Look on the bright side: How to improve your personality

Experts say personality is not hard-wired. It changes over time

Experts say it is possible—but not easy—to improve your personality, Elizabeth Bernstein reports for the Wall Street Journal.

In fact, several large studies in recent years have found that a person's personality naturally changes as they progress into adulthood, partly in response to major life events. Those changes can occur across the five categories of the Big Five personality model:

  • Conscientiousness: Humans become more organized, consistent, and dependable with age because people become more invested in their work and relationships.
  • Agreeableness: People become more polite, trusting, cooperative, and compassionate with age in order to meet expectations of coworkers and family members.
  • Openness: Feelings of intellectual curiosity, appreciation for art and beauty, and imagination tend to stay constant or decline with age, unless effort is made to develop them.
  • Extroversion: A person's propensity to be highly talkative, sociable, assertive, and socially dominant diminishes with age as effort shifts to maintaining old relationships rather than making new ones.
  • Neuroticism: Anxiety, stress, and depression often diminish over time as people learn to regulate their emotions, distract themselves, and avoid unpleasant situations.

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Experts say that some personality types find more success than others. People who are more conscientious are more successful in work and academia, while those who score high on agreeableness and low on neuroticism have more stable, satisfying relationships. Overall, people who are friendly, outgoing, and responsible tend to be less depressed than those with more negative personality traits.

Tips to improve your personality

Although it takes time, experts say slight shifts in personality can lead to significant improvement in outlook and personal relationships.

To start, "First, we have to recognize which pieces of our personality affect us," says psychologist Richard Levak, explaining, "If I am a grouchy, argumentative, slightly suspicious type, and I am always getting fired because I get into arguments with co-workers and always blame others, then I have to realize that I have to change something."

Putting that recognition into practice is an exercise in mind over matter, says Christopher Soto, a research psychologist at Colby College in Maine. Personality is about 50% inherited and 50% learned, he explains. To change your personality, "You start by changing the behavior and then, if you can maintain that new behavior over time, it gets encoded," he says (Bernstein, Wall Street Journal, 4/22).


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