Personality Isn’t Permanent, by Benjamin Hardy PhD

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“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” (George Bernard Shaw)

We have been led to believe that we are the way we are, and that this is immutable. That we must spend time uncovering our true selves – like hunting for nuggets of gold – on an endless hunt for clues as to our underlying innate identity. So we can finally classify our personality and ultimately determine a corresponding life path for us.

We’ve sadly, however, been led on a wild goose chase – we’ve been making life decisions based on an illusion. We are not here to discover some fixed and immutable truth about ourselves. Instead, our personalities are changeable – who we are today has been formed through habitual choices, trained by our environment and expectations. We become who we are through the goals we set and the experiences that shape us. Our purpose determines our personality, not the other way around.

So why not set ambitious goals that will stretch you far beyond your present self, and allow you to forge the person you truly want to be?


  • You have developed the habit of being your current self
  • Your personality is flexible not fixed
  • To change, focus on your vision of your future self, rather than your past.
  • It’s your story of the past, NOT THE PAST, that holds you back.
  • We remain stuck in the past for 4 main reasons
  • “Purpose trumps personality”
  • Choose a purpose far greater than your current personality and develop the attributes needed to realise it
  • Your purpose guides your identity, decisions and actions
  • Without a deep purpose, your personality will be based on avoiding pain and pursuing pleasure


  • Personality is defined as “the type of person you are, shown by the way you behave, feel, and think”. Personality traits include being helpful, adventurous or confident.
  • A personality test doesn’t accurately describe who you are.
  • Who you are now is likely different to who you were 15 years ago – people’s personalities change.
  • “There is no such thing as a personality type. Personality types are social or mental constructions, not actual realities.”
  • We all have different personas – how you act in one context can be different in another – you could be outgoing amongst family and quiet in a work setting.
  • How can 7.8 billion people in the world be defined and limited by a set of 16 personality types, for example?
  • “What would happen if you stopped boxing yourself into a category and opened yourself to the possibility of change?”
  • A 2015 study showed that personality can be intentionally changed through goal-setting and sustained personal effort. Research has also shown that “personality changes accelerate when people are leading meaningful and satisfying lives.”


  • Who you become is a choice – which only you can make.”
  • “It is our choices … that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” (Harry Potter)
  • “That’s the truth of personality. It’s not innate but trained. It can and does change.”
  • Your personality and attributes are flexible not fixed. You have been practicing at being who you currently are – and thus, your personality can change with a change in your perspective, with a loosening of attachment to your current identity. Knowing you can change is true freedom. Think of the story of Saul’s conversion to Paul or former criminals who turn their lives around. Becoming psychologically flexible is key to personal transformation – not being over-attached to your current identity or perspectives.
  • Said another way, we have developed the habit of being who we are today. And habits can change. We can develop a habit of confidence, of assertiveness, of patience, etc.
  • Our choices are more important that our present-day strengths. We are what we commit to.
  • The ability to choose is a fundamental freedom of life – the ability to choose so as to determine what happens and the ability to respond to what does happen. “The more you own the power of your own decision-making, the more your life and outcomes will be within your control”.
  • Choosing for ourselves can be a scary endeavour. Going against the norm or society’s standards involves risk. People often settle for being told what to do or go with the status quo – living a life by default rather than design. It’s an easier life to go with the flow, but perhaps a less fulfilling experience.
  • “Choosing one’s own way is a primary purpose of our lives. Yet there is a fear in making choices, because choices have consequences. As a result, people avoid making decisions, fail to choose their own way, and limit their capacity for growth, learning, and change.”
  • Understanding that you can choose yourself at any moment is freeing. You are where you are because of the choices you made in the past. You can be anyone you want to be. You do not need to be limited by the past.
  • Don’t let your past self call the shots. “What got you here won’t get you there.”
  • “Anyone who’s ever done something great with their life had to transform themselves from who they were to who they became.”


  • Having a goal – a purpose – helps you transform into a new person. It’s not the goal itself but who you become as a result of pursuing that goal – the new experiences you have in pursuit of that goal can see you birthing a more confident, committed person, for example.
  • Your purpose, not your personality, is the determining factor in what you can achieve.
  • When you think about setting a goal, focus not so much on the achievement of that goal (which will last a short moment) but who you get to become through the process of realising that goal.
  • Your personality should come from your goals. Your goals shouldn’t come from your personality.” Adopting the latter approach means you may limit what you can achieve based on who you are now.
  • The idea is simple: You have a purpose so big and inspiring that pursuing it transforms your entire life.” You choose to be extraordinary and then you develop the personality and attributes needed.
  • “If you’re unwilling to put yourself through emotional experiences, shift your perspective, and make purposeful changes to your behavior and environment, then don’t expect huge changes”.
  • Every behaviour is driven by a goal, whether that behaviour is unproductive or a healthy – it all seeks to fulfil an aim or goal or identity – the goal could be to gain attention by getting into trouble, to gain love by people pleasing, to stay safe by maintaining the status quo, to be healthy by exercising regularly.
  • Examine your behaviours to find out why you are exhibiting that behaviour – your why will reveal your overriding goal. Determine whether that goal is a goal you want. For example, why did you do everything you did yesterday? What outcomes were you seeking? Which behaviours, if removed, would free up more space and energy for what you ultimately want? It could be going to bed earlier, limiting procrastination.
  • To live a life with no regrets, spend your days on activities leading to meaningful goals.
  • Your job is to be a Keeper of the Vision– to be so inspired by that vision it drives you, energises others and causes you to adopt the needed behaviours and skills along the way to fulfilment of that vision.


  • Choose one goal rather than many, to maintain focus and enough momentum to achieve it.
  • Choose the one goal – your mission – that enables you to become the person that can achieve all other goals. That allows you to improve all other areas of your life.
  • Your results are a sign of your commitment, not just what you say you are committed to.
  • Don’t settle for lower expectations or a lesser future self. “We are kept from our goal not by obstacles but by a clear path to a lesser goal.” (Robert Brault)
  • “Goals don’t become realities without constant reminders”. Write your goal down, reverse engineer the actions needed to realise it, and review progress daily or weekly.


  • There are four main reasons why people stay stuck and trapped in their past.


  • Past trauma keeps people stuck in the past – the trauma needs to be reframed. 
  • “What currently prevents your dreams from becoming reality is buried trauma keeping you trapped in your past, shutting down your confidence and imagination.”
  • Being traumatized means continuing to organize your life as if the trauma were still going on.
  • That trauma can be a life altering event, but can also be in minor incidents and in comments and conversations that have given you a limited view of yourself.
  • To avoid the pain of the past, we create a pseudo-personality with coping behaviours rather than our desired one.
  • “When our trauma is unresolved, we stop moving forward in our lives. We become emotionally rigid and shut off, and thus stop learning, evolving, and changing. As such, our past becomes rigid as well, and our memory persists in an unchanging and painful way. By continually avoiding our past traumas and the emotions they create, our life becomes an unhealthy and repetitive pattern.”
  • “Trauma destroys your confidence. People often have very limited goals due to unresolved trauma.
  • Like a thorn in the arm, if instead of facing up to the pain to pull it out, you avoid it – you cover it up with a bandage to protect it, you sleep in a particular way to avoid touching it, you avoid sports to stop it from being hurt. You rearrange your life around the thorn – instead of facing up to it, transcending the fear and pain to remove it, which will allow you to create the life you truly want.
  • “Rather than creating the life we want, we build the life that allows our problems to exist unresolved.”
  • What goals are you pursuing to avoid dealing with your trauma?
  • The trauma needs to be faced to be transcended.
  • Learn to reframe any negative experiences by seeing how they have helped you become who you are today – a stronger person, more compassionate, etc.
  • An outsider – seeing things from a different perspective – can help you reframe your experience.
  • Transforming trauma is ultimately about rebuilding trust.
  • “Trauma is not what happens to us, but what we hold inside in the absence of an empathetic witness.” Don’t keep your pain inside of you and commit to a lesser future because you are too scared to face it. Because you are trying to be too strong. Find an empathetic witness who can free you by allowing you to express and reframe your experiences. And free you to pursue your desired future self.
  • It takes courage to be honest and “naked” with others. Your empathetic witnesses can also take the form of accountability partners who hold you to account to make sure you stay on track towards your goals. Don’t underestimate the power of an accountability group to aid you towards your goals, to help you overcome the failures and emotions along the way.
  • “The bigger the dream, the more important the team.” (Robin Sharma)
  • All growth toward big goals and important work is emotionally taxing. Don’t go it alone. Have a team you can huddle around when you’re fried, torn, burned out, scared, or broken.”


  • People remain held back because their identity narrative is based on their past selves and not on the future.
  • “If you’re still angry with your parents for your childhood, for example, this speaks more to who you currently are than what actually happened in your childhood. To continue blaming any person or event from the past makes you the victim, and reflects more on you than whoever or whatever it is you’re blaming… It isn’t the contents of your past that need changing, but how you view them today.”
  • How would your life be if you never again blamed or limited yourself and your future based on the past?
  • How would your life be different if your past was something happening for you rather than to you?
  • If you need help get help. “Many people come to believe the best way to deal with hard experiences is by burying their emotions and fighting a silent battle, alone.” Instead seek help.
  • Every time you face your past, you change it. Every time you face your future with honesty and courage, you become more flexible and mature. You build confidence, which enhances your imagination.”
  • Choose not to remain stuck, trapped by an identity perspective of a past self. Instead choose to expand the meaning of your past that allows you to change and evolve to a more healthy future self.


  • People remain stuck in the past because their subconscious patterning is wired in such a way that it keeps them acting consistently with their former self and emotions.
  • To become a new person – your future self – your subconscious needs to be transformed.
  • To do so you must stretch yourself to surpass your current normal, in order to create a new sense of normal for you.
  • Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. said, “A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions”.
  • You must adopt behaviours and engage in peak experiences that dramatically shift your expectations and sense of identity.
  • Wishful thinking and occasional visualisation won’t cut it.


  • People remain stuck because their environment supports the continuation of their current self, rather than the formation of a new identity.
  • Your social environment is either triggering and supporting your former self or it’s promoting your future self. If your goal is to lose weight, removing the junk food that triggers your old unhealthy eating habits is a way of changing your environment to one that helps supports the emergence of your future self.
  • What kind of environment(s) can help you craft a new identity with new behaviours and motivations to create the future you want?
  • “You must learn to make your environment match your desired outcomes.” Be strategic about your environment.
  • EXAMPLE The artist Whistler refused to sell his finest painting – he was strategic in this choice – he wanted to keep it as a reminder of what he could expect from himself. Similarly, you need to create an environment that continually activates your future self. Particularly as life gets busy – it becomes easy to forget your future self.
  • Fill your environment with transformational triggers.
  • Look at the environment you have created around you. Think about the spaces you inhabit. What do they trigger or inspire in you? “Are you still hanging on to concert posters from college? … Does your environment push you forward or pull you back?”
  • Having awareness that you can easily be swayed can help you to pre-commit to your future self. By setting up supportive environments, people and structures that keep you focused on your goal. Rather than relying on willpower in the moment.
  • Perhaps you need an environment that keeps you shielded away from the social pressures and distractions of the rest of the world. This is strategic ignorance. “It’s your filter for ensuring that only the right … things reach you.”
  • The author found himself inspired to a new future self in an environment “where no one knew my backstory [nor] kept me trapped in their perceptions of my former self”.
  • Heptathlete Katarina Johnson-Thompson talks about making the choice to change environments to achieve her dream of winning the World Championship. “I had to move coach. I had to move country, I had to learn a new language and settle in. I tore everything up and started again and it’s worked.” She had to make changes and decisions to create a supportive environment that would allow her to realise her desired results.
  • A dramatic change in environment isn’t always needed. Sometimes all that is needed is a change in what you focus on in that environment. Particularly when you aren’t able to change your environment or conditions. We will see this more clearly in the next example.
  • PRISON TO HARVARD EXAMPLE Andre Norman spent 14 years in prison before going on to study at Harvard University and dedicating his life to helping other people. His journey shows the true power of purpose. Initially his purpose was in his trumpet, but he made a choice to give up playing the trumpet in order to fit in with “the cool kids”. His association with these children and the environment he engaged in led to new choices –  he dropped out of school (it no longer supported his new chosen identity goal) and began to fully engage in criminal behaviour, matching the persona of his social group. He ended up in prison. Andre realised that his decision to quit playing the trumpet led to some negative consequences. “Bad people don’t go to prison … Quitters do”. In prison, he adopted behaviours in order to survive and soon chose a goal of being the top of the inmate hierarchy, engaging in violent behaviour to become ever more feared and powerful. Until one day, it hit him just how meaningless his life had become – he was investing in violent behaviour to become the top of what exactly? To achieve an utterly meaningless status. From that day onwards, he began to think seriously about his life and realised he needed an entire re-plan. “He needed a new goal.” Merely getting out of prison – being free – would not be enough – would not be a big enough goal for him to truly change.  “Seventy-five percent of people who leave prison come right back. Lessons are repeated until they are learned.” So instead he decided to become a successful member of society and asked himself “Where do successful people come from?”. He determined that they go to college, so he reasoned that he needed to go to the best college of all – Harvard. It took him another 8 years to get out of prison – but he achieved his goal – he went to Harvard. His new purpose of attending the best university in the land reshaped his identity, decisions and behaviours – it pulled him forward to a new future self and away from his past self. “When the why is strong enough, you can get yourself through and do any how.” Andre taught himself how to read and write, he taught himself law, and he learned how to manage his anger. He gained a new mentor. “Andre’s new goal created a new lens, allowing him to see himself and his environment differently. He stopped noticing all the negative forces around him and began focusing on the opportunities for progress toward his goal.” In 2015 he became a fellow at Harvard, an international public speaker, and helped others to overcome addictions and transform their lives for the better.
  • Through Andre’s journey we can see that his goal shaped his identity, his identity shaped his actions, and his actions shaped who he was and was becoming. This is how personality is developed.” His personality developed as a result of his goal – it was not the cause. Just as the systems and structures we build in the world flow from our overarching paradigms, your primary intentions and goals shape your identity, personality and behaviour.
  • Most people, however, don’t take the time to be intentional – they instead spend their time reacting to life events and social pressures, and develop a personality and behaviours in reaction to external pressures – in a sense, developing a personality as a coping mechanism. Their life “isn’t intentionally designed. It isn’t questioned. It isn’t chosen”.
  • “When you’re intentional about where you’re going, then you can become who you want to be.”
  • “You are the product of your culture and context”, unless you intentionally choose not to be. Context shapes your personality – if you had been borne into a different age, country or culture – you’d be a different person with different experiences, beliefs, memories. This is similar to the concept that “Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets”. You must realise the power of your environment over you before you can transcend it.
  • The people you associate with also shape your personality and identity. “You engage in behaviors that match the culture of your group.”
  • This shows that given the right environment, people can change – IF THEY WANT TO.
  • What we really want is enough challenge to grow and the right network and environment to support us on our journey.


  • “If your view of your own past hasn’t changed much over recent months or years, then you haven’t learned from your past experiences and you’re not actively learning now.” You are still stuck due to one of the 4 reasons given above and need to tackle the one that is holding you back.
  • Similar to the way we collectively view history, our view of our past should change as we develop new perspectives and experiences. “Your past evolves as you evolve.” “History is constantly being altered and revised based on who’s telling the story.”
  • In the same way our memories of the past shift through the new lens and perspective we see it through – leading us to focus on different aspects of the past and reframe the story we tell ourselves. Our mind is like a filing cabinet, sorting and rearranging parts of our story, and developing new connections to transform the memory we have of the past, hopefully to one that better serves the development of a new healthier future self.
  • Therefore, “it is more accurate to say the present causes the meaning of the past, than it is to say that the past causes the meaning of the present”. Our memories are subjective and fluid, rather than being stored and objective entities – they are living and breathing – and change as we change.
  • “It isn’t actually our past that is impacting us, but our present interpretation and emotional attachment to that past.”
  • “An unchanging past is a sure sign of … an avoidance of facing the truth and moving forward in your life.”
  • “What would happen if you stopped trying to be “authentic,” and instead faced the truth of why you’re limiting yourself?”
  • Don’t stay stuck in a story of your limited self.


  • Becoming more emotionally engaged in your vision of your future self makes it easier to move towards your future and away from your past and current constraints.
  • People who change, who transform themselves are no different to anyone else – it’s just that they refuse to be defined by their past – they are consumed by their vision of the future and keep fuelling that future.
  • Elon Musk is a great example of a person who embodies the future. He has been speaking of travelling to Mars for years and yet still, human travel to Mars is not yet a possibility. But this doesn’t stop him telling that story – because that story – that purpose “[shapes] his identity, actions, and decisions”. “Whatever you think of him, Elon Musk is focused on where he is going as a person, and it’s entirely in his future, not his past. His attention, energy, and narrative are based on the future he’s creating. You don’t hear him talking about “the PayPal days.” You don’t see him limited by what he’s previously done or failed at. You don’t even hear him mention the past unless he’s explicitly asked about it.”
  • “This is how successful people live: They become who they want to be by orienting their life toward their goals, not as a repeat of the past; by acting bravely as their future selves, not by perpetuating who they formerly were.”
  • If you are driven by a vision of the future, your 2021 should look different to your 2020. What is normal for you in 2021 would make you feel uncomfortable in 2020 – because you have challenged yourself, because you have stretched yourself beyond your perceived limits.
  •  “Anyone who isn’t embarrassed by who they were twelve months ago isn’t learning enough.” (Alain de Botton, British philosopher)


  • “It’s best to decide and act from the vantage point of your desired circumstances, not your present ones.”
  • ““Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they’re finished.” Human beings have a weird way of thinking that who we are in the present moment is the “arrived,” “finished,” and “evolved” version of ourselves.”
  • Your present and future self aren’t the same person.
  • Your future self can become a person who is more limited than your current self – your future depends on the choices you make now. Adopting unhealthy behaviours or bad habits affect who you become in the future. Even seemingly small choices , like going to bed late or having an extra drink, if done regularly and consistently can compound over time and lead you to problems in the future you did not see coming – because the impact seemed so insignificant each time you chose the action.
  • “Your vision of where or who you want to be is the greatest asset you have. Without having a goal it’s difficult to score.” It’s like trying to steer a boat with no destination – you remain aimless. Without a purposeful goal your personality will not grow in a healthy direction.
  • To be continually successful you need to be continually chasing a future self, not defining yourself by the past – whether they be past accomplishments or past failures.
  • “When your “status” becomes more important than your “growth,” you usually stop growing.” (Dan Sullivan, Strategic Coach). You may end up trying to protect that status by avoiding failure – you stop growing and plateau.
  • Imagination is more important than knowledge.” (Albert Einstein)
  • Write in your journal as your future self from their perspective, to help you get into the emotion and vision of you in the future.
  • “What types of freedoms, choices, circumstances, experiences, and daily behaviors does your future self engage in?” What is the day-to-day life of your future self like?
  • Tell the story of your future self. Then become the author of your story.


  • Your expectations of yourself change who you become.
  • A 1979 study found that a group of men who were told to act as if they were 20 years younger, and were asked to live in an environment reflecting the lifestyle and design of two decades earlier, actually started to act as if they were younger. “They literally got taller. There was noticeable improvement in their hearing, eyesight, memory, dexterity, and appetite.”
  • It’s not age that determines the personality of a person. It’s that as a person ages they generally stop engaging in new environments and experiences. “People’s personalities become increasingly consistent because they stop putting themselves into new contexts”. Your personality is not fixed – it’s that your environment has become routine and societal expectations have locked you into habitual patterns.
  • Knowing that developing a vision for your future self is more challenging as you get older can help you overcome frustration or resistance to this activity. “It’s harder to imagine the future we want than to remember the past we’ve lived through. Imagination is a skill to be developed, one that few adults truly master. Instead, adults become less creative and imaginative as they age and increasingly fixed and dogmatic in their narrow viewpoints.”
  • Thus, your exposure to new experiences and new ways of being can be so much more powerful than your current skillset and attributes because with a growth mindset you can adopt the necessary attributes and leverage those of others in order to realise that future ambition. Your vision and hunger for that vision is vital.
  • “Your ability to make choices is limited by your context and knowledge.” What you are exposed either expands your awareness of options or limits them. Because it is the goals you set that determine who you become, and having a wide range of experiences and knowledge of different ways of living widens the pool for your goal setting.
  • Exposure is the source point for setting goals. “You can’t pursue something you don’t know exists”. Our goals therefore may reflect our current limitations, whether internal or external. “Whatever you’re pursuing right now is based on what you’ve been exposed to.”
  • Creating better goals—and thus designing a better future—requires learning more, changing your perspective, and opening yourself up to something new.”
  • “Those who become successful constantly expose themselves to new things. They travel, read books, meet new people. They prize education and learning … They happily shatter their current paradigms for new and better ones—knowing that with better information, they can make more informed decisions. They can set better goals and aims for themselves. “
  • As you expand and change, your horizons should broaden, and your goals and behaviours should change as a reflection of this paradigm change.


  • You are “more likely to act yourself into feeling than feel yourself into action.” (Dr. Jerome Bruner, Harvard psychologist). It’s rare to feel like doing a task even if it’s good for you – like going for a run, or writing, or cleaning –  but once you start you develop a motivation for it. You just need to get started.
  • Put another way, action comes before the reward. Action comes before confidence. “You can’t have it first; it must come as a by-product of chosen and goal-consistent action.”
  • Passion and motivation are effects, not causes.”
  • “Wanting the passion first, before putting in the work, is like wanting to get paid before you begin a job. It’s get-rich-quick thinking and completely lazy… It’s like a spoiled rich kid who wants everything given to them. Passion is the prize, but you have to invest first.”
  • Similarly, you invest in your personality. Rather than it being innate, fixed in the past and unchangeable and something you discover, it is something created through your behaviours and actions. “Personality—like passion, inspiration, motivation, and confidence—is a by-product of your decisions in life.”
  • “Do you think Gandhi, Mother Teresa, or anyone else who has made a huge impact made their decisions based on their personality? Or did they make their decisions based on something much bigger, and then became who they were through their commitment to that decision?”
  • Confidence comes from making progress toward goals that are far bigger than your present capabilities.”
  • “Your confidence is something you must protect. You earn your confidence through intentional action toward meaningful goals … your confidence is based on who you’ve recently been.”
  • Stop looking for your personality. Choose it. Then allow that choice to transform you. Your personality “will adapt to the level of your goals and decisions, rather than your decisions and goals falling to the level of your current personality.” “It is often by taking opportunities or responsibilities above (or seemingly “unnatural” to) your skill level and experience that forces the greatest growth.”
  • “Purpose trumps personality”. “Without a deep sense of purpose, your personality will be based on avoiding pain and pursuing pleasure.”


  • “The path to happiness is about finding someone who you want to make happy, someone whose happiness is worth devoting yourself to.”
  • “Rather than marrying a person for who they currently are, it takes far more wisdom and discernment to marry for who you can see them becoming – their future self – and how they will enable you to become your desired future self. Will marrying this person enable you to do and be all that you truly want? And will you enable them to be all that they truly want?… Marry for aligned purpose, not personality. That purpose will transform both of you over time.”
  • “Developing a powerful relationship isn’t about “finding,” but collaboratively creating and becoming new people together, through the relationship. Both parties must adjust and change, becoming a more united whole that transcends the sum of the parts. If one or neither party changes for and through the relationship, then the relationship will be lopsided and will likely fail. High-quality relationships are transformational, not transactional. Often, the transformation is unpredictable and unexpected, as collaboration is a creative act.”
  • This could be applied to a work or other team – what “3rd entity” are you collectively creating together? Is it a worthy collaboration or unhealthy? Is everyone aligned towards the same goals?
  • “What would happen if you had hard but necessary conversations with the important people in your life?” In order to determine your joint purpose, and alignment towards creating what you each truly want in life?

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