In the quest to become better versions of ourselves, billions of dollars are spent every year on self-improvement books, seminars, and coaches. Yet with all this effort allocated towards changing our personalities, how much thought has gone into whether we are actually able to change our personalities? Can resolve get us there or does it require the sorcery skills of Dr. Stephen Strange?
In the latest theatrical debut of a comic book character, Dr. Stephen Strange is a brilliant but egotistical neurosurgeon whose life changes after an accident robs him of the use of his hands. <Spoiler Alert> Strange becomes a practitioner of the mystical arts where he becomes the primary protector of Earth against magical and mystical threats.
Making the transition from a man of science to a Sorcerer Supreme takes a tremendous shift in the way a person thinks. By accepting his new role, Strange is making the conscious decision to curb his arrogance and find humility. Is this a personality change or acceptance of his new role?
A 2013 study found that students strategically choose extracurricular activities with the intention of heightening a particular characteristic, such as leadership, intelligence, or communication. A critic of this research, such as myself, would say that that these students are employing adaptive behaviors to build a skill set or boost self-esteem, which does not change their personality. A fan of this research, however, would say that this self-analysis is the first step towards making lasting personality changes.
Another study examined people who had a stated goal of changing their personalities. Over a 16 week period, these participants took part in goal-setting interventions designed to address whatever aspect of their personality they were interested in changing. Researchers asked them to come up with specific, concrete steps and generate an implementation plan with ways to react when facing challenging situations. They then took personality tests to measure growth over time. By the end of the experiment, they exhibited growth in the desired direction. As per my prior critique, I question whether the participants actually changed their personality; however, I do not dismiss that they are on the path to self-improvement.
In truth, I don’t know if you can change the core of who you are. This does not mean you shouldn’t strive towards developing and upgrading your skills. While I may dispute some of the research findings, I believe wholeheartedly that change is possible… not personality, per se, but you are capable of enhancing leadership skills, coping strategies, and decision making.
To experience sustainable improvements, we don’t need to undergo a global search of the mystical world like Doctor Strange. Begin with a personality assessment to form your baseline. Then, examine the gap between the baseline and your ideal self to formulate a concrete plan that will help you reach your goal. Reassess frequently, tweak the plan as needed, and become Self-Actualization Supreme.