So you think you have it all figured out. Why you do the things you do. How to play well with others. What your go-to place or activity is for recharging the batteries. You know yourself and have put your personality traits to the test enough times that you can use them to your advantage – and life is better for it.
And then life happens. A decade or two roll by. You swing into a new season or the next generation asks you for some words of wisdom and—strictly for fun—you retake a personality quiz.
“Know thyself,” Socrates recommends.
Only … hast thyself somehow changed? That can’t be right. You take the test again. Try a new version. Hmm. Can your personality traits drastically evolve over time? Are you changing on the inside as well as the outside as time marches on, and what would be responsible for it?
Science used to say our personality is fixed by the age of 30, but the latest research suggests our personality traits, much like our brain and body, evolve and expand in nuances throughout our lifetime. Here’s what that can look like and why it’s important to check in with yourself from time to time.
Is the older you still you?
Personality typing helps us negotiate ourselves and our place in the world around us. It’s useful for understanding and accepting the tendencies we each have in four key preference areas: Introversion or Extraversion, Sensing or Intuitive, Thinking or Feeling and Judging or Perceiving.
Knowing ourselves becomes predictable and even comfortable as we choose the same preferences time and again – when we act according to our type.
Until it’s not.
The Extravert finds herself craving more quiet time. The Introvert needs to join a club and fill some lonely hours. The Judger has softened his critical eye. The Feeler had to learn something the hard way and now leans heavily into Thinking when faced with similar decisions.
Life happens. And sometimes, it moves our personality scores from the ambiguous middle to a definite side of the scale. Or it slides us away from a strong dichotomy that used to define us and lands us somewhere centered.
It’s not typically a dramatic shift. An ESFJ is not suddenly going to become an INTP, for example. But they may find themselves leaning more towards Ambivert tendencies or their Intuition may have crept up in dominance to the point where a test sometimes scores them as ENFJ.
It’s not a change in personality, but a melding of who they are and how they’ve defined themself over time.
Nature or Nurture?
Early childhood education poses the question of whether a personality is formed more by genetics or more through the culture around us. Is our personality formed within or without?
The answer is both.
While a distinct personality is as encoded as your fingerprints, it’s malleable.
Most of us spend our lives adjusting to environments and situations. We form relationships of every kind. We strive toward dreams and goals. We get knocked down by failures we never saw coming.
If we live long enough, life is going to shape us. Depending where we land in the ever-shifting tides, we might find ourselves smoothed, polished, worn, angled, or even reshaped by these external influences. And so, our personality matures.
A lot of the time, we mellow with age
Many times, we have to struggle between individual preferences, group needs, and interpersonal relationships. And each time, our personality flexes. Both stability and change can cause us to stretch in growth, shrink in retreat, or learn and evolve.
The opposite can also be true. It is possible that the choices you make and the life you’re handed reinforce your behaviors.
A responsible, hard-working personality landing a good job that rewards his strengths in this area is going to have the traits reinforced continuously for years. You would expect the trait to remain firmly in place.
And studies also suggest that certain traits you’re born with, like warmth, a sense of humor, or being open to new experiences, remain consistent from young adult through old age.
Personality is a complex thing and it is hard to prove cause and effect over a lifetime of changes.
What if you’re looking for a character overhaul?
Can you deliberately change your personality? The traits that are automatic and enduring patterns of thought, feeling or behavior are just that: patterns. But if they are coded internally and shaped externally, then there must be—very gradually and in very small increments—a way to try.
A consistently critical personality might decide to become more charitable and tolerant. If a relationship is at stake, the goal is worth the work it will take to sidestep the harsher Judging tendencies and deliberately work for change. The positive reinforcement that followed would make the change attainable. Studies suggest that positive personality changes accelerate when people are leading meaningful and satisfying lives.
Counseling, therapy, meditation, journaling, creating new habits, or participating in classes or life-coaching are some resources used specifically for personality self-improvement.
Five areas of interest
While not every personality will change in the following areas, they are the most common evolutions to appear over time.
1. Being open to trying new things. If you’ve had a broad range of life experiences or a drive for personal growth, you develop a more curious and open-minded personality.
2. Emotional stability. The ability to manage and regulate emotions, anxiety, and insecurity tends to improve with practice over time. Emotional resilience, perspective, and strategies develop a more stable personality.
3. Agreeableness. Banish the cliché of the grumpy old man because social harmony, cooperation, and compassion begin to trump personal disagreements as old age approaches.
4. Assertiveness. Not to be confused with aggressiveness, individuals can gain self-confidence through life experiences and, over time, learn how to best communicate their needs and opinions effectively.
5. Social dominance orientation, or the preference for social hierarchy and the belief in inequality among groups, decreases with age, possibly due to increased exposure to diverse perspectives and changing societal norms over decades.
Congratulations! You’re still you!
It’s important to remember that trends in personality shift can still contain a significant degree of individual variation. Genetics, environment, life experiences and personal choices all go into the honing of our personalities over our lifetime.
Fundamentally though, our core personality type is very unlikely to change as we age. Instead, some personality traits gradually get more or less prominent over time… for the better. Like fine wine, your personality has matured with age and become polished, enhanced, and wonderfully nuanced.