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Personality Isn’t Permanent

Break Free from Self-Limiting Beliefs and Rewrite Your Story

By Benjamin Hardy, PhD
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Personality Isn’t Permanent by Benjamin Hardy, PhD

Personality Isn’t Permanent (2020) debunks the myths surrounding personality that get in the way of a life of personal growth, development, and success. The biggest misconception according to psychologist Benjamin Hardy is the notion that our personalities are innate and fixed. Correcting this error isn’t just a scientific advance, though – as we’ll see in these blinks, it also opens up a path to personal reinvention.

Key idea 1 of 8

Personality testing isn’t about science – it’s about making money.

How many types of people are there in the world? 

Well, that depends on who you ask. One of the best-known personality tests, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, identifies 16 different kinds of personality. Then there’s the Revised NEO Personality Inventory, which claims that there are six different personality types. Other tests say three, or thirty-three.

So why do the people who design these tests come to such radically different conclusions? Here’s the short answer: personality testing is pseudoscience. Because there’s no way of proving or disproving any individual theory, test designers can come up with any answer they please. Usually, that’s little more than a way of marketing their product.

The key message in this blink is: Personality testing isn’t about science – it’s about making money.

Take it from Merve Emre, the American author who literally wrote the book on personality testing. In her 2018 history of the industry, The Personality Brokers, Emre points out that the market for tests is worth around $2 billion. That’s a huge incentive for designers to pump out questionable tests and cash in on lucrative opportunities to “explain” the results they generate.

This isn’t a recent development, though. As Emre shows, the very origins of personality testing are steeped in pseudoscience. Myers-Briggs tests, for example, were developed in the early twentieth century. Neither Katherine Briggs nor her daughter, Isabel Myers, had a scientific background. In fact, they’d never so much as stepped foot in a lab.

Instead, the test was based entirely on Briggs’s personal experiences. After noticing that she and her husband responded differently to similar situations and that one of their children was much more shy than the other, she began to speculate on personality differences.

Myers and Briggs didn’t just identify different personalities, though – they also claimed that these were innate. The flip side of this idea was that you shouldn’t try to change your personality. Rather, it was up to others to accommodate your hardwired dispositions. So-called “traits” like kindness or stinginess, Myers and Briggs believed, aren’t virtues or vices to be cultivated or abandoned – they’re simply the way you are.

This is why the realization that such testing has no foundation in scientific evidence can be so liberating. When you stop thinking that you’re, say, “naturally” introverted or impatient, it becomes possible to think about ways of changing your personality if you want to!

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