One of the biggest life lessons I had in 2009 was that my personality is in a state of constant change. The change may be small, subtle, and quiet or take big, life-changing leaps, but it’s there and it’s continuous. The fact that personality changes over time is not a big surprise in itself; I think everyone can take a look back a few years and immediately see how they were different back then compared to who they are now. However, I’ve hold the assumption that it takes major life experiences – such as break-ups, marriages, parents getting divorced, moving to live on your own for the first time etc. – for a personality to change, but considering everything that has happened in my own thought and behavior patterns during 2009, I have had to abandon that belief.
According to Dictionary.com, the definition of psychological personality is
a) the sum total of the physical, mental, emotional, and social characteristics of an individual.
b) the organized pattern of behavioral characteristics of the individual.
In psychology, the act of learning implies behavior change. Meaning, that when something is learned, the behavior of the learner changes as a result. If personality then is an organized pattern of behavioral characteristics of an individual, learning changes also the personality of the learner. This does not require major life experiences. With open and curious mind it’s easily possible to learn something new every single day, and the cumulative outcome of that learning is a changed personality.
It’s very important to realize, that no one is born more confident, social, outgoing, competitive, creative etc. than anyone else. Your early life experiences are paramount in the forming of your personality, which affects how you behave and think in different situations. Although your personality greatly determines how you think and act, the way you think and act also affects your personality. It’s a two-way connection.
Want to become more social? Study how those you consider more social than you behave in group situations. How do they look at people? How do they listen to others? What kind of body language they use? How do they project their voice? And most importantly, how do they behave differently compared to you? What is your current situation, and what needs to be changed to get from where you are to where you want to be?
You can learn a great deal by observing other people. After all, it is by watching others that we have learnt most of the essentials in life such as walking and speaking. We have an innate tendency to model our behavior after those around us. Just watch how two best friends mirror each others’ wording, phrases, or body language and you know what I’m talking about.
So, in order to actually become more social, and have that characteristic become an ingrained, natural part of your personality, you need to first start behaving like a social person. Make a conscious effort to act differently than the “regular you” would. Use the information you’ve gained when observing others and model your behavior to fit the image of a social person you’ve created in your mind. It’s not easy, and it takes focus and willpower to do something that doesn’t come naturally to you, but the more you do it the easier it gets. This is a sign of the new behavior starting to become an integrated part of who you are.
If I had been told over a year ago that this kind of personality change is possible, I probably wouldn’t have believed it. However, considering how much my own personality has changed during the past year, I can’t really deny it either. For example, I began to build my confidence simply by starting to look people in the eye whenever I was walking outside. Then I focused on doing it while I was listening and speaking to others. And yes, it took quite a bit of conscious effort at first, but nowadays I don’t even need to think about it. It comes automatically. After getting used to maintaining eye-contact, I began to study and focus on adopting more subtle signs of a confident person such as how to greet people, how to enter a room, how to take control of my environment, how to speak in a more confident manner etc. There is still work to do and room for improvement, but it’s easy to recognize how I feel much more confident than I did only a few months ago, before I started to make this conscious behavior change.
Two more things you can do to help the process are visualization and having inner discussions inside your head. Visualize being in social situations and acting the way you would like to act. Imagine yourself being the soul of the party, imagine people enjoying having conversations with you. This might sound like fantasy stuff, but many top-level athletes, public speakers, and other successful people practice visualization. There is also a lot of literacy about its importance and effectiveness. And anyway, it’s not like you’re going to lose anything by doing it ;)
By inner discussions I mean talking to yourself like you’re your own best friend. It’s ridiculous how many people constantly criticize and put themselves down in their thoughts. Instead, psyche yourself up when going to a social situation. Say to yourself: “Bro, you look awesome tonight! Everyone is waiting for you to come so they can have a chat with you. You will leave a great impression on everyone as you talk with them in your calm, confident manner. You know and they know, that if you weren’t going to show up the evening wouldn’t be nearly as much fun as it’s going to be now. All thanks to you!”
I believe strongly, that the inner discussions – or thought-chatter as some like to call it – and visualizations have an impact on your subconscious mind. I also believe, that we are in much less control of our actions than we would like to admit. Instead, the subconscious mind is steering us towards different paths, different decisions, depending on how we think and what our beliefs are. By visualizing yourself as a very social person, you’re giving instructions to your subconscious mind that this social person is who you really are. As a result, the way you behave may start to change without you even noticing it at first, as it all feels very natural and you are just ‘being yourself’.
A study [download PDF] was done in 2007 that very profoundly demonstrates just how powerful the mind can be, and how much power visualization has: A group of athletes were instructed to visualize exercising their hip muscles, and without any actual gym training or physical activity they had similar strength gains (24% increase in physical strength) as a control group who went to the gym and did the actual hip exercises (28% increase in physical strength). Apparently the mind cannot make a difference between real and imagined experiences. Considering that these people actually had significant physiological changes as a result of what they imagined, just think how much visualization could help to change your behavior, attitudes, beliefs, or way of thinking!
Your personality changes whether you like or not. The big questions is; are you willing to take responsibility of who you are now, and to consciously start guiding that personality change in order to become who you want to be, to become your best self?