This might be the secret to changing your personality

New year, new me?

Changing your personality is an actual possibility. Past studies have shown that by having a focused direction and making a behavior change, your outlook on life can turn into something different.

Whether you’re trying to be more open or want to be more cooperative and polite with your coworkers, people can change but it’s not necessarily the easiest when it’s done alone, according to a new study.

In a study published in the Journal of Research in Personality, researchers at the University of Arizona wanted to find out if people could actively and intentionally change aspects of their personality at any time simply because they wanted to. Researcher Eric Baranski gathered up two groups — 500 participants from the general population and around 360 college students — for her study. Both groups completed a “Big Five Inventory,” which measures the big five personality traits:

  • Extroversion
  • Conscientiousness
  • Agreeableness
  • Openness to experience
  • Neuroticism (emotional stability)

From there, researchers asked each participant if they wanted to change any part of their personality. If participants answered yes, they were asked to write a description of what they’d want to change.

From both the general population and college student groups, there was a commonality: most people expressed a desire to increase extroversion, conscientiousness, and emotional stability. College students were surveyed six months later, while the general population group was asked to do the same a year later. Researchers discovered that neither group achieved the personality changes they expressed at the beginning of the study, but some actually went in a different direction.

So what actually changed?

Researchers said that while the general population group showed no signs of personality changes in both trials, participants in the college student group did, but not as expected.

The college student group either changed in a different direction than they initially expressed or picked up on different personality traits that weren’t initially planned.

Why college students changed coincides with where they are in life, according to researchers. At college, students are introduced to many different things since it’s a transitional phase in their life, where individuality starts to blossom as each student progresses into adulthood. College students who expressed the desire to be more conscientious were found to be less conscientiousness six months later, which according to Baranski, was because they had low levels of conscientiousness at the beginning of the study.

Additionally, the college students group also flip-flopped on their path to becoming more of an extrovert. Researchers said they showed an increase in agreeableness and emotional stability following the study.

“College students are thrown into this new environment, and they may be unhappy and may look within selves to become happier and change some aspect of their personality,” Baranski said. “But, meanwhile, there is a bombardment of other things that they’re told they need to achieve, like doing well in a class or choosing a major or getting an internship, and those goals might take precedence. Even though they know more sustained and introspective change might be better, the short-term effort is more attractive and more necessary in the moment.”

The study’s findings suggest that changing your personality might be too difficult to do on desire alone, but perhaps it can be done with the push of an outsider, such as a coworker, a friend, or even a daily reminding system.

“Across all the studies that have been done on this topic over the last several years, it’s clear that most people want to change an aspect of their personality,” Baranski said. “If left unattended, those goals aren’t achieved, so it would be helpful for people who have those goals to know what is necessary for them to accomplish them.”