Maybe there’s a certain element of your personality that drives you nuts or, at the very least, gets you into some trouble. Maybe you just aspire to be a little more outgoing or a little less sensitive or a little more perceptive. While you’re undoubtedly great exactly as you are, there’s a core question at the heart of wondering about what it is that makes you, well, you: Is it possible to learn how to change your personality?
I’ve studied the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator for years and have discussed this very question with a number of experts. It seems the general consensus is that personality traits tend to be fairly stable over time, though gradual change is possible, so long as we separate natural preferences and learned behaviors.
Personality traits tend to be fairly stable over time, though gradual change is possible, so long as we separate natural preferences and learned behaviors.
That’s because it’s unlikely for your natural preferences to change. The cognitive-function stack of your Myers-Briggs type, for instance, will always reflect what comes most easily to you because your dominant function starting developing during your childhood and only strengthened as you aged. For instance, dominant introverted intuitives will be quiet, thoughtful, and wise, while those who lead with extroverted sensing will pick up sports easily, have a lot of energy, and absorb the world in a hands-on way.
It’s hard to undo and retool that which is that is natural and deeply ingrained—and surely, you’re already a great person with a great personality. That said, if you want to sharpen certain traits that aren’t naturally dominant for you, it is theoretically possible. Using the Myers-Briggs functions as a framework, find a breakdown below of how to change your personality by developing certain learned behaviors.
How to change your personality, based on each of the 8 Myers-Briggs functions
1. Introversion to extroversion
Introverts who want to develop more extroverted tendencies should work on stepping outside of themselves to see the world from the eyes of others. They should try to listen before they draw judgments. Try socializing, even if you’re not sure you will enjoy it (you might be surprised). Try articulating and interacting first, and processing later. Embrace discomfort as growth.
2. Extroversion to introversion
Extroverts who want to develop more introverted tendencies should learn to look inward before they fill their time with external happenings. Focus on being alone with yourself, getting in touch with your own feelings, discovering what you like apart from the influence of others. Embrace solitude as something that is necessary.
3. Intuition to sensing
Intuitives who want to develop more sensing tendencies should aim to do more and (over)think less. Live in the moment and dive into decisions without immediately asking why. Enjoy a hobby for enjoyment’s sake rather than a bigger-picture, forward-thinking reason. Not everything is a means to an end, and sometimes you don’t know where an action or event will go until you try it.
4. Sensing to intuition
Sensors who want to develop more intuitive tendencies should look at their own patterns. For instance, do you keep getting into the same kind of trouble with friends? Taking jobs with the same results? If so, introspect to pinpoint why, and learn from that knowledge moving forward. Or, learn to honor instincts you may have about people and events, a positive or negative inner voice, even if you cannot say exactly why you feel a certain thing.
5. Thinking to feeling
Thinkers who want to tap into feelers’ strengths should aim to ask themselves how a decision or event affects others, rather than simply making the practical or reasonable “right” choice. They should start to look at outcomes as complex and frequently subjective. Work on finding middle-ground solutions, not all-or-nothing ones.
6. Feeling to thinking
Feelers who want to be a bit more like thinkers should ask themselves if what feels right today will still be the right choice tomorrow. Will taking an action or helping a person result in harm down the line? Does the outcome justify the cost to get there? Try stepping back from a situation, avoiding making in-the-moment decisions. Sleep on it. Think about all repercussions.
7. Perceiving to judging
Perceivers who want to tap into judgers’ strengths should work on making decisions before they have every last question answered. Instead, they should make reasonable choices based on the knowledge in front of them and accept mistakes as they come. It’s okay to be wrong, but not acting can lead to negative consequences in and of itself.
8. Judging to perceiving
Judging types who want to be a bit more adaptable, like perceivers, should realize they experience discomfort when they have loose ends in their lives. They make decisions quickly, sometimes before they allow others to give input or before they have enough information to be sure of a choice. This can be impulsive, and lead to unnecessary backpedaling. So slow down ad let things evolve.
It’s worth noting that all of these personality preferences—extroversion and introversion, sensing and intuition, thinking and feeling, judging and perceiving—exist on a spectrum. Some people may feel more ease in traversing the lines if they naturally fall near the middle of a given preference, but we can all get a bit closer with practice and awareness. In fact, it’s great if you can both hang onto your natural strength and grow intentionally to see how things can be done differently.
This is part of why some people have trouble determining their Myers-Briggs type in the first place; behavior influences how we see ourselves, meaning introverts can behave like extroverts on the job and perceivers can learn to make decisions quicker if they work at it. Hile Rutledge, a Myers-Briggs master trainer and consultant, told me back in 2015 that while your inherent preferences probably don’t change, new skills and new behaviors can lead to new personality patterns. “So, if someone takes the test and says, ‘I took it before, and now the result is different,’ one of the types they got is probably the right one. The other is influenced by their behavior,” he said. “In the end, only you can determine your type preference.”
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