How to change your personality

1 Feb

Believe you CAN change your personality. Or your intelligence. Or your work habits. Or your prospects for success.

According to Carol S. Dweck’s research, believing is key. Dweck explored this concept in “Can Personality Be Changed? The Role of Beliefs in Personality and Change” in a keynote address to the 2007 Annual Convention of the Association for Psychological Science and a corresponding publication. A researcher in the Department of Psychology at Stanford University, Dweck’s work and that of her colleagues states “… much of personality is a flexible and dynamic thing that changes over the life span and is shaped by experience.”

Her research shows that acquired beliefs, such as “I am good at math,” play a critical role in how well people function. Some people’s beliefs in their qualities, such as intelligence or how they do at math, are fixed — that is, they can’t be changed. Other people have malleable beliefs, believing that these qualities can be developed through their efforts and education. In a 1999 paper, Dweck states “Research shows that people with a malleable theory are more open to learning, willing to confront challenges, able to stick to difficult tasks and capable of bouncing back from failures.” Research with college and junior-high students showed that when they thought their brains were nimble, flexible and capable of new learning — lo and behold, their brains were nimble, flexible and capable of new learning.

Bob Sutton boils Dweck’s conclusions down further: “When people believe they can get smarter, they do. But — and this is very important — when people believe that cognitive ability is difficult or impossible to change, they don’t get smarter.”

Our role as managers? Encourage malleability. Help our staff and peers see opportunities for change, growth and learning. Believe in our own abilities to change. If we believe that change can happen, a whole new realm of possibilities will open — personal, professional and societal.

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