Happy New Year!
It’s a new year, new you. Right?
Well, I’ve got good news and some bad news.
The good news is that it’s a new year! A fresh start. This is a great time to motivate yourself to set an important personal goal. This is a particularly good start to a new year since according to the “fresh start effect”, motivation increases after a temporal landmark such as the beginning of a new week, month, or year. Temporal landmarks demarcate a time difference between when you were the imperfect you and the new you. January 1st this year fell on a Monday so that’s a double fresh start!
Now here’s the bad news: Even with this newfound motivation, you are still you. As Jon Kabbat Zinn put it, “everywhere you go, there you are.” Every new year, the aspiration to change aspects of one’s personality usually starts out big, and then rapidly declines once people realize that mere aspiration isn’t enough.
So following through on your newfound motivation matters. But you can do it! It’s worth the effort. The latest science of personality change suggests that you can cause long-lasting changes in your personality by repeatedly changing your habits of thinking, acting, and reacting to the world around you. What’s more, various psychologically validated techniques such as implementation intentions, self-reflection, cognitive behavior therapy, and behavioral activation can cause personality change not just for those on the therapist’s couch but for all of us.
Study investigated whether a 3-month digital intervention for personality trait change still shows personality change effects after a 1-year follow-up. Personality traits were measured before the intervention, directly after the intervention, three months after the intervention, and one year after the end of the intervention. Those who completed the 1-year follow-up were significantly more open to experience, less neurotic, more agreeable, and more conscientious than those who did not complete the 1-year follow-up. These results suggest that changes in personality traits can endure over time (at least 1 year) following a valid digital intervention.
Study found that people generally do not want to change their levels of the dark triad traits— narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy. However, an intervention targeting agreeableness did spur changes in all three dark triad traits for those who do wanted to change their levels of these traits. This research suggests that taking small steps to become more agreeable may also reduce people’s levels of the dark triad.
This study looked at the effects of a 3-month digital-coaching personality change interception on 10 domains of life satisfaction. Researchers found that global life satisfaction and satisfaction with oneself as a person increased for those who wanted to change their levels of emotional stability, conscientiousness, or extraversion. Additionally, increases in specific satisfaction domains were found for those who wanted to change their conscientiousness (e..g, work/school, health, friendships) and emotional stability (e.g., family, sexual relationships, emotions). Increases were stable up to the 3-month follow-up. Therefore, this 3-month intervention seems to have a positive effect on satisfaction with various domains of life, which was related to the degree of self-reported personality trait change.
people meeting DSM-5 criteria for a primary emotional disorder completed up to 12 weekly sessions of the “Unified Protocol” (UP). Researchers found that neuroticism displayed state-level changes by session 6 and trait-level changes by session 12. Those who showed a reduction in neuroticism also showed a reduction of anxiety symptoms, and vice-versa. These findings provide more nuanced support for the hypothesis that the Unified Protocol leads to trait changes in the personality trait neuroticism that tends to precede symptom change.
Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is associated with three personality traits: neuroticism, agreeableness, and conscientiousness. This study assessed whether treatment with “BPD Compass”, a novel personality based intervention for BPD, results in greater reductions in BPD symptoms as well as personality changes. Patients were randomly assigned to receive 18 sessions of BPD Compass or complete an 18-week waiting period. BPD Compass led to larger reductions in BPD symptoms and self-reported neuroticism but not agreeableness or conscientiousness compared to the waitlist control condition. Within the BPD Compassion condition, pre- to post-treatment improvements in BPD symptoms, neuroticism, and conscientiousness were significant and large in magnitude. As the researchers write, “Patients were highly satisfied with BPD Compass and generally perceived it to be an appropriate length.”
Arts education is often believed to foster the development of desirable personality traits and skills in children and adolescents. The researchers reviewed the literature on personality change through arts education and found that art-education programs can foster extraversion and conscientiousness but not self-esteem. Additionally, the effects of arts education appear to be stronger in early and middle childhood than in preadolescent and early adolescence. Note that the results were quite heterogeneous and had some statistical limitations, so further research is required.
This article argues the case for the use of nonclinical personality-change interventions and discusses motivations to change, the potential of using digital applications for intervention efforts, key studies that illustrate this emerging field of research and future directions.
This study looked at the effects of a 3-month digital personality change intervention using a randomized controlled trial and the smartphone application PEACH (Personality coACH). People who received the intervention showed greater self-reported changes compared to people in the waitlist control group. Self-reported changes aligned with intended goals for change and were significant for those desiring to increase on a trait and for those desiring to decrease on a trait. Observers such a friends, family members, or intimate partners also reported significant personality changes in the desired direction for those desiring to increase on a trait (but not desiring to decrease on a trait). These self- and observer-reported changes remain until 3 months after the end of the intervention. As the researchers note, “This work provides the strongest evidence to date that normal personality traits can be changed through intervention in nonclinical samples.”
This research examined the effects of a two-week smartphone-based intervention to either change one facet of conscientiousness (self-discipline) or one facet of openness to experience (openness to action). Results of two intervention studies showed that people who wanted to become more self-disciplined were less self-disciplined at pretest. Similarly, people who wanted to become more open to action were less open to action at pretest. People who chose the self-discipline intervention showed greater increases in self-discipline and people who chose the openness to action intervention showed greater increases in openness to action compared to the other group. Changes were maintained until follow-up two and six weeks after the end of the intervention.
This study sought out to determine whether merely desiring change predicts changes in personality or whether actively pursuing change is necessary. The researchers administered a 15-week intensive study in which people provided self-report ratings of their personality traits and were able to freely accept and complete weekly “challenges”— prewritten behavioral goals that would pull their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in line with their desired traits. The researchers found that merely accepting the behavioral challenges did not predict changes in personality. However, actually completing the challenges (i.e., performing trait-typical behaviors) predicted trait change over time. Therefore, merely wanting to change does not appear to be sufficient to evoke trait growth; successfully changing one’s personality traits may require actively and successfully implementing behaviors to change oneself.
Researchers found that a 5-week Behavioral Activation training increased two facets of Conscientiousness. Additionally, 12-weeks of coaching led to changes in four of the big five personality traits. In both studies, these behavioral changes were significantly related to changes in emotional well-being and perceptions of physical health.
This study discussed the details of a 10-week coaching intervention using a smartphone app called PEACH (PErsonality coACH). The goal of the intervention is to coach individuals who are willing and motivated to change some aspects of their personality. A conversational agent was used as a digital coach to support participants to achieve their personality change goals. Micro-interventions included: individualized implementation intentions, psychoeducation, behavioral activation tasks, self-reflection, and individualized progress feedback.
Study assessed the effectiveness of a 10 week coaching program designed to facilitate intentional personality change. Results showed that the 10 week program caused significant increases in people’s conscientiousness and extraversion and significantly decreased their levels of neuroticism. These changes were maintained 3 months post-intervention for neuroticism and extraversion.
This large meta-analysis investigated the extent to which personality traits changed as a result of intervention, with a focus on clinical interventions. Emotional stability was found to be the primary trait domain showing changes as a result of therapy, followed by extroversion. Patients presenting with anxiety disorders changed the most, and patients being treated for substance abuse changed the least.
Research argue that some common change factors in psychotherapy research might provide some useful heuristic principles for personality change intervention in normal populations that do not suffer from personality disorders.
The researchers provided causal evidence that empathizing a temporal landmark marking the beginning of a new time period increases people’s intentions to initiate goal pursuit. They also showed that the increased motivation that people feel following temporal landmarks originates in part from the psychological disassociation these landmarks induce from a person’s past, imperfect self.
Researchers found evidence for a “fresh start effect”, in which motivation to commit to goals all increase following “temporal landmarks” (e.g., the beginning of a new week, month, year, or semester; a birthday; a holiday). The researchers argue that “these landmarks demarcate the passage of time, creating many new mental accounting periods each year, which relegate past imperfections to a previous period, induce people to take a big-picture view of their lives, and thus motivation aspirational behaviors.”
Older adults underwent a 16-week program in inductive reasoning training along with weekly crossword and Sudoku puzzles. Results found that participants in the intervention condition increased in the trait of openness compared to a waitlist control group. According to the researchers, “The study is one of the first to demonstrate that personality traits can change through non-psychopharmacological interventions.”
Scott: [00:00:00] Hi guys. It’s Scott. Some quick housekeeping before we start the episode today. First of all, I’m with I Heart Radio now. I’m very excited about this. I Heart Radio is the number one podcast network in the world, and I think they’re going to take the podcast to the next level. We’re going to be trying all sorts of things for y’all.
Keep your brain stimulated. Also in the realm of big news, I wear glasses now. So, ladies, don’t go too crazy. Finally, I’ve decided as a New Year’s resolution that this year I want to decrease my agreeableness levels by about 25%, which means I’m not allowing any bullshit this year. If I don’t believe something is true, I’m going to say it.
Sorry, not sorry. But enough about me. Let’s talk about you.
Happy new year. It’s a new year, new you, right? Well, I’ve got some good [00:01:00] news and some bad news here for you folks. The good news is that it’s a new year, a fresh start. This is a great time to motivate yourself to set an important personal goal. This is a particularly good start to a new year since according to the quote fresh start effect, motivation increases after a temporal landmark such as the beginning of a new week, month, or year.
Temporal landmarks demarcate a time difference between when you were the imperfect you and when you were the new you. Since January 1st, this year fell on a Monday, that means this is a double fresh start! So yay! Good news! But here’s the bad news. Even with this newfound motivation that we all have right now, I hate to break it to you, but you are still you.
As Jon Kabat Zinn put it, Everywhere you go, there you are. Every new year, the aspiration to change aspects of one’s personality usually starts out big. And then rapidly declines once people realize that mere aspiration isn’t enough. Make no doubt, people definitely [00:02:00] want to change their personality.
Americans spend over 11 billion each year on self help books and programs that promises to help them change their personality and have an amazing life. When asked, is there any aspect of your personality that you would like to change? Psychological research shows that about two thirds of people say they would like to change themselves.
And further, these desires tend to come from dissatisfaction. For instance, people want to become more extroverted if they aren’t happy with their relationships, hobbies, or friendships. They want to become more conscientious if they are not happy with their finances or work performance. And look, don’t get me wrong, it’s a good thing to want to change your personality.
Personality matters a lot. Personality traits predict important life outcomes, such as success in love and work life, well being, health, and longevity. But here’s the question we’re going to tackle today. Just how much can we change our personality? One view is that personality is set in stone by adulthood and can [00:03:00] hardly budge no matter what you do.
Another view is that personality is entirely due to your circumstances in life. And it’s constantly in flux. Which one do you think is right? Yes, astute listener, both of these extreme views are wrong. Throughout the course of the day, we all fluctuate in our personality traits. So yeah, context matters.
However, when, quote, whole distributions, which is the technical term that’s used in the psychological literature, when whole distributions of thinking, emotions, and behavioral patterns are taken into consideration, there are consistent individual differences. For instance, almost all of us crave peace and quiet at times during the day, but on the whole, some of us need a lot more solitude than others.
This new understanding of personality, which is also the correct view of personality, means that there is no essence to your personality. Yes, genes definitely influence your patterns of thoughts, emotions, and behavior, but there’s nothing essential about being a certain way. With enough [00:04:00] habitual adjustment to your patterns over time, you really can change who you are.
In other words, you are who you repeatedly are. I was proud of that statement. I hope that made sense to you. You are who you repeatedly are. A large body of research shows that personality traits can and do change. So we’re going to come back to some good news here. The research literature on personality change is really a vast and fascinating line of research.
The research literature on personality change began by focusing on changes that occur during therapy and major life events, such as getting married and changing jobs. And the research does show that personality changes You know, through prolonged therapy, good therapy, but if you’re a good therapist, it can change in a negative direction if you’re a terrible therapist.
Also, a personality can change when you, uh, are in a relationship, again, in a multitude of ways. Um, and then when you change jobs, you move somewhere else. So yeah, all these, uh, the personality change literature shows that certainly [00:05:00] environment matters. However, more recent research, which we’re going to double click on today, shows that it’s possible to intentionally change your personality traits over time.
Repeated state level changes can eventually turn into hardened trait level changes. Repeated state level changes, like your momentary changes in thinking, emotion, and behaviors, can eventually turn into hardened traits. Trait level changes. That is so important to recognize. That’s actually revolutionary when you really think about it.
However, there’s a big catch, and this might be the biggest catch of this entire, uh, episode today beside me wearing glasses and that catches that it seems to require follow through and effort over the long run to cause long lasting changes to your personality. That’s right. It takes follow through.
Psychologist Nathan Hudson has been leading the way on designing interventions that can create long lasting changes in personality. In one seminal study, Dr. [00:06:00] Hudson and his colleagues presented people with brief descriptions of each of the big five traits of personality. The big five traits are extroversion, conscientiousness, agreeableness, neuroticism, which is the opposite of emotional stability, and openness to experience.
And the researchers asked people to nominate which of these dimensions they would like to work on specifically to change throughout the course of the semester. Are you with me so far? People were then presented with a list of challenges that were specific, concrete actions people could take to pull their state level thoughts, feelings, and behaviors In line with their desired traits, a total of 50 challenges were created for each of these big five personality domains.
Each week, people could select new challenges, and to make things even more engaging, the researchers presented it as a game. A fun game, huh? Where they can earn bronze, silver, gold, or diamond, quote, medals by completing the challenge multiple times at increasingly greater [00:07:00] frequency. So what did the researchers find?
The researchers found that for most of the Big Five traits, successfully completing greater numbers of challenges predicted greater personality growth over time. According to the researchers, quote, the pattern of results seems to suggest that taking even small but consistent steps toward pulling one’s behaviors in alignment with one’s desired traits has the potential to produce trait growth.
That’s huge! That is a, that is a really revolutionary finding. Critically, though, the researchers found that desiring trait change and making plans to change oneself, but not falling through on those plans, backfired. Ruh roh! That’s my Scooby Doo sound. Ruh roh! As the researcher suggests, perhaps a reason is that people who continually accepted extroversion challenges but failed them may have begun to reason, Well, maybe I am even less extroverted than I thought because I cannot seem to complete these challenges.
And this may have led to decreases in their extroversion levels over time. [00:08:00] Another possibility is that sometimes the very act of declaring a goal is construed by individuals as progress toward that goal. People might think they have already done something to progress towards their goals. And that can actually undermine their motivation to do what it actually takes to advance the goal.
Indeed, Peter Gallwitzer and his colleagues found that merely announcing one’s intention to change publicly can give people a premature sense of already possessing the aspired to trait or identity. So following through on your newfound motivation matters, but you can do it. I’m here to encourage you today because it’s worth the effort.
The latest science of personality change suggests that you can cause long lasting changes to your personality by repeatedly changing your habits of thinking, acting, and reacting to the world around you. What’s more, various psychologically validated techniques, such as implementation [00:09:00] intentions, self reflection, cognitive behavioral therapy, and behavioral activation, can cause personality change, not just for those on the therapist couch.
But for all of us,
so my friends, I’m now going to leave you with this episode with some science back tips for changing your personality. I have gone through the hard work of reading lots and lots of technical scientific papers, and I’m just going to summarize them all and just give you some practical, actionable steps to get you started on your journey.
To actually be a new you, not just say, Oh, new year, new year, new me. No, to actually be a new you. First of all, choose to embark on a new chapter in your life. Decide! It’s time for a fresh start. And look, starting today is great, because it’s still early in the new year. There’s still hope! Next, it’s time for goal setting!
Focus on the one trait, or two traits, that would mean the most to you to change. Don’t try to change [00:10:00] everything. Let’s focus on a few manageable aspects of your personality that you would like to change. As a guide, let’s go through the big five traits of personality. So the first big five trait is extroversion.
Ask yourself, how outgoing and sociable am I? And is that something I really want to change about myself? The next big five trait is conscientiousness. Ask yourself, how hardworking and effective am I in reaching my goals? If that’s something that, upon self reflection, you decide you want to change, maybe that’s going to be the one that you’re going to prioritize.
The next big five trait is neuroticism. Ask yourself, how anxious and emotionally unstable am I? Now be honest with yourself, okay? Be honest. If you are an emotional mess and you decide, you know what? I don’t want to be an emotional mess anymore. This is time. This is time for me to change. Then all the power to you.
The next one is agreeableness. Ask yourself and reflect, how well do I cooperate with others? And am I considered a highly valued social partner? Now that could be something that you, uh, really might want to change in [00:11:00] either direction. As I stated cheekily, but honestly, at the beginning of this podcast, I’m trying to decrease my agreeableness levels because I find myself agreeing too much with people when I, sometimes when I don’t actually agree with them.
But for some people, they might want to increase their agreeableness levels. Like for instance, if you actually are innately in a colossal asshole and no one likes you and everyone stays away from you, and then you feel lonely about that and isolated, you may actually benefit from increasing your agreeableness levels.
Finally, the last dimension of the big five is openness to experience. Reflect how open am I to new ideas, feelings, beautiful things, and creative ideas. That might be something that you might want to really change this year. You might want to be more open in 2024. So this step is self reflection. Which one of these traits that I just read stands out to you the most in need of some self adjustment.
Now, look, do not announce your intention on social media or anywhere publicly. The research that I already mentioned suggests that might [00:12:00] fool you into thinking that you actually already did something toward reaching your goal. And let’s say that you have a big following and you announce your intention.
Hey everyone, it’s a new year. It’s gonna be a brand new me. And you get so many likes for that, you might feel like you’re done. You might be like, you know what? That’s all I really wanted anyway. So you might not actually go through the work to change.
Now it’s time to follow through, create implementation intentions. Now, what is an implementation intention? Well, Implementation Intentions take the format of if then plans. If something happens, then you automatically do something else. No questions asked and no justification to get out of it. What you do with Implementation Intentions, or sometimes researchers call them Implementation Plans, is that you create a series of relevant if then plans so you don’t have to think about it.
Some examples of Implementation Intentions include if I have to work [00:13:00] over a concentrated period of time, then I switch into flight mode. And that might be a way of increasing your conscientiousness. Another example would be, If I have no meetings before 1 o’clock p. m., then I will go to the gym. Or, here’s another example.
If you want to increase your openness to experience. If I see something beautiful, then I will take a photo and appreciate it. So what do we do once we have our implementation intentions? Well, in line with mindful cognitive behavioral therapy, become more aware of your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
Notice mindfully your usual tendencies, and try to intentionally do something different than what you normally do. Which takes us to the fascinating realm of behavioral activation! So, the field of behavioral activation, what you can do is you can look at a list of challenges that researchers have come up with, and for each domain of personality, choose the challenges that pertain to the personality domain you are working on changing.
And just act. Just, don’t think so much about it. Act, and let your cognitions follow. Now, what [00:14:00] I’ve done as a resource for you all, is I’ve put links to all the relevant papers and examples of the challenges, as well as a link to the full list of 50 challenges from the researchers in the show notes to this episode.
So, as a resource to this episode, you can go to thepsychologypodcast. com and click on the show notes for the latest episode, and you’ll see all the resources that I added to help you change your personality. And then choose the challenges that pertain to the personality domain you are working on changing.
You can also subscribe to my new sub stack newsletter called Beautiful Minds, which has a whole bunch of resources as well. Next, we want to gamify. Your project here of changing your personality. What I mean by gamify, well, you can compete with your friends and see who can complete the most challenges in a one month period, let’s say whoever wins has to buy everyone else a drink or something like that, you know, do what you can to create a little game out of it.
And pick a different challenge every day, stay at it, [00:15:00] be patient and kind to yourself if you struggle with some of the challenges and also have realistic expectations about the rate of growth in personality change. Your personality won’t change overnight. Be critical of any self development book or course that claims to give you instant or radical changes in your personality.
Just as it took many years for you to develop your habitual patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, it will take some time to alter them in the long run. The good news is that the latest research on personality change suggests quite clearly That state level changes that are maintained for extended periods of time have the potential to coalesce into trait changes.
And that’s what you want if you actually want to change your personality in the long run. You want trait changes, not just state changes, folks. Over time, state level behaviors can become learned, automatized, and habitual. But you have to do the work. There are no shortcuts in life, at least when it comes to causing long lasting changes to your personality.[00:16:00]
And finally, once you’ve actually changed your personality, and only then, feel free to announce what you went through to get there, in public, on social media. Your journey might inspire others. Also, people will probably notice that it’s actually a new you. I just want to end this episode by encouraging you all and being your cheerleader here to do the hard work required to change your personality, or at least aspects of your personality that you really want to change because I really believe in you all and I’m rooting for you all.
So happy new year. And I’m really excited for 2024 and the psychology podcast. Peace.