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Holly Richardson: Don’t think your personality is permanent

This image released by Disney shows Yifei Liu in a scene from "Mulan," opening July 24. (Disney via AP)

I am an ENFP (Myers-Briggs), a Red (Color Code), a type 8 Challenger, type 2 Helper and a type 7 Enthusiast (Enneagram).

I’m a NAKB - Nurturing/Action/Knowledge/Builder (BankCode, a system developed by my sister, Cheri Tree), Dominant/Supportive (DISC assessment) and my top five strengths are Strategic, Input, Belief, Responsibility and Ideation (Strengths Finder).

Perhaps most importantly, the Disney princess I am most alike is Mulan, strong-willed, assertive and able to fight my own battles.

Those traits, though, are today’s traits. They certainly did not define the painfully shy little girl who would rather die than rock the boat. (And, let’s be honest, no one’s seen that person in a while!) As a child, my “color” might have been defined as Blue, “heart-centered and relationship-based” and my Disney persona was Belle, as you could often find me curled up with a good book somewhere.

So why am I telling you this? Because we have become socialized to believe that personality is permanent and tests like the ones above can reveal the “real” us. The truth is, however, that personality is not fixed, nor permanent — and thank goodness!

Benjamin Hardy’s new book, “Personality Isn’t Permanent,” goes in depth on why it isn’t — and why it’s good news for the rest of us.

I’ve been a fan of Hardy’s work for a while. He’s an organizational psychologist, a prolific writer on Medium and the author of “Willpower Doesn’t Work.” He’s also the dad of three children adopted through the foster care system and surprise twins the same year. True story.

Hardy opens his latest book with a story of how a personality test almost ruined his life. When he was courting his wife, a Red — a “go-getter driven by ambition and self-interest” — she and her parents were worried because he was a White — introspective and often passive. They were very concerned that the two colors were incompatible and that the relationship should not continue. Lauren and Ben decided to give it a go anyway and are now happily married with five kids.

Despite the pervasiveness of a “fixed personality” paradigm, recent research finds that more nine out of 10 of us want to change something about our personality. Not too surprising, really.

What I found really fascinating was the research out of Harvard that surveyed 19,000 people. Researchers asked about the changes people had made over the last decade and the changes they expected to make in the coming decade. What they found was, that no matter the age group, from teenagers to retirees, people felt that they had “arrived.” They had made the growth that they were going to make, with few changes to anticipate in the coming decade. And, unironically, they predicted little future change, while also noting the large amount of personal change that had occurred in the previous decade.

What this means for all of us is that we will not be the same person a decade from now as we are today. Change is inevitable — and we can be purposeful about who we want to become. Far too often, we overestimate what we can get done in a day or a week, but underestimate what we can do in a year or five or ten. Ten minutes a day times 365 days becomes 60 hours a year spent working on a trait — or multiple traits — we would like to change.

Like Viktor Frankl, Hardy believes that “Choosing one’s own way is what makes one human — and the more you own the power of your own decision-making, the more your life and outcomes will be within your control.”

Do you want to be a better listener? More compassionate? More outspoken? A more deliberate action-taker? More spontaneous? You can be. Set your sights on who you want to become and get started. Hardy’s book will help you know how.

Holly Richardson

Holly Richardson is a regular contributor to The Salt Lake Tribune.

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