One of the more common ways people hold themselves back involves the flawed belief that “we are who we are” and that “nothing we do can change our basic nature.” Philosophers refer to this world view as fatalism. Psychologists would simply call it self-defeating. This type of flawed reasoning is often seen in individuals who are experiencing a depressive episode or who have a personality disorder that makes them prone to thought distortion and/or self-sabotage.
Fortunately, science suggests this mode of thinking is as wrong as it is self-defeating. For one, scientific evidence shows that our personalities gradually improve over time. We tend to become more conscientious, more agreeable, less narcissistic, and more empathetic as we age. It’s part of the natural maturation process.
Even people who struggle to stay on the right side of the law tend to become more law-abiding over time. You might remember the famous Morgan Freeman speech in the movie Shawshank Redemption where he discusses whether he has been “rehabilitated.” Again, it’s common for people who have acted immorally in the past to achieve a higher level of self-awareness with age.
So don’t ever assume that your personality or life path is set in stone. Sure, if you’re an introvert by nature, you may never turn into the fun-loving extravert you sometimes wish you were. However, even when it comes to extraversion, research has found that we have a significant amount of control over how introverted or extroverted we choose to be. One study, for instance, gave introverts weekly challenges such as “talking to a complete stranger” or “introducing yourself to a group of people” over a 15-week period. They found that people who participated in the challenges became more extraverted over the course of the study.
Another recent study found that the introvert/extravert dichotomy is more complicated than previously thought. Yes, there are people who are true introverts and true extraverts. But there are also people who are “ambiverts,” or who vacillate between introversion and extraversion. And, there is another group of people called “other-contingent extraverts,” or those who may not be true extraverts but become extraverted when interacting with people they perceive to be non-threatening and friendly.
When it comes to personality, the famous Kurt Vonnegut quote rings true: “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”
There’s also evidence to suggest that simply adopting the mindset that we can change is enough to set us on a path to self-improvement. For instance, people who think that learning a challenging skill such as mathematics is something you either “have a knack for, or you don’t” tend to perform worse in math than people who believe it is a skill that needs to be practiced and that putting in the hard work will pay off.
Furthermore, there is a lot of research on the personality trait of “grit” and how important it is in predicting whether someone will achieve the things they want to achieve. Generally speaking, research shows that having a “can-do” and “ready to roll up the sleeves” mentality is more important in predicting a person’s success in life than other qualities such as how naturally intelligent or attractive someone is.
The point is that we all have an incredible ability to make positive changes in our lives. Self-improvement requires hard work and constant attention. But, with the right attitude, it’s within your power to become who you want to be.