as stable and predictable over time. It's not that your personality itself becomes stable, but rather that your routine environments and social roles lock you into habitual patterns."
This is an essential lesson for leaders--your personality isn't fixed, even if you're well past an age you'd consider young. We can improve our personalities by seeking new environments and experiences.
Hardy's latest book, Personality Isn't Permanent, digs into this concept in detail. Here are three key things you should try if you are looking to make changes:
Find a new "first"
We conceive of the early decades of our lives--our childhood, teenage years, and 20s--as our foundational learning periods. This is when we undergo all our formal schooling and gain the early-career experience that shapes much of our professional lives. It can be common to think we can't learn as effectively as we grow older, but Hardy posits that we really stop learning because we stop trying new things or exposing ourselves to new environments.
"By the time a person reaches their 30s, they stop having as many 'first' experiences," Hardy says. "At some point, we settle down. We stop engaging in new roles and new situations that bring out new and different sides of us."
In our young lives, we experience an enormous amount of "firsts," ranging from social experiences to learning opportunities to chances to live in new cities or countries. Absorbing these new experiences is crucial to ensuring we keep expanding our minds and changing our personalities for the better.
With that in mind, I would reiterate advice I share in my own book Elevate: Do something to change your routine. This can be small, like reading a book about a topic you've never explored, or bigger, like planning a trip to a foreign country.
Change your professional environment
Learning new things and exploring different places are a great starting point to changing your personality for the better, but you should also consider making substantial changes to your professional environment as well.
This can manifest in several ways. If you're a successful leader, maybe you'd like to share your knowledge with others by coaching, writing, or speaking. This type of work will break you out of your normal professional responsibilities, expose you to new information, and connect you to people who share your interest in helping others improve.
These professional changes can be smaller scale as well. You might consider joining an advisory board of a business or nonprofit, to expose yourself to new ideas and work in a different professional environment. Anything that pushes you outside the limits of your normal work life can ensure you keep growing and changing for the better.
Challenge your self-concept
In Personality Isn't Permanent, Hardy discusses a fascinating study from Harvard psychologist Dr. Ellen Langer. In 1981, Langer and her team of graduate students selected a group of men in their 70s and placed them in an environment modeled to look like the 1950s, featuring hallmarks such as a black-and-white television, midcentury furniture, and magazines from the era.
As Hardy explains, "The goal of the study was not for these men to live in the past. The goal was to trigger their minds and bodies to exhibit the energy and biological responses of much a younger person."
It worked. The subjects showed measurable improvement in eyesight, hearing, memory, and stamina. The lesson is that often the way we conceive of ourselves--our self-concept--impacts our physiology and psychology.
As Hardy notes, a major reason we stop learning and growing is we fail to push ourselves outside our experience.
If you want to change yourself for the better, start by reflecting on who you are at your core and what fulfills you. By challenging your sense of self, you can create a path to improve.
As Hardy shows us, our personalities are not permanent. By chasing new experiences and challenging ourselves, we each can build the capacity to change and improve. That is, if we want to.