What You Can Change About Yourself, What You Can’t, & How to Do It

Can people change? According to recent studies, personality can change throughout a person’s life, even stretching into older adulthood. People can always work to adjust the personality aspects that least impress them.

The main factors influencing our personalities, values, beliefs, and behavior are genetic predispositions to specific traits, childhood environments, and life experiences. However, this does not mean that personality is always predetermined.

In this article, we look at the things we can change about ourselves, what we can’t, the change process, and the factors that can improve our chances of success.

What Can Change?

What can a person change about themselves? There are several personality aspects that you can modify with the right effort and inspiration.

These are:

  • Habits and behaviors
  • Attitude and outlook on life
  • Verbal/ physical responses to things or events

Many researchers in the past believed that personality traits tended to remain the same after they’ve been developed. New studies have since disputed this by showing that personality attributes change at any stage of life. Personality changes in people are especially evident between the ages of twenty and forty. At this stage, the change probably happens because of self-exploration, which is most common during early adulthood. All the same, it helps to note that we can modify only a few characteristics.

To some extent, personality adjustment is influenced by the triggers of specific habits and our willingness to address them. For example, cheating and lying often result from particular issues, and if they are not resolved, these traits will not change. The same applies to manipulative personalities. You might have developed this trait in your early years as a defense mechanism. Maybe you manipulated your way out of situations or exploited people to get your needs fulfilled.

Such behaviors and tendencies, cultivated as a way to cope with situations or survive, are often challenging to adjust. However, with the right approach, people can also modify them.

Who is more likely to change? A person who shows regret for what they’ve done is more likely to be successful in changing their personality. Those who only promise to change themselves but have no regret for what they did or do not try to do things differently are likely to be unsuccessful at changing.

What Can’t Change?

You can change several things about yourself, but there are some bits that you just can’t. Let’s highlight the three personality aspects that you cannot modify.

Core Personality Traits

Personality can change at any time during someone’s life, even in adulthood. However, as the modification occurs, some things will remain the same.

These unchangeable traits are referred to as the big 5 and include the following:

  • Openness to various experiences
  • Conscientiousness
  • Agreeableness
  • Extraversion
  • Neuroticism

These personality traits tend to change subtly. For example, a person who has been an introvert since a young age will less likely become an extrovert at once. What’s more probable is that they will work on their social skills by forming and sustaining relationships with others.

If you do not want to modify your personality, you can get away by adjusting your coping strategies and beliefs related to various traits. This way, you’ll only change your response to things and not your personality. For example, if you are a procrastinator, you can make a greater effort  to do things on time.

Emotions

Emotions and their associated reactions cannot be changed, at least easily. You cannot always ignore your feelings towards things or events. To ensure that you lead a better life, acknowledge your emotions and learn how to manage them. Try to control your emotions such that they do not influence your responses.

Mental Health Conditions

You cannot change existing psychological problems easily. If you have an underlying mental health issue, you’ll have to address it by getting treatment or adopting coping mechanisms. Mental health problems include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Personality disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder

How Does a Change Happen?

Change is a process that takes time and doesn’t always progress linearly. Apart from understanding this, it helps to appreciate that you are most likely to experience some challenges and that you can’t force change. This way, it becomes easier for you to see the process through.

Stages of Change: How Does Change Occur?

Is it possible to change a person, and if so, how? Change is intentional, which means that you cannot alter someone unless they want to. You can only help to show them what they need to change and why.

Suppose you decide to change something today, effecting that adjustment won’t occur immediately but in stages. The Transtheoretical Model developed by Prochaska and DiClemente in the 70s clearly defines the stages of change known today. The model, which was developed and improved by studying individuals quitting smoking, has six stages.

Precontemplation

The earliest step of change is known as precontemplation, which is when you are in denial about your behavior/ habit. At this point, you are either ignorant of the problem your behavior is causing or underestimate its consequences. You will often focus on the disadvantages of changes as opposed to the benefits.

In some cases, you may feel that it is your fate and you have no control over your bad habit. If you’re here, you should rethink your behavior/actions and analyze the risks of continuing on that path.

Contemplation

In the contemplation stage, you recognize that something is not ideal and are thinking about change. You also think about the benefits and costs of making an adjustment. Though people are aware of the need to change at this stage, they may have mixed feelings about it. Unfortunately, few people ever go beyond this step.

If you are still contemplating a change, start by asking yourself why you would like to make it. Then, address any barriers preventing you from changing and identify what can propel you on the path to change.

Preparation

A person in the preparation stage is ready to convert their intentions into action. You may start making smaller modifications to prepare for the more significant change you are about to make. This stage may involve joining a self-help group, getting counseling, researching, etc.

Ideally, you are in this stage if you are ready/ willing to make the adjustment within a month or less. If you want to make lasting change, equip yourself with knowledge about making such a change and set goals.

Action

This stage is characterized by direct action towards making a behavioral/ attitude change. Here, you begin working towards achieving the goals you set out during preparation. People at this stage will modify their past behavior by building new habits.

The time frame for this stage varies widely but generally lasts around six months. To keep yourself motivated and committed, you should add in short-term rewards. Positive reinforcement and a support system are both essential for staying on track.

Maintenance

Maintenance involves successfully sustaining your new behaviors and avoiding the temptation to return to old ways. At this stage, you’ll need to remind yourself of the progress you’ve made and strive to prevent a relapse. Relapses may sometimes occur, but the important thing is to get back on track.

Termination

The final stage is termination, whereby you have changed your unhealthy behavior/habit/attitude and have no desire to go back. At this point, you’re confident that you won’t relapse. This stage is rarely attainable as most people remain in the maintenance.

What Can Help You Achieve Change Successfully?

Stumbling blocks are common when you are trying to make adjustments and may occur at any stage. However, some factors can help you achieve the change you want to see.

Motivation

List the things that have pushed you to want to make changes. Whenever you are experiencing a dip in motivation, going back to this list can renew your commitment.

Visualization

Once you have defined your goals, visualize them. Seeing yourself achieve the success you want can convince your brain that’s it’s possible.

Hard Work

Don’t focus on your inability to make a change, as it will make you a non-starter. Instead, work on adopting a new habit by putting effort into achieving smaller steps.

Positive Reinforcement & Support

Find support from your close friends and family by sharing your goals. Their encouragement and support can strengthen your determination and accountability.

Therapy

Not everyone can address certain behavior and habits. Also, some changes demand a significant overhaul and, therefore, require professional support.

Therapy can help with different kinds of changes, including:

  • Overcoming addiction
  • Breaking bad habits
  • Regaining trust after a betrayal
  • Overcoming mental health issues that affect your behavior
  • Improving patterns influenced by personality disorders

Takeaways

So, can a person change their personality? There are elements of your character that you can change. But though people can change, they must want to do so first. If you want to change things about yourself and address problematic behaviors, you can seek guidance from an e-therapist. Online therapy gives you the support and advice needed to achieve change.

Kate Skurat

Kate Skurat

Licensed Mental Health | Washington, United States

Kate has a B.S. in Psychology and M.A. in Clinical Psychology from Pepperdine University and has worked in healthcare since 2017. She primarily treated depression, anxiety, eating disorders, trauma, and grief, as well as identity, relationship and adjustment issues. Her clinical experience has focused on individual and group counseling, emergency counseling and outreach. Read more