Friday, August 29, 2008

How Much Can a Personality Change?

I was thinking this morning about how much my outlook toward life has evolved over the last year. I feel calmer, more patient, less judgmental of myself and others, more accepting and less controlling when interacting with the people and experiences in my life, and just generally more at ease with the world and myself. I also have more energy and a greater capacity for social activities than previously. I've had dinner or lunch plans just about every day for the past week, and not only did I honor each and every one of those engagements, but I also did not feel wiped out by them. This is highly unusual, because typically if I have a dinner date for even one night, I need at least a two- or three-day recovery period during which I stay home and read books. Thinking about how differently I'm going through my life these days made me wonder if maybe my entire personality is changing, so I spent the morning pondering this topic and doing some "research."

Last year at about this time I took a personality type test based on the Myers-Briggs personality type theory. The instrument that I took pronounced me an INFJ (introverted, intuitive, feeling, judging) personality type. I identified with this label immediately. When I read the INFJ description, which was titled "Counselor-Idealist," I found myself continually nodding "yes" and saying "that describes me perfectly." INFJs are purportedly the rarest of the 16 Myers-Briggs types, and that also really resonated with me because I feel like such a misfit so much of the time. I recognize that personality typing tools are just one of many methods for assessing personalities, and also that all such tools have their limits. However, I nonetheless felt that this particular test had nailed me pretty accurately, and I also understood myself and the people around me a bit better after having read about Myers-Briggs personality typing more generally.

This morning I found myself curious to see whether all the changes I've made during my "Year of Healing" (which is what I like to call my time away from the workforce), were enough to alter my Myers-Briggs result. I mean, am I still an introvert if I can go out 5 nights out of 6 and actually feel really good afterward? Am I still an intuitive-judger if I am more detached, open, and compassionate and less rigid in my conclusions? I just took the same version of the Myers-Briggs type test that I took last year, and I got the same result as before. Not only am I still an INFJ, the "strength measures" associated with each of the four letters remained almost exactly the same.

I was only partially surprised by today's result, because I feel that on some fundamental level I basically am the same person as ever. At the same time, however, there are many ways in which I think and feel much differently than I have in the past, and I strongly suspect that some of the people who know me would report that they perceive significant differences, too. I therefore still found myself wondering if, in spite of the consistent Myers-Briggs results, there were some sense in which my personality actually had changed over the last year.

I guess that the question of whether and how much a personality can change ultimately boils down to what "personality" really is, anyway. The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary that I typically consult on such matters has a lengthy definition, one part of which is, "The assemblage of qualities or characteristics which makes a person a distinctive individual; the (esp. notable or appealing) distinctive character of a person." But what does that definition really mean, anyway, and how much of whatever fits that definition is hard-wired into us vs. subject to changes of our own making? These are the kinds of questions that I could puzzle over for hours and still not have satisfying answers. At the moment, however, it seems to me that maybe the answer is something like this:

Maybe there's some core in each of us that deals with how we take in and process information and what we do to find energy (this is what I think the Myers-Briggs test measures), and that core has been there for so long that we probably won't, and maybe even can't, change it. However, even if our basic processes remain the same, we can let those processes take us to new and different places all the time if we choose. We can be "the same" in terms of wiring, but we have a wide range of choice when it comes to using that wiring to eradicate and cultivate various traits and thought patterns. Maybe that is why my personality type, at least as measured by Myers-Briggs, will not ever really change, but my experience of the world, and my comfort level in it, hopefully will continue to deepen and broaden over time.


Reya Mellicker said...

I can't remember who said it but one of my favorite quotes is about how people do not change, we only become more revealed.

Personal work brings me ever closer to my core. Maybe that's the same experience you're having? Or not!

You've had an awesome year of exploration and discovery. I salute you!

Barbara said...

I have found the Myers-Briggs test to be quite accurate. I'm an INTJ. When I supervised 30 people, I had everyone take the test. We interacted so much better with each other once we knew exactly what we were dealing with. I concluded it's impossible to change those 4 letters!

You and I are a lot alike it would seem -- both Capricorns with a love for classical music and good books. Do you play an instrument?

Adrianne said...

Barbara! I love your blog and am delighted that you read and commented on mine! I think that we actually met once at Las Placitas, when I joined Reya and some of her "blog kin." It's good to get reacquainted in the blogosphere.

As for your question: I tried the flute once in the 5th grade, and that was a disaster (I didn't practice). Then I tried the electric bass in the 8th grade, when I had spiked hair and wore "parachute pants" (a brief 1980s fad that thankfully has never come back around). I was actually OK at that, but it went the way of all teeny bopper phases and didn't last very long. Now I just listen, but my Walter Middy fantasy is to be an opera singer. Perhaps I should start with singing lessons at CHAW?

Do you play an instrument? Also, do you write professionally? Your blog is always such a joy to read.

Barbara said...

Adrianne -- Wow! I do remember meeting you at Las Placitas. I'm not used to so many compliments. And I'm always surprised to find I have readers I didn't know about. My Blog is just a hodge-podge of my life, but it has been a wonderful outlet for my emotions and experiences. You are getting hooked as well, I can tell!

I know a wonderful opera singer who lives on the Hill and teaches voice lessons if you decide to pursue your dream of singing. Music is just about as great an outlet as writing.