A common question I am often asked is, “can you change your personality type?” or “does your personality type change over time?“
Clearly, some things change over time but what is changing is unclear. All personality assessments are low resolution by design. When you consider that every human is unique, then you have to accept that personality assessments are never going to be on high resolution.
As a former scientist I am reminded that when we measure anything, it is always + or – a margin of error. Nothing is 1m long. it is 1m + or – 0.001m, depending on the accuracy of the measuring device.
The variance we see in our personality over a lifetime is probably significantly smaller than the + or – margin of error of our measuring device, especially as we are using low resolution measuring devices with high + or – error margins. This phenomenon could easily account for someone feeling their personality has changed.
Things that can change over time could be greater awareness of our personality; learned behaviour may change due to training or experience. We may understand aspects of our personality type today, that we simply didn’t see a few years ago. This could be construed as a change in personality type or it could be a change in awareness.
For the reasons described above, PeopleMaps’ take on this is that if our personality changes at all, it changes very little across our lifetime. Peoplemaps is based on the work of Carl Jung the Swiss psychologist. His view was that from middle age onwards, ‘individuation’ should be each person’s goal. By this, he meant that we should each try to get in touch with our opposite, or least used ‘preferences’ If our natural ‘preference is for ‘thinking/task’ then our opposite preference is for ‘feeling/people.’
Jung was not expecting changes to be easy or quick, but to take a lifetime just to try and walk in another’s shoes, therefore not something that would cause personality to change. It was more about gaining an understanding of the other.
It is also important to understand that there is a difference between personality type and behaviour. Where your personality type remains little changed across your lifetime, you may modify your behaviour significantly from minute to minute. Once you see these two things as separate, everything starts to make more sense.
Strengths and Weaknesses
It is true that there are some things that come easily to you and some that do not. You also have natural preferences. Your personality type influences your natural preferences and what comes easily to you or not.
If the environment demands it, then what comes naturally to you may be considered a strength. And if your environment demands something of you and it does not come easily to you, then it could be described as a weakness. PeopleMaps does not generally use these terms, however, for the purpose of this article we will indulge.
Can You Change Your Personality Type? No
When something does not come naturally to you then you have two options.
An option that isn’t available to you, is to change your personality type and become naturally good at the thing you struggle with.
Strange then, that this is the option that most individuals try to take. It is the option that parents take for their children when they are clearly not made for mathematics. Their approach is “If maths is elusive and bamboozling, then what you need to do is a lot more maths.“
While it is true that if you work at something long enough and hard enough you will improve, you will rarely become naturally good at it. Your time and energy is better spent elsewhere.
This is why we look at Mitigation and Policy.
Let’s take the example of “Natural attention to detail”. Personally, I am not naturally detailed, yet I managed to drag myself through a degree in Applied Physics. Did I eventually become naturally detailed after years of study? No. I am still not good with details.
My first option was Mitigation. In my working life, I look to mitigate the situation so that I do not have to be good at details. I remove the work that requires attention to detail from me and give it to someone else. If my environment does not require me to be detailed then it is no longer a weakness.
If mitigation isn’t available to me, then I form a policy. I am aware that I am not detailed so I take the following steps when faced with work demanding my attention to detail;
- I work for short periods of time (40 mins max)
- I double-check and triple-check my work
- I get someone else to check it too, if possible
With mitigation and policy, I can navigate life without having to become naturally detailed. When you are faced with a situation that demands you to be what you are not, or do what does not come naturally, you may want to consider mitigation and policy too.
This is a far more realistic option than to try and change your personality type. If your environment demands you to be something you are not, then you may have to consider changing environments. Regardless of your personality type, there will be some environments that are a perfect fit for you. Bashing round pegs into square holes rarely leads to anything worthwhile.
You can read more about personality type here