Is It Possible to Change Your Personality?

young woman sitting behind cottage door and looking away

One of the benefits of being so interested in psychology is that I have performed nearly every psychology test on myself since beginning my Clinical Psychology Doctorate in 2010. This has undoubtedly given me many insights into myself, but it has also given me the skills and knowledge to help others find out a lot about themselves.

If you want to learn more about yourself, a great place to start is a personality assessment, which I have already recommended in an earlier article.

The best free test out there, in my opinion, is the IPIP-NEO, as it can be accessed and completed for free online (see the website personality assessor if you are interested). It then scores up your responses and compares them to other individuals from your gender and country to give you a percentile score on the five personality factors (Extraversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Neuroticism and Openness to Experience) as well as six facets of each of these factors. In total, for answering 120 questions across 10–15 minutes, you are given a comparison to others on 35 different variables. I doubt that a test out there gives you as much interesting information for as little time and effort.

My Personality Assessment Results From 2011–2017

I’ve now completed the IPIP-NEO Assessment five times since 2011. To look at how personality can change over time, I’ve decided to share my results with you from 2011, 2014 and 2017, with the description of each factor and facet written underneath it paraphrased from the reports found at personality assessor.

The Factor or Facet will be presented first, followed by a series of …, followed by the 2011 percentile score results, which are not in brackets or parentheses, the 2014 results, which are surrounded by [ ], and the 2017 results, which are encapsulated by { }.

Extraversion…………… 78 — [58] — {48}

I have become less extroverted over time and am now about average in extraversion. Extraverts are sociable, like to take risks and feel lots of positive emotions.

The six facets of extraversion are:

Friendliness…………… 56 — [67] — {58}

I’m about average in my desire to be around other people and show an interest in their lives.

This hasn’t changed much over 6 years. I also tend to value quality time more than the quantity of time when spending time with friends.

Gregariousness……… 72 — [84] — {42}

I’m much less gregarious than I used to be and am now about average in flocking toward other people and being talkative and sociable around them.

I am much more comfortable having downtime by myself or with one or two people these days, rather than going out to clubs or big parties or festivals.

Assertiveness………… 54 — [22] — {13}

I’m much less assertive (based on how it is defined here) than I used to be with others, and there is now a very low chance that I’ll take charge and lead others.

I am now a firm believer in helping others to find the right path for themselves rather than trying to tell them what to do or where to go.

I actually feel like I can say no to others and speak up about what I feel and need. Still, these elements are probably reflected better in my score changes on the dutifulness and morality facets below.

Activity Level………… 94 — [54] — {79}

I prefer very high levels of activity, such as being on the go and staying busy.

This dropped in 2014 but has been picking up again lately. I could have potentially overdone it in the past, as I was often tired. I am now trying to find the right balance between doing things and just being and activity and rest.

Excitement-Seeking… 66 — [78] — {87}

I like to seek very high levels of thrills.

This has continued to increase over time, indicating that there may not be enough excitement in my life at present.

Cheerfulness………… 76 — [54] — {54}

I experience about average levels of happiness, joy, and other positive emotions.

This has dropped since 2011 but has stayed consistent since 2014. I don’t think I have ever been that outwardly expressive with my emotions. Still, I tend to experience a higher ratio of positive to negative emotions in 2017 than I ever have in my past.

Agreeableness…………… 68 — [53] — {89}

I am very high in agreeableness, and much more so than I was in 2014. Highly agreeable people tend to do whatever it takes to have positive relationships with other people.

The six facets of agreeableness are:

Trust……………… 92 — [80] — {89}

I’m very high in believing that other people are generally good and not out to harm others.

This dropped a bit in 2014 due to the people I was spending time with but has been increasing again recently with the more open, honest, and positive people I am now closest to.

Morality………… 11 — [18] — {65}

Sticking to the rules and treating everyone fairly is of a much higher value to me than it used to be.

I am now much more honest with others regarding what I think, what I need and how I feel. I was much more guarded in the past, especially with things that I thought other people might not like or understand.

Altruism………… 57 — [71] — {85}

I am very high in wanting to be good to other people, including helping them when they need it.

This has continued to increase over time, which is great to see. Some psychologists talk about getting compassion fatigue, but cutting my clinical days down to 4 days per week helps me give my all to each session I have.

Cooperation…… 80 — [64] — {99}

There are extremely high chances that I’ll try to get along with other people.

This dropped in 2014 due to the interpersonal conflicts that I was having in my life but has increased dramatically since then.

Modesty………… 45 — [35] — {71}

I am now much more humble than I was in the past.

One of my supervisors told me that he thought I was arrogant during my placement at the end of 2012. I think I was actually trying to overcompensate for the low internal self-belief that I often had. Modest people don’t like to brag or show off because those behaviours can be harmful to relationships.

Sympathy………… 73 — [84] — {84}

I have very high levels of sympathy for other people, including caring about them and wanting what’s best for them.

This improved from 2011 but has stayed consistent since 2014.

Conscientiousness…………… 65 — [73] — {70}

I am slightly higher in conscientiousness than I was in 2011. Highly conscientious people are diligent, hard-working, and responsible.

The six facets of conscientiousness are:

Self-Efficacy………… 67 [62] {62}

When I need to do something, I can get it done and do it well.

This has stayed relatively consistent over the years.

Orderliness……… 18 — [80] — {80}

I prefer very high levels of cleanliness and order in my environment.

It wasn’t that I didn’t prefer this in 2011 and before that, but that I really struggled to stay organised with everything. Doing a Doctoral degree definitely helped with this, as did having a very organised partner in 2014 and reading the book ‘Getting Things Done’ by David Allen.

Dutifulness……… 78 — [60] — {27}

I’m low in sticking to my word, keeping my promises, and upholding my obligations.

As bad as this description makes it sound, I am actually happy that I do fewer things out of a sense of duty or obligations these days. I am now more likely to tune in and figure out if something is consistent with my values and my best long-term interests before committing to something or just saying yes and later regretting it. It means that resentment is less likely to build up for me because I am doing what I want much more than I am doing things because I “should” be doing them.

Achievement-Striving… 76 — [52] — {88}

I have a very high desire to work hard and get ahead.

After my Doctorate finished at the beginning of 2014, I felt burnt out from studying and was happy just finding a job and working as a Clinical Psychologist in private practice. However, this has changed again since then, and I am now focused on making a difference where I can, not just in my working role.

Self-Discipline………. 36 — [61] — {49}

I have about average self-discipline , which is getting to work quickly, staying focused, and avoiding distractions or procrastination.

This has improved a little, which is good, but sometimes I try to do too much in a day or at once, leading to a lowered score in 2017. By being realistic with myself, prioritising tasks and putting less important things off until later should help me increase this over the next three years.

Cautiousness……… 92 — [94] — {89}

The odds are extremely low that I’ll jump into things without really thinking them through.

This hasn’t changed much over the years, and I continue to spend high amounts of time planning what to do. I probably would benefit by being a bit more spontaneous at times with less important things and getting into more productive action as soon as I know what the right path is for me to take.

Neuroticism…………… 21 — [26] — {29}

I am low in neuroticism, but less so than I was in 2011. This means that I experience low levels of negative emotions, like anger, fear, and stress.

The six facets of neuroticism are:

Anxiety…………… 45 — [59] — {25}

Compared with other people, I have very low stress, fears, and worries about the future.

This was worse in 2014 due to interpersonal conflicts and has improved substantially with regular psychological therapy, better relationships and ongoing self-improvement.

Anger………………… 1 — [3] — {7}

My levels of anger and irritability are extremely low.

I am actually happy that this had increased a little, as I often didn’t allow myself to feel angry when I was younger. I tended to be passive-aggressive or non-compliant, especially with authority figures, without ever fully realising why. Tuning into my anger more helped me identify when a goal of mine was being blocked and has supported me to stand up for myself in more productive and less destructive ways.

Depression……… 30 — [19] — {10}

Compared with other people, I now feel extremely low amounts of sadness and like myself to a high degree.

This has continued to improve over the years’ thanks to much psychological therapy, better relationships and ongoing self-improvement.

Self-Consciousness… 58 — [47] — {71}

I like to draw very low levels of attention to myself and feel high amounts of unease when interacting with others socially (especially strangers).

This had decreased in 2014 when I felt a bit socially isolated, but it increased again in 2017. One of the reasons this may have occurred is that I share much more about myself than I used to, hoping that it will help others do the same. It is scary to do this at times, but sharing more genuine things with others can give people a greater sense of connection and belonging.

Immoderation…… 28 — [35] — {46}

I have average self-control when it comes to resisting temptations; there are about average chances that I’ll give in to my desires and binge (on shopping, eating, drinking, or whatever my vices are).

The increase in this score over the last 6 years may be because I have more disposable income, or that I give myself permission to indulge and enjoy things more than I used to or highlight the fact that behavioural change is hard. I used not to care if I ate poorly, for example, but now that I try to eat healthily, I am more aware of how challenging this can be, especially when tired or stressed.

Vulnerability…… 28 — [29] — {45}

The chances that I’ll be overwhelmed by difficult circumstances are about average.

I think this increased in 2017 because I am now more aware of my emotional experiences and needs and tend to be in denial less about the impact of significant events on my life. We all have a threshold for how much of something is good for us, and learning my limits with certain things has been a valuable lesson over the past 12 months.

Openness to experience…… 82 — [89] — {93}

I am extremely high in openness to experience, and increasingly so over the past six years. Openness is a broad, diffuse personality dimension with many seemingly different facets. In general, highly open people like various new experiences, whether physical, emotional, intellectual, or cultural.

The six facets of openness are:

Imagination………… 39 — [26] — {15}

I have very low imagination and therefore tend not to use it too much to escape reality or daydream.

This has continued to decrease over time. I tend to stick more to the facts of a situation and how I can improve it than wistfully imagine that it will fix itself or that I will win the lottery.

Artistic Interests…… 69 — [69] — {69}

I have high openness for art, music, culture and other aesthetic experiences.

This has been consistent over the years, especially my love of music, movies, good TV shows and reading.

Emotionality……… 65 — [94] — {89}

My attunement to my own and others’ emotions are very high. Whereas cheerfulness and excitement seeking (facets of extraversion) capture my propensity to feel positive emotions and neuroticism capture my propensity to feel negative emotions, emotionality refers to my overall openness to/desire to truly feel emotions.

I am glad to see that this has improved from 2011 and remains very high in 2017.

Adventurousness…… 78 — [90] — {90}

I prefer very high amounts of variety and new experiences in my life and have a very high openness to new experiences.

This has increased over the years and comes out in my love of travel, learning new things, and taking on new challenges.

Intellect…………… 79 — [95] — {90}

My desire to play with ideas, reflect on philosophical concepts, and have deep discussions is very high.

My high openness to intellectual experiences has increased since 2011. It means that I like to read widely and am willing to have interesting conversations with anyone about anything, even if they disagree with my viewpoint on things. Learning about different cultures and their different expectations and belief systems is especially interesting to me.

Liberalism………… 87 — [70] — {97}

My political liberalism is extremely high, and my political conservatism is extremely low. I desire progressive change.

I believe that our schools, legal system and political arena all need to change to help us to thrive more going forward into the future. My level of liberalism decreased in 2014 when I was trying to live a more conventional life but has gone way up since then as I am now living more authentically and seeing the benefits. I now fully believe that everyone should be free to live the right life for themselves as long as it doesn’t harm others.

But Can Personality Actually Change?

Some people say that “you can’t teach a dog new tricks”. If you believe this, then you would expect my personality to stay reasonably consistent even over a six-year period, especially seeing that I went from the age of 25 to 31 during this time period. This could explain why Neuroticism and Conscientiousness and the facets of Friendliness, Trust, Self-efficacy, Cautiousness, Anger and Artistic Expression all changed by less than 10 percentile points from 2011 to 2017.

Buddhists take the opposite approach and say that “the self is a myth” and “there is no self”. This could explain why Extraversion and the facets Gregariousness, Assertiveness, Morality, Orderliness and Dutifulness all changed by at least 30 and up to 62 percentile points in only six years.

However, the reality is somewhere between, with 1 factor and 12 facets changing between 10 and 19 percentile points and 1 factor and 7 facets switching between 20 and 29 percentile points. Thus, some level of change is much more common than either extreme change or no change at all.

For most things that haven’t changed, I’m pretty happy with where they are at. Of course, I’d love to be less cautious at times and maybe slightly more friendly. Still, some negatives may come alongside any positive changes in these areas (such as being too impulsive or reckless or not having enough downtime to recharge and unwind).

For the things that have changed a lot, this has been through a combination of the experiences that I have been through, the things that I have learnt, and the work I have put in. Becoming more orderly was definitely not easy, but the benefits this has on my stress and anxiety levels have made up for the effort I have put in.

What I recommend:

If you have been trying to change something for a long time and haven’t been able to, maybe it is worth seeing if you can accept and embrace this quality about yourself, or if you can at least see some of the positives that come with it. Introverted people, for example, might benefit from reading the book ‘Quiet’ by Susan Cain. It talks about the positive qualities that generally come from being more introspective and sensitive than your extroverted peers or co-workers.

If there are things about yourself that you would like to improve, seek out people who seem to do these things well, and learn from them what you can. If you don’t have anyone in your life who represents these qualities, a book, Youtube and many other online resources are now available to help give you the skills, knowledge, motivation, perseverance and ongoing support that is required for successful long-term change. If you don’t have the level of support you currently need, a referral to see a psychologist could definitely help.

Dr Damon Ashworth

Clinical Psychologist

Published by Dr Damon Ashworth

I am a Clinical Psychologist. I completed a Doctoral degree in Clinical Psychology at Monash University and a Bachelor of Behavioural Sciences and a Bachelor of Psychological Sciences with Honours at La Trobe University. I am passionate about the field of Psychology, and apply the latest empirical findings to best help individuals meet their psychological and emotional needs.

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