Take a look in the mirror. What’s looking back at you? A unique mixture of openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeability and neuroticism – also known as the ‘big five’ of personality traits. 

For a long time, it was sort of accepted that once you hit adulthood, you weren’t capable of personality change – but recent research suggests that might be wrong. But before you start checking out those ‘change your personality in two weeks!’ online workshops, here’s Dr Christopher Hopwood, professor in psychology at UC Davis, with a dose of reality about what’s actually achievable when it comes to tweaking the complex creature that is you.

 1. Lessen your expectations. 

‘It's pretty hard to change personality – it’s not the case that if you just do something really simple for a short amount of time, you're going to be a different person. Don't set unreasonable expectations; don't think you're going to change a lot; don't think you're going to change quickly. If there's a job where an extrovert would be perfect and you’re a wallflower, that's probably just not the job for you. If, on the other hand, you think your sales could go up 50% if you were a little more polite, that's probably more manageable.’

 2. Narrow down your focus. 

‘The things most people want to change are obvious. People want to become less unhappy, more responsible, more able to exercise or sleep better or whatever. It’s really about what a person’s target is – but you have to make one subtle distinction. It’s not a case of: can I, an introvert, become an extrovert? Instead, it’s: could I become less introverted?’ 

 3. Treat it like a workout. 

‘It's a lot like exercise. If you want to lose weight or add tone, you have to go to the gym every day and change your diet. It's basically the same thing. People used to think you couldn't do that with personality. What we’re saying is that personality is a lot like health; you can improve. You can change the way that you are if you practise and sustain your practice.’

• Establish tangible goals that you’d like to achieve. What are they? How would you like to be different? 

• Figure out, and narrow down, what strategies you can use to practice towards that goal on a daily basis. 

• Follow through in practice.

A version of this article was published in the Courier Weekly newsletter. For more insights, analysis and inspiration, sign up here.

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