We’re not static selves that must simply be discovered. We are dynamic beings capable of change.
Including our personalities.
This is the basic premise of Benjamin Hardy’s new book Personality Isn’t Permanent: Break Free From Self-Limiting Beliefs and Rewrite Your Story. I want to highlight some of the key ideas here and highly encourage you to check it out. It has totally changed the way I think about myself and my actions. I hope it will do the same for you. All the quotes that follow are from the book.
Personality Tests Can Be Dangerously Limiting
If you take the personality craze seriously, then you have already forfeited your ability to choose. You’ve handed over responsibility for both your past and future to something outside of yourself. Instead of seeking change, you’ve limited your potential for change.
Instead of focusing on what you can do to enhance your life, you’ve merely tried to discover or understand why you’re disabled or limited. Instead of improving yourself, you’ve submitted to simply accepting yourself for who you “really” are.
— Benjamin Hardy
Throughout the book, Ben constantly challenges the common assumption that our personalities are merely static and unchangeable. Many people see personality tests like the Enneagram or Myers-Briggs as tools that can accurately reveal who they are. While these tools can be helpful, they can also be very problematic.
Personality tests can help give us language to describe certain aspects of how we interact with the world at a given time, but it is a huge mistake to think that they somehow describe our inner-most being.
At best, personality tests pluck a small snapshot of our personality out of a torrent of change. If we aren’t prepared to hold that snapshot loosely, we can lock ourselves in and reinforce the results. The results of the personality test can actually shape and define our personalities. Without realizing it, we might start making decisions based on what our personality “type” can or cannot do well. We may avoid challenging ourselves in certain areas because that isn’t part of our personality profile. This doesn’t lead to growth and transformation. It leads to cyclical actions that keep us stagnant.
When you allow yourself to stop defining yourself as a certain “type,” such as “introvert” or “extrovert,” you become far more open. Your possibilities and choices expand. Your responsibility and agency in-crease. You can do what you want to do, regardless of how you currently see yourself.
— Benjamin Hardy
Our personalities are not embedded in our DNA nor granted at birth. They develop in response to our environment, experiences, and our conscious awareness. Everything we experience, and the way we internalize our experiences, contribute to our identity and personality.
I’ve long been a big fan of the Enneagram as a valuable tool for introspection and self-awareness. I experienced a lot of growth and healing by doing some work with the Enneagram because it helped put words to some of the things I was experiencing. However, after reading Hardy’s book, I realized that I was starting to let my Enneagram number define me. I’d tell myself I wasn’t naturally good at something because that is the nature of my number. I accepted that my Enneagram number was who I was.
Trying to discover your personality leads to inaction, avoidance of hard conversations, distracting yourself through consumption, and excuses for how you’re currently living. It puts you in the passenger seat of your own life. Instead, you can and should be the driver. You can be the creator.
— Benjamin Hardy
I can change. You can change. Everybody changes. All these personality tests do is categorize patterns of thinking and behavior — and give them a name. They can be helpful signposts, but they do not define our personality nor our inner-most being.
Ben’s entire book is precisely about how we enact that change and become the creators of our lives. It is about how we can start setting goals and working toward becoming our future selves.
Predictive Behaviors Aren’t What We Think
Yes, people’s behavior can appear to be, and often is, predictable and consistent over time. But the reason for that consistency is not a fixed and unalterable personality. Instead, there are four far deeper reasons, which keep people stuck in patterns:
• They continue to be defined by past traumas that haven’t been reframed.
• They have an identity narrative based on the past, not the future.
• Their subconscious keeps them consistent with their former self and emotions.
• They have an environment supporting their current rather than their future identity.
These are the levers that drive personality — and whether you realize it or not, you can control them. When you change, re-frame, or manage these levers, your personality and life can change in intentional and remarkable ways.
— Benjamin Hardy
There is a lot here but the central idea is that these levers drive predictive behavior, not necessarily our personalities. Once we understand these levers, we can explore how they might be limiting us or keeping us in undesirable cycles.
Consider each of the four levers through a change-oriented lens:
• Through journaling, meditation, and counseling we can reframe trauma so it no longer limits us.
• Setting deliberate goals and making decisions that our future self would choose can get us out of a past-oriented narrative and into a future-oriented one.
• While it can be difficult to change our subconscious, there are ways that we can start to train our subconscious mind to better serve our goals.
• We can make changes to our environments that support our new identity.
So while we can fall into predictive patterns due to these common levers, these levers can be managed and maneuvered in a way that facilitates growth and change.
The more aware we become of common pitfalls, the more proactive we can be about changing our relationship with those pitfalls to serve the ends we desire.
Trauma Can Freeze Our Development
The more painful the emotional experience, the more likely we are to bottle it up and internalize it. And with this emotional bottling comes a premature cognitive commitment and fixed mindset about who we are. Rather than emotions expressed and reframed, the past becomes something too painful to think about. The avoidance of that pain can create a lifetime of addiction in attempts to numb oneself to both the pain of the past and the pain of pursuing their desired future self.
— Benjamin Hardy
Many aspects of our personalities develop as ways to avoid pain. Think of the cynical friend who is always making self-deprecating jokes or poking sarcastic holes in everything. It is easy to just assume that is who they are but it is quite likely that they are avoiding some sort of pain. Maybe they had high hopes for something at one point in their life and it turned out to be a catastrophic failure. Or maybe a parent died or failed them somehow leaving them heartbroken.
Rather than face those things and deal with them, they adopted a sarcastic and cynical worldview as a way to avoid feeling the pain of disappointment again.
Or maybe someone steps out into the public sphere and experiences great shame and embarrassment. As a result, they become a shut-in and avoid new endeavors even though they are amazingly talented. It might appear that it is just their personality coming through, but they may actually be frozen by a traumatic experience.
Both of these examples can be reframed. A person’s parental disappointment might propel them into starting a non-profit or a career in counseling to help empower children with her same experience.
An embarrassing public experience can be harnessed as an inspirational or comedic story and be used as leverage to further develop one’s ideas.
When you begin proactively framing your narrative, it is incredibly powerful to shift what once was a “gap” narrative to a “gain” one.
For example, you may harbor negative emotions about something that happened to you in the past. You may view the experience for all that it cost or has done to you. You may be blaming your current circumstances on those former experiences.
But what would happen if you flipped the script on those experiences? What would happen if you proactively shifted your attention and began looking for the “gains” of such experiences? What would happen if you choose to reframe and retell those stories from an alternative perspective?
— Benjamin Hardy
It all comes down to how we choose to interpret our experiences. Our personality doesn’t determine how we process something. How we process something develops our personality.
Of course, this level of introspection isn’t always available to a young child but parents can help their children reframe their experiences in a more positive and empowering light.
Most importantly, no matter how we got where we are today, we can start working on becoming who we want to be. We can change the past so that it becomes a more empowering and life-giving story.
Re-remembering the past is about filtering your past through the lens of your chosen identity — your future self. How would a more evolved version of you view these events? How have these events enabled you to become who you are today?
You cannot change actual events, but you can change their meaning. A story that once held us in bondage can be retold and reframed so it becomes liberating and inspiring.
Growing up, I often felt left out and unnoticed. I don’t think I was, it was just a sort of persona I adopted (probably from a couple of normal childhood experiences that were mis-framed).
Many years ago, I was doing some inner work around that theme and was thinking about how I could reframe it so it wasn’t a limiting belief. I realized that growing up feeling unnoticed created a keen ability to notice others. I was always wondering who else was unnoticed and felt left out. I learned to see these people.
Now, instead of just harboring a limiting belief about always feeling left out and unnoticed, I think about how that experience gave me a sort of superpower. I feel like I have a keen ability to see people on the margins and to help them feel included. Now I feel like that experience is a gift that I can use to better my own life and hopefully the lives of others.
Through some deliberate inner work, I was able to change my past and become someone new.
Be Defined By Your Future, Not Your Past
Life starts taking on a whole new meaning when you begin thinking of your future self right now, and consider what they will want.
Rather than making decisions based on your current identity, you could begin making decisions your future self would love and appreciate.
It’s your responsibility to set your future self up for as much opportunity, success, and joy as possible. This is how you become the person and create the life you want, rather than becoming someone with regret.
— Benjamin Hardy
This is where the rubber hit the road for me. So many of my thoughts are past-oriented. I think about what I can’t do because of some aspect of my past. Or I assume that since my past has yielded certain results, my future will yield about the same.
I hadn’t really thought about making decisions based on the person I wanted to be. It has been a game-changer for me.
In my head, my future self is Lance 2.0. So sometimes when I’m faced with a decision or a specific task I’ll ask myself, “What would Lance 2.0 do?”
It is cheesy and feels silly but I admire and respect my future self. I trust that Lance 2.0 makes better decisions and utilizes his time better. My current self might just allow an evening to slip away into random YouTube videos but Lance 2.0 would write an article or read a book. I want to be Lance 2.0 so I make that decision instead.
When you start filtering your decisions through what your future self would want and do, it puts a unique spin on them. It can give you the perspective you need to make a better choice. You end up drawn forward into something new instead of just emerging from the stuff of the past.
Our Goals Dictate Who We’ll Become
In order to become a new person, you must have a new goal — a purpose worth pursuing. Your goal is the reason you develop new attributes and skills, and have curated transformational experiences. Without a meaningful goal, attempted change lacks meaning, requires unsustainable willpower, and ultimately leads to failure.
— Benjamin Hardy
In other words, if you remain the same “you” who just happens to go on a diet or a workout binge for a month, chances are you’ll eventually revert to the same old “you”. To enact long-term change you need a new vision of yourself. You have to become a new person. You have to develop a new personality.
I know this can sound formidable, but it is possible and it is honestly the only way to enact lasting change. The individual who finally loses 40lbs and kicks their medications has literally become a new person. If they were the same person they would still be 40lbs heavier and still on medication. We change all the time and becoming a new person doesn’t have to be as hard as it sounds.
It all starts with a goal and a vision for who we want to be. You cannot arrive at a specified destination if you do not know where you are going. The vision creates the path. Once you have a path you can start walking it.
You cannot have motivation without a goal. Research also shows you cannot have “hope” without a goal either. The more clear and definable the goal, the more direct the path and process. As you develop skills, knowledge, and move toward your goal, you’ll develop the confidence that you can execute and succeed.
— Benjamin Hardy
Ben is an avid journaler. Inside the cover of all of his journals, he lists his short-term and long-term goals so he can review them every day. This allows him to always feed his mind and thoughts with who he wants to be and who he is becoming. How many of us review clear and defined goals for our lives daily? Weekly? Monthly? I know I don’t and this was a big takeaway for me.
We have to constantly remind ourselves of who we are becoming in order to guide our decisions and actions.
This doesn’t mean you must become a workaholic or a productivity hound. One of your goals might simply be to meditate for 20 minutes a day or go for a walk 3 times a week. Your goals are your own to set and envision. The important thing is that you are moving from where you are to where you want to me. Without clear and defined short-term and long-term goals, you simply do not know where you are going — and will never arrive.
You will only be able to control your time and yourself when you truly determine what you want for yourself. Your goals must be consciously chosen and then fiercely pursued. Spending your days on activities leading you to something incredibly important, something you truly value, is how you live without regret.
— Benjamin Hardy
Becoming the New You
In order to solidify your new identity, you need to begin acting in alignment with that new identity, rather than acting in alignment with your former self. Psychologists have a term for this — self- signaling, which means that our actions signal back to us who we are. We judge and measure ourselves by our actions. If you change your behavior, your identity will begin to follow suit.
The more we lean into our new identities, the more they are solidified. Admittedly this is difficult because it feels like we are putting the cart before the horse, but we cannot obtain a new identity through thought alone. Our actions create our identity.
I think the language we use can be helpful here. For example, instead of telling myself that I need to do a workout or that I need to exercise, I tell myself that I am the type of person who maintains a healthy and active lifestyle.
The latter is the new identity that I’m leaning into. The person who just wills himself to exercise every once in a while is the old self that doesn’t serve my goals.
It also helps to remember that our bodies are sometimes chemically addicted to certain emotions. When we find ourselves gravitating toward habits and actions that are not in service of our goals, it can help to remember that this isn’t our personality at play but a physiological response manifesting.
We do various things out of habit or addiction. The reason we subconsciously engage in repetitious behaviors is because our body has become addicted to the emotions that our behaviors create. The emotion is a chemical relayed and released throughout the body, recreating the homeostasis that is the physical body.
This is why overcoming an addiction is so difficult. Addiction isn’t merely a mental disorder. It is physical. In order to change your addiction, you literally need to change your biology. You need a future self with a new identity, a new story, new environment, and new body.
— Benjamin Hardy
Sometimes when I’m tempted with a habit or action that I know isn’t in service of my new self or goals, I think about it as a mere chemical response taking place in my body instead of a reflection of my identity. It helps me push through and stay focused on the changes I want to make.
Before I read Ben’s book, I was struggling with how to make lasting changes in my life. It is a never-ending endeavor to be sure, but I felt like I kept trying new things only to come back to the same old “self “— and that self wasn’t helping me reach my goals.
I feel like I’ve been liberated from the idea that my personality dictates what I can and cannot do — or what I can and cannot be good at. I’m gaining a clearer sense of who I want to be and I have tools to help me walk the path to get there.
Ben has loaded Personality Isn’t Permanent with excellent introspective questions to work through in your journal (one of Ben’s most recommended tools).
Now that I’ve read the book, I look forward to going back and doing some more work with the content and recommended practices. I want to start journaling regularly and writing down my goals where I can review them daily. Again, without goals, there is no clear path ahead and we can never expect to get to where we want to go.
Ben’s whole point is that we can change. Our personalities are not permanent. I think this book will change the way you think about yourself, your future, and your past.