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How to Enact Personality Change

Personality change can be self-directed. Here’s how to get started.

Key points

  • The majority of individuals report wanting to change some aspects of their personality.
  • Simply wanting to change one's personality, however, isn't enough. Achieving concrete personality change requires dedicated and ongoing effort.
  • Behaving in ways that reflect your desired personality—like talking to strangers to become more extraverted—can help make change goals a reality.
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Co-authored by Lena Wang and Chia-huei Wu

Personality is not fixed and instead can change across someone’s lifespan. In our earlier posts, we discussed why and how personality can change and in particular, how such change can be driven by our work experiences.

It is important to point out, however, that we as human beings do not merely respond passively to our environment. Instead, we can take a proactive approach in embarking on a journey towards personality change. In this post, we discuss how individuals can intentionally enact their personality change and achieve positive results.

Developing Goals for Personality Change

Human behaviours are driven by goals and intentions. Hence, personality change can be enacted when we have clear motivations, goals, and desires for such a change.

For instance, we might desire to become more extraverted if we believe such a personality attribute can enable us to be more effective in networking and building interpersonal relationships; on the other hand, we may wish to reduce our neuroticism, hoping that a more stable emotional tendency would render us more mental peace in our daily lives. Researchers have found that when asked, the vast majority of individuals report that they want to change some aspects of their personality.

Why do people want to change their personality? Research has indicated that there is an inverse correlation between people’s current standing on a certain trait and their desire to change that trait. In other words, we desire to improve on areas that we are currently lacking, possibly because what we lack (e.g. having low emotional stability) may be the source of our dissatisfaction with our life. In general, identifying and developing goals towards personality change is important, as those goals would motivate us to bridge the gap between who we are and who we want to be.

Striving Towards Personality Change Goals

Having goals is important, but it does not guarantee change. Ultimately, enacting and achieving concrete change in one’s personality requires dedicated and ongoing efforts.

Recent empirical research has indicated that it is only when individuals actively engage, over a certain period of time, in concrete behaviours that are relevant to a certain trait that personality change can occur. For instance, individuals who intend to increase on the personality trait of extraversion would need to engage in behaviours like talking to strangers on an ongoing basis. If individuals merely have goals to change oneself but are not actually putting efforts into following through, they are not likely to achieve concrete change.

We know that many people who are motivated towards changing themselves also actively invest time, money, and energy into this endeavour — such as through purposefully engaging in certain activities and projects, reading numerous self-help books, going into personal development training programs, and more. Despite sometimes taking years of effort, these individuals appear to be more likely to effectively achieve personality change and become a better version of themselves.

The Takeaway

Self-pursued and self-directed personality change is not only possible but desirable. All of us are able to improve ourselves and adopt new personalities as long as we have clear goals, put in concrete efforts, and persist over time. There is no reason to settle for a fixed belief about “who we are” and to shy away from taking on one’s most critical life tasks — changing oneself for the better, so that we can lead a happier, more successful and more rewarding life.

About the co-author: Chia-huei Wu is Professor and Chair in Organisational Psychology, Leeds University Business School, UK. His research interests include work and personality development, proactivity at work, and subjective well-being. Lena and Chia-huei are authors of Work and Personality Change: What We Do Makes Who We Are, published by the Bristol University Press.