Is It Possible To Change Your Personality? Some Scientists Say 'Yes'

Your ability to re-shape your most troublesome parts may be your greatest superpower.

Two fun women smiling with the sun behind them, wearing wild glasses Diana Indiana / shutterstock 

I wouldn’t be a therapist if I didn’t believe that people can change. Yet, too often, I meet those who preface their self-assessment with limiting phrases like, “I am…” and “I have always been…” followed by a declaration of their inability to change.  

These individuals may label themselves as stubborn, perpetually short-tempered or incapable of getting along with others. Sadly, the personality trait in question is often one that creates distress and failure for themselves or others. 


Personality is a fascinating subject that has intrigued researchers for years. They categorize individuals into different groups based on traits like openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism while recognizing that each individual has a unique blend of these traits. 

Their traditional and unqualified answer to the personality question is that if you were born an organized extrovert who is open-minded, agreeable, and prone to anxiety and ambition, you will generally trend in that direction. But where most people will retain the basics of their inherited personality, exciting new studies tell us that personality can change.


The concept of personality change is incredibly empowering as it suggests that we are not confined to the limitations of our past descriptions. It opens up a world of possibilities for personal growth and self-improvement.

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How people can rid themselves of undesirable personality traits

Consider the idea that you no longer have to be defined by anger, impatience, or any other undesirable traits that may cause friction with your significant other and those around you. The exciting part is that scientific research supports this notion. It affirms that new information and experiences, both intentional and unexpected, have the potential to bring about personality change.

It all begins with the understanding that our brains are composed of interconnected neurons that store and transmit information throughout our brain-bodies. When we encounter new information or gain fresh perspectives, our neural connections adapt, creating new pathways and shaping our realities. This means that we have the power to consciously shape our personalities and become the best versions of ourselves.


The mirculous power of brain plasticity

As early as 1900, a Spanish neuroscientist named Santiago Ramón y Cajal (1852-1934) observed that a new experience changed the connections between neurons, and fast forward to the present, the recipient of the Nobel Prize in The Physiology of Medicine in 2000, Eric Kandel (1929-present) says changes in synaptic connections between neurons contribute to learning and memory formation.

As an FYI, a neuron is a nerve cell responsible for sending messages in your brain-body and there are billions of these tracking our thoughts right this moment. 

So, your interpretation of each new experience is changing your personality one thought at a time. 


But you and I know that as we experience the heartache of miscarriage, the sting of betrayal, the agony of exclusion, and the crushing loss of hope, our thoughts undergo a profound transformation. In the midst of this turmoil, neurons ignite, forging new synaptic connections that shape our perception of the world.

With each passing day, as thoughts echo and neurons fire, we are engaged in a powerful act of self-creation and the crafting of a personality that’s changed so much, it’s new.  

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Life experiences can change your brain, too

I remember the summer of 1981, pregnant and separated, I blared Gloria Gaynor’s song I will survive and by the time I gave birth, I was no longer as nice, agreeable, or depressed. I had become a warrior, working long hours for my children’s survival. And one day, I stopped crying myself to sleep.


Like it or not, the harsh, exciting, and extreme circumstances of your life will change your personality enough that the people at your high school reunion may not recognize who you have become. And science agrees.

In a study titled "Personality Is Not Set By 30; It Can Change Throughout Life." the conclusion was that the demands of life will change you. This research project at the University of California, Berkeley, is significant because of its age range and size. (132,515 adults, ages 21-60).

This study provides hope that your teenage child will likely become more organized and disciplined as they join the workforce and want to get ahead and that nesting in their 30s will prompt warmth, generosity, and helpfulness, again, inspiring personality change. You and I can also expect to become more selective with our social circles as we get older. In addition to the personality change that just happens, there is also the change that we seek out.

Shaping your own personality changes 

Life has a funny way of throwing challenges our way, doesn't it? It's rare to navigate this journey without encountering a problem that truly gets under our skin.


Decide who has influence over your personality

Maybe it's that relentless mother-in-law who never misses an opportunity to make you feel like a failure. Or perhaps it's your boss, skilled in the art of gaslighting, who leaves you questioning your sanity. And let's not forget about the little master manipulator you call your child, molding you like putty in a builder's hands.

These people, whether intentionally or unintentionally, occupy a significant portion of your precious mental real estate. Their presence is not a pleasant one, and it's time to face the truth: it's taking a toll on you. The weight of their influence can be overwhelming, and you don't have to bear it alone. It is time to see a therapist.

Talking about the upsetting issue is a chance to vent, feel better, and hear that you are not alone, and you are okay. But real brilliance happens if you are across the room from someone who will help you change how you think and behave. Like it or not, our default thoughts are not always helpful and a change to something more positive, rational, and helpful can make all the difference. 

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Like the time I decided to stop thinking, “I deserve better”, I started noticing right away that I was happier and less entitled. My new thought was I get to and that made me feel grateful and opened my eyes to the wonder and awe around me.

Embracing this new perspective has had a profound impact on my personality, particularly in terms of generosity and contentment. But the exciting part is that I didn't stop there. I continued to fine-tune my thoughts and attitudes, determined to create a better family, work, and life experience, and a new me.

You see, I've discovered that our personalities aren't set in stone. They have the potential to evolve and grow. By actively working on myself, I've witnessed positive changes that have enriched my relationships and overall well-being. It's like unlocking a secret power that allows me to shape my destiny.

Have a growth mindset 

Another way you can change your personality is with an attitude change. No one says it better than Carol Dweck, who uses her book Mindset, to discuss how effort will adapt and shape you to accomplish so much more. In every area of our lives, relationships, work, personal creativity, our personality benefits from a ‘can-do’ attitude. 


Because it is possible to change personality, doesn't mean it is easy or that individuals routinely make personality adjustments. Your genes will account for approximately 40-50% of your innate preferences and family, culture, and life experiences play a significant role as well.

Remember that personality is complex and multi-faceted

Personality is a complex tapestry, woven from beliefs, habits, choices, experiences, goals, and the narrative of your life. It may seem daunting, but here's the exciting truth: you possess the power to shape and mold your personality into something extraordinary.

Don't underestimate the influence you have over your transformation. Challenge limiting beliefs, cultivate empowering habits, and make each choice with intention. Embrace a positive outlook on life, interpreting your experiences in a way that uplifts and inspires you. Set meaningful goals and pursue them with passion and determination. Above all, craft a captivating life story that reflects your values and aspirations.

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Reta Walker is a therapist who specializes in healing relationships. She offers one-on-one sessions, couples retreats, and courses to help couples get back on track.