Can I change my personality?
There may be much you can’t change about your personality, but you can give it a workout to optimize its strengths and manage its weaknesses. Here’s how.
Remember the personality is like the body: a structure. You can’t change the length of your arms but you can keep your body healthy if you feed, exercise, and rest it well. Same with personality. You can’t change your DNA, temperament, culture, or childhood, but you can learn and practice skills to strengthen your character for a healthier personality. Know its strengths and optimize them; know its weaknesses, and manage them.
Just as we cover up private parts and scars on our body we can cover up parts of our personality: keep thoughts to ourselves (judgments), feelings (anger and entitlement), and behaviours (things you do alone at a bathroom mirror). It’s using the “mask” of personality to get along with others.
I’ve been asked often: can recreational drugs change my personality? They can. I’ve seen it. But don’t get excited.
I’ve seen LSD turn someone from being insecure & anxious to being suicidal, depressed and totally paranoid thanks to continuing psychosis. I’ve seen crystal meth change a mild-mannered man into an angry, enraged jerk who ended up in jail. Cocaine can turn fun-loving thrill-seekers into wired, sometimes manic, broke, obnoxious rectums.
There’s a misconception that drugs experiences improve you. For every person a drug has helped, many thousands have ruined their lives and others’ lives with drugs. It’s such a pity to see.
Psychotherapy is to the personality what physiotherapy is to the body; you need it when something’s wrong. Physio helps a broken leg, tendonitis or back pain; psychotherapy helps personality disorders, and trauma- and drug-effected people. It can take a long time with good improvement. But for the rest, there’s the natural ways: diet, exercise, and rest.
What you feed your mind shows up in your personality. Junk food over years will clog your body arteries. Likewise, a stressful work environment and junk entertainment and technology can clog up your mind.
If you sit in your bedroom and play games for years, you’ll de-skill socially, grow anxious, preoccupied and awkward. This is now a big personality problem in Japan.
Lawyers’ work culture, adversarial, can lead them to see all of life as win & lose. Problematic behaviour in lawyers (and students) is modelled and steeped in industry culture.
Too much screen technology leads to less conversation and eye contact with others, so the brain’s “empathy” area shrinks. Decreased empathy is a personality problem.
To keep your personality healthy, watch what you feed your mind.
Exercising the body is learning and practicing skills. Do the same for a healthier personality. Try these:
Particularly important are what I call “Know Thyself” skills (thanks Socrates):
Doing a personality inventory on the internet.
Taking time out daily, weekly and yearly to reflect on how life is going.
Know where you’re at, and know what you want to improve on.
What sleep and rest are to the body, meditation and contemplation are to the mind. Take care of your mind and it will show in your personality.
Meditation gives you the space to shut down society’s voices; to listen to and know yourself; to take off your personality mask and just sit. Evidence shows it helps regulate emotions, modulate thoughts, monitor behaviours and have a healthier perspective of your past. This can change your personality.
Contemplation (thanks Plato) is time and space set aside for inward thinking, like looking into a rock pool. Find a quiet place. For ten minutes or more, think:
How would I describe my personality?
What do I like about it? What do I dislike?
What goes right? What goes wrong?
How would I like to grow as a person?
How could I move towards that?
What blocks me?
Ponder the questions, your answers, and implications for your life. That’s it. You’re contemplating. Translate it into action.
Refine your character
The final way to change aspects of your personality is to work on your character. Think of someone you want to emulate, who’s made the world a better place. What do you value about them? Or look for a list of character traits on the internet. Choose five and work them into your personality; your unique pattern of thinking, feeling, behaving and relating. Like this.
Think about the value, what it means, what a person with that value thinks about. What does having the value feel like? How would a person with that value behave? How would they relate to others?
Do this – think, feel and practice – to help your personality work for you, not against you.
For more detail on how to change your personality, listen to our latest podcast:
 Teo, Alan Robert, and Albert C. Gaw. "Hikikomori, a Japanese culture-bound syndrome of social withdrawal? A proposal for DSM-V." The Journal of nervous and mental disease 198.6 (2010): 444.
 Ames III, Orrin K. "Concerns about the lack of professionalism: Root causes rather than symptoms must be addressed." Am. J. Trial Advoc. 28 (2004): 531.
 Montag, Christian, et al. "Internet Communication Disorder and the structure of the human brain: initial insights on WeChat addiction." Scientific reports 8.1 (2018): 2155.