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Personality is Dynamic, Not Permanent

Muhammad Ali famously said, “The man who views the world at 50 the same as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.” 

Muhammad Ali famously said, “The man who views the world at 50 the same as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.”  This makes sense to all of us because we’ve noticed our own perspectives and priorities change based on a number of factors including experience, stage of life, and more.  

We know we change as we grow up and grow older, but the truth is we change much more frequently than that. 

Quick Exercise:   Imagine walking into any busy environment.  A shopping mall, amusement park, a beach, office, etc.  Just quickly imagine walking in and watching all the people interacting with each other and the environment in predictable ways.  Men and women, young and old, happy and angry.  Take a full 10 seconds to witness a few quick interactions.


Obvious Realization:  None of those people are real.  Even if you imagined people you know, they are still just creations of your mind, existing only in your thoughts.  (I told you it was obvious)


Less Obvious Realization:  All those ‘people’ are being created and controlled - in real time - by your unconscious mind.  They exist only because you’ve made and maintained their image in your thoughts.  They instantly react differently than you would to any number of situations.  You are able to make all these people seem so real they can even trick you.  Like when you rehearse an argument and get worked up by the fight you engaged in all by yourself.


So What:  You just effortlessly demonstrated that your brain knows how to be lots of different people.  Children do this when they play ‘house’ or ‘cops n robbers’ and where empathy comes from.  To imagine yourself in someone else’s shoes and to shift your behaviors based on your understanding of that person’s role and priorities.   We do this all the time, and for some reason we don’t get credit for it.


The myth of a single, constant identity


A colleague of mine used to say, “I don’t expect people to do the right thing. I expect people to do what they think is in their best interest.”  People aren’t always generous and patient, nor are they selfish and short-tempered.  People behave in a way that they hope gets the desired outcome, and that means shifting strategies on the fly.


Personality profiling systems like DISC or Myers Briggs are useful because they recognize patterns in people and help extrapolate those patterns into a set of rules we can understand.  The problem is when a person believes the results of a multiple choice test reflects their real world personality in an unchangeable way.  It’s not just an excuse for bad habits, it means we expect people to only behave one way.  


We all shift our priorities, our behaviors, and our communication style based on the task at hand and the people around us. The circumstances and relationships at play have as much to do with your words and actions as anything else, and that needs to be accounted for.  You don’t act the same way when you are negotiating the terms of a car lease as you would teaching your kid to tie their shoes or ride a bike.  You don’t talk to your spouse the same way you talk with your boss during an annual review.  


Of course you interact with different people, in different environments, in different ways.  You aren’t a robot.


Quick Exercise #2:  Let’s pretend you are a robot, or a computer.  You don’t just run one program, you have dozens and dozens of different apps at your disposal.  The more versatility you have, the more you can accomplish.  So you develop a variety of tools that work under different circumstances.  


Obvious Realization:  Modifying your own behaviors and priorities is essential to getting what you want in any situation.


So What: The more we can recognize how and why a person is acting one way or another, the more we can identify their priorities, put ourselves in their position, and help everyone reach their desired goals and outcomes. is based on the idea that people don’t follow the rules.  People do the best they can based on their perspectives, priorities, and resources in any given situation.  Helping people understand themselves and others allows us to not only connect and understand each other better, it allows us to do a better job of helping each other.

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