There’s so much literature and discourse in our society suggesting that humans are incapable of change. Platitudes like "boys will be boys" and "once a cheater, always a cheater" speak volumes about the way we perceive human personalities, especially problematic ones.
Holding such an absolute notion about something as dynamic as human nature can be harmful. Having said that, there is no arguing with the fact that, as imperfect beings, we do seek stability and we tend to get stuck in our ways. We’re also susceptible to bad habits and addictions.
If there are things about your personality that you would like to change, here are three reasons to not lose hope.
1. You’re changing, even when you don’t notice it.
Dr. Nathan Hudson of Southern Methodist University designed a study, published in the Journal of Research in Personality, to understand the ingredients necessary for a successful trait-change intervention. The study found that, in the case of conscientiousness, change can happen without even committing to it.
“We found that simply asking people to perform conscientious behaviors, such as organizing their homes, starting assignments early, or being intentional about their daily schedule helped people become more conscientious over time,” says Hudson.
In fact, the researchers found that participants became more conscientious whether they had actively chosen to work on the trait or were simply following the directives of the researchers.
Hudson points out that conscientiousness has been linked to an array of positive life outcomes, including physical and mental health, grades, occupational performance, and even mortality.
According to him, change interventions, like schools or workplaces encouraging students or employees to adopt more conscientious behaviors, have the potential to improve both individual outcomes and larger-scale social outcomes.
“Personality absolutely can and does change,” he says. “Although the body of literature exploring volitional personality change is much younger and smaller, it provides a promising prognosis that people do appear to be able to change their traits, even across short periods of time.”
2. Change your work, change yourself.
In his book Work and Personality Change, co-author and psychologist Chia-Huei Wu describes a series of studies that examined changes our work can cause in our personality. If your job allows you freedom and autonomy to decide how and when you want to fulfill your responsibilities, for example, it can end up increasing your locus of control (one’s belief that they can control events in their life).
Another positive personality change observed in these studies was the effect of leadership roles on people’s personalities. “Promoting employees into leadership roles may have the potential to enhance their conscientiousness, which in turn, may further enhance their leadership effectiveness,” says Wu. “For organizations, it may prove beneficial to assign promising employees to informal leadership roles to help develop their leadership capabilities over time.”
In general, Wu advises people to look for jobs that fulfill at least a couple (if not all) of the following criteria to see a positive change in their personality:
- High job autonomy
- Low job insecurity
- Low time demands
3. Psychedelic experiences might "flip the switch."
“Psychedelic experiences are associated with profound changes in the way people relate to themselves, others, and the world around them,” explains Dr. Brandon Weiss of Imperial College London. “They seem to indelibly elicit a sense of meaning that individuals rate as the foremost meaningful in their lives.”
A study undertaken by Weiss, published in Frontiers in Psychology, showed that people who had never tried psychedelics before showed profound changes in personality after a single psychedelic experience. The changes were as follows:
- People seemed to report that they were not as quarrelsome or critical in their interactions with others.
- People reported that they were less easily upset by things and less anxious.
“We also observed that people showed greater reductions in anxiety who were more anxious before their experience, suggesting that there may be more potential benefits for those with higher neuroticism,” says Weiss. “This last point, however, will need more evidence to convince us.”
The participants also experienced an increase in their ability to empathize with others and reported a heightened perceived belonging to a community and society.
All of this means that psychedelic experiences (in controlled/clinical environments) show immense promise as safe and powerful ways to achieve positive personality change. Weiss does, however, warn against uninformed, unprescribed, or overuse of such substances for the following reasons:
- Psychedelics do carry risks including the potential for hallucinogen-persisting disorder, a condition characterized by persistent hallucinogenic effects including perceptions of light and sound.
- Psychedelics are also considered to place individuals at a heightened risk for psychosis. For this reason, current studies are careful not to include in their samples people with a family history of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.
Personality is malleable. To change yourself for the better, you need to first let go of the false belief that personality is a stable, unchanging entity.