Short summary: 3 min
Long summary: 55 min
Book reading time: 6h01
Book published in: 2020
- Your personality isn’t fixed and changes throughout your life.
- Your personality changes according to the goal you are after. Effectively, you become who you need to become to reach the goal.
- Traumas keep you from evolving. You solve them by talking and writing about them.
- You become who you want to become by leading the life of the person you want to be.
What Personality Isn’t Permanent Talks About
Personality Isn’t Permanent is a self-development book written by Dr. Benjamin Hardy. It dispels various myths about personality and gives a roadmap to building a successful and fulfilling life. I learned that who you are is transformed by the actions you take to fulfill a goal located outside of your comfort zone.
This book is the best self-development book of all time.
If you are stuck in your life, that’s the only book you need.
Unlike most self-help gurus, Ben Hardy practices what he preaches. He has a Ph.D. in psychology and was the most read writer in the world on Medium between 2015 and 2018.
I recommend you read the book for a full understanding of the principles.
Table of Content
Chapter 1: The Myth of Personality
- Myth #1: Personality Can Be Categorized into Types
- Myth #2: Personality Is Innate and Fixed
- Myth #3: Personality Comes from Your Past
- Myth #4: Personality Must Be Discovered
- Myth #5: Personality Is Your True and “Authentic” Self
Chapter 2: The Truth of Personality
Chapter 3: Transform Your Trauma
Chapter 4: Shift Your Story
Chapter 5: Enhance Your Subconscious
Chapter 6: Redesign your environment
Short Summary of Personality Isn’t Permanent by Benjamin Hardy, Ph.D.
Despite what personality tests will tell you, personality isn’t fixed. It changes as people go through life. Personality tests are mere photographs of a person’s emotional state at instant T. They don’t mean anything at all, neither about your future nor your past.
Personality is shaped by different factors. These are:
- Goals and purposes (active)
- Environment (active/passive)
- Social role (active/passive).
Most people don’t decide their personality because they:
- Have no goals Future is all that matters.or purposes.
- Develop their personality because they fulfill a certain social role.
- Don’t proactively decide to control their environment but react to it.
As a result, they are what society needs them to be – not who they want to be.
Because of trauma. Traumas are rules and principles we make about the world and ourselves after going through a painful experience that we didn’t process emotionally. They are barriers that exist in our minds.
Traumas create a fixed mindset that prevents you from evolving and changing.
Before we begin working towards our goals, we must solve our trauma to transform the fixed mindset into a growth mindset.
We solve traumas by writing and talking about them, which enables emotional release and processing so that the mental barrier that existed can be lifted. We transform our fixed mindset into a growth mindset.
Once we have solved our trauma, we can start working towards our goal.
We do so by focusing on it and deciding exactly what type of person our future self is.
Once we know, we need to enact the qualities of that future self, we need to talk like they talk, do what they do, and think as they think.
We do so by working towards a big purpose that is outside of our comfort zone.
The will to fulfill this purpose enables us to take action during which we have “peak experiences” that make us grow. We take on the personality of our future self until we reach the goal we had set for ourselves.
Your goal → shapes your actions → shape your personality.
You transform yourself through goal settings. Not the other way around.
Summary of Personality Isn’t Permanent by Benjamin Hardy, Ph.D.
Personality tests pretend to teach you “who you are”. It is implied that who you are is constant and fixed in time.
That’s mainstream thinking. And it’s wrong.
Personality isn’t fixed.
The reason why personality is seen as fixed is that psychologists almost only deal with the past because they have been trained to think that the future is caused by the past.
That’s a problem.
If you were your past, it’d mean you would not be responsible or capable to influence your present and future.
As you know, this is entirely false.
You are in control to make decisions about what you want in life.
The two most important factors influencing your ability to make choices are your social and cultural environments and your emotional development as a person.
The reason why most people want to be told what to do and who to be is that choosing who you want to be is hard and risky. If you fail, it may hurt.
This creativity to create yourself can also take you to weird and surprising places, and people don’t like weird and surprises.
They want predictability, and stability.
On the other way around, when you decide what you want to do, who you want to be, and actively work at it, amazing things happen.
You’re moving forward, fulfilling a vision, focusing on the person you want to be.
No One Was Born with a Personality
Whatever personality you had, you developed it.
Extraordinary people weren’t born with their abilities – they learned them and worked hard to become who they became.
They had to transform themselves into the person they are now.
Most people see them as extraordinary, but the truth is that they are just random people. The difference is that they had a goal worth pursuing, and they pursued it.
Your goal is the reason you develop new attributes and skills and have curated transformational experiences.
Without a meaningful goal, attempting change lacks meaning, requires unsustainable willpower, and ultimately leads to failure.
When you have a “why” and train yourself and practice what you want to achieve, you fail at first. Then you become better. Then you succeed.
Personality is no different. It’s like learning the piano. Whatever you want to achieve is achievable. You just gotta work hard for it and focus.
While most people base their identity on their past, successful people base their identity on their future.
Elon Musk can build a spaceship company because he wants to go to Mars. Every day, he wakes up thinking about going to Mars, and what to do to make it.
He doesn’t think about the times he got bullied at school. He doesn’t talk about the PayPal days. That is completely irrelevant.
The future is all that matters.
This is how successful people live. They become who they want to be by orienting their life toward their purpose.
But this is not easy.
You must face uncomfortable truths you’ve been avoiding, and take ownership of your life.
Most of the time, we think about trauma in the context of war or extreme events.
However, more often than not, “trauma” is planted in minor incidents and conversations that limit your view of who you are and what you can do, creating a fixed mindset.
This can’t be ignored and must be fixed.
This book will teach you that who you are isn’t fixed, how to reframe your traumas to free yourself from your past, and how to build your present to become your future self.
Chapter 1: The Myth of Personality
Vanessa O’Brien was a finance executive solely focused on her career. All that mattered to her was work, the stock market, and the upcoming promotion.
After the crisis of 2008, she started having doubts. Fast forward to today, Vanessa is a completely different person.
What happened to Vanessa is that she completely changed her goal which transformed her and her life.
Peter Diamandis calls this a Massively Transformative Purpose.
When your purpose is so big, you fully immerse yourself into it and become the person you need to become to achieve it.
As we can see, personality is not fixed.
A personality test merely takes a picture of your feelings and moods at instant T. Should you take the test in another context, you’ll score differently.
All of “you” is constantly evolving as you go through life.
The way to influence who you are depends on you. You can choose to let yourself be influenced by external agents (environment, culture, family, friends, TV, advertisement).
Or you can decide who you want to be by setting goals and developing the attitude needed to achieve them.
Let’s Debunk Some Myths
Myth #1: Personality can be categorized into “types.”
There is no such thing as a pure extrovert or a pure introvert. Such a man would be in the lunatic asylum.– Carl Jung
Personality types are social constructions. The notion of a personality type is a discriminative, dehumanizing, and inaccurate way of looking at the complexity of human beings.
Take the Myers-Briggs personality test.
It was created by Myers and Briggs at their home and based on their experience with people. They invented the idea that if you reacted in such a way, it wasn’t based on the fact that you had acquired this trait, but that it had always been there “inside of you”.
These personality tests damage your future by imprisoning you in a label.
“Henry is an introvert, so he will never be good at public speaking”.
These types of statements often become self-fulfilling prophecies, hence making the personality test “relevant”.
While labels (writer) can serve goals (becoming a writer), goals (writer) can never serve labels (becoming a writer). The idea that you have to achieve something to become that thing may forever prevent you from achieving it.
Your personality should come from your goals. Not the other way around. To quote Paul Graham, “the more labels you have for yourself, the dumber they make you.”
Abandon all labels that are preventing you from becoming who you are. Lazy, dumb, scared…abandon it now. It’s only limiting you. You are nothing, and can become anything.
Researchers found a strong correlation between social roles and personality types.
If the social role demanded that one person exhibits one of the five personality traits (remember OCEAN for Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness, Neuroticism), they would usually develop that trait.
It was the fact that they needed to develop that trait that made them harbor it, not the other way around.
Should we put these people that developed these traits into different social contexts, their personalities would change depending on their roles (see the Stanford prison experiment).
Careful though! It is not “society” that is deciding who you are.
What we mean here is that you become who you need to become according to the situation in which you are.
People that do not become who they want do not proactively seek goals to become who they want to be.
For example, a 2015 study by Drs. Nathan Hudson and Chris Fraley showed that personality can be intentionally changed through goal-setting and sustained personal effort.
Intentional change, however, is emotionally rigorous—it doesn’t exactly feel good and can even be shockingly painful.
If you’re unwilling to put yourself through emotional experiences, shift your perspective, and make purposeful changes to your behavior and environment, then don’t expect huge changes (at least in the short run).
Becoming psychologically flexible is key to personal transformation. It helps with not over-attaching yourself to your current identity or perspectives.
Becoming insatiably committed to a future purpose and embracing emotions rather than avoiding them is how radical change occurs.
- Who are you?
- In what ways have you defined yourself or others by what was done in the past?
- Have you limited and overly defined yourself by categorizing or typifying yourself?
- What would happen if you stopped boxing yourself into a category and opened yourself to the possibility of change?
Myth #2: Personality Is Innate and Fixed
In a study made over sixty years, researchers tested the personality of the same group of people (on the OCEAN scale).
When they discovered the results, they were shocked.
People kept on rating differently year after year.
-> people are highly adaptive.
Even after going through extreme change, we quickly adapt to that change and it becomes our new norm (see the Hedonic Treadmill theory).
Hence, we may feel like the same person as we age and gradually change, but we aren’t actually the same at all.
Life feels “normal” as it keeps on going, while in fact, it may be completely different from the past.
Quick question: How much time do you spend imagining your future self?
For most people, the answer is “not much”. What we have learned so far described two major obstacles that prevent people from creating their future personalities.
- We assume our present personality is a finished product.
- We overemphasize the importance of the past, which leads us to become increasingly narrow in how we view ourselves and the world.
Since you know your personality changes regardless, it’s time you decide who you want to be so you can achieve your goals.
It’s time you take your own personality into your own hands.
This is the power of choices. It is time to choose what your future self wants, not your present self.
Who you want to be in the future is more important than who you are now – and it should inform who you are now.
It’s like a walk. If you intend to walk from Paris to Moscow, what would be your focus?
You should consider the present from a future vantage point.
Life starts taking on a whole new meaning when you begin thinking right now about what your future self will want.
Rather than making decisions based on your current identity, you should make decisions based on your future identity.
It’s your responsibility to set your future self up for as much opportunity, success, and joy as possible.
This is how you become the person and create the life you want, rather than becoming someone with regret.
- Who is your future self?
- How often do you imagine and consciously design your future identity?
- What would happen if you based your identity on who you want to be, rather than who you’ve been?
Myth #3: Personality Comes from Your Past
“Causal determinism” is the idea that whatever happens now is directly caused by a past event or condition.
From this view, people are determined—not influenced—by prior events, like one domino in a toppling chain.
Where does this idea come from?
In looking at human behavior, psychologists have come to agree that the best way to predict future behavior is by looking at past behavior.
And in fact, that phenomenon is validated over and over again. It seems people are quite predictable over time.
- They continue to be defined by past traumas that haven’t been reframed or dealt with.
- They have an identity narrative based on their past, not the future.
- Their subconscious keeps them consistent with their former self and emotions.
- They have an environment supporting their present rather than future identity (“friends” and family members shaming you for attempting something different).
These are the four levers that drive personality.
And guess what? You can control them.
When you change, reframe, or manage these levers, your personality and life will change.
Here’s a story explaining why your past does not determine your present.
Tucker Max was a party boy and author who sold millions of books about his adventures. Then he made a movie.
Predictably, the movie bombed. That crushed Tucker’s ego. He went to therapy for three years, then released a statement saying he no longer identified with the person in the books.
As such, when he reads himself, he only feels empathy for that guy that wrote the words. He is not embarrassed one bit, or ashamed by who he was because who he was is another person than who he is now.
When you begin to actively and intentionally move forward in your life, not only does your future get better but your past does as well.
Your past increasingly becomes something happening for you, not to you.
An unchanging past is a sign of emotional detachment and rigidity—an avoidance of facing the truth and moving forward in your life.
The more mature you become as a person, the more differently you’ll view your past experiences.
But how can the past change?
Imagine getting a 10% raise.
Nice! You decide to celebrate and eat lunch with your colleague Mary.
Mary is excited! She also got a raise of…15%.
Suddenly, that 10% you were happy about does not seem so good in retrospect!!!
This outlines how instead of the past shaping the present, the present shapes the past.
The present is so complex that even that, we are not sure of. The way you remember your past is only one way, and certainly not the objective version of the events that happened.
When you allow yourself to fully relive your past and process the emotions that were then unprocessed, you change it, you let it go, free yourself, and can then move forward.
Context Is Everything
Our past is subjective because we give it meaning.
If we don’t challenge it, the interpretation and emotional attachment impact us.
Trauma happens to all of us, both in large and small degrees.
When our trauma is unresolved, we stop moving forward in our lives.
We become emotionally rigid and shut off, and thus stop learning, evolving, and changing.
By continually avoiding our past traumas and the emotions they create, our life becomes an unhealthy and repetitive pattern.
We get stuck.
But as we open up and reframe the trauma, we can take a positive and mature view of the past.
The present and future then stop reflecting the past. We are free from the trauma.
How we describe, interpret, and identify with our past has far more to do with where we are, here and now, than it has to do with our actual past.
When you keep on blaming someone or something from the past, that makes you a victim, and that reflects more on you now than whoever or whatever it is you’re blaming.
“Changing your past” doesn’t mean you discount the emotional charge of these experiences!
It means you change its interpretation.
As Marcel Proust said, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
In order to change your past, you need to become more psychologically flexible.
Psychological flexibility is the skill of being fluid and adaptive, holding your emotions loosely, and moving toward your goals.
The more flexible you become, the less you’ll be overwhelmed or stopped by emotions. Instead, you’ll embrace and learn from them.
The less emotionally developed and flexible a person is, the more they will avoid hard experiences; the more they’ll be limited and defined by painful experiences from their past.
This is counterintuitive, as many people come to believe the best way to deal with hard experiences is by burying their emotions and fighting a silent battle, alone.
This is not the way. Consider this quote from Emile Zola.
“If you shut up truth and bury it under the ground, it will but grow, and gather to itself such explosive power that the day it bursts through, it will blow up everything in its way.”
Emotions should not be buried. They are the doorway to growth and learning.
The reason people’s personalities plateau and get stuck in repetitive cycles is because they are avoiding the difficult and challenging emotions involved in learning and in connecting with themselves and others.
As a result, they remain weighted down by their limited perceptions of their past for far longer than necessary.
- What stories are you telling about your past self?
- Who was your former self?
- In what ways are you different from your former self?
- How has your past changed due to more recent experiences?
- How would your life be different if your past was something happening for you rather than to you?
- How could life change if you embraced the truth that your former and current selves are two fundamentally different people?
- How would your life be if you never again blamed or limited yourself and your future based on the past?
Myth #4: Personality Must Be Discovered
Personality is built, not discovered.
Passion about something is developed, not uncovered.
As Dr. Jerome Bruner, a Harvard psychologist said “you are more likely to act yourself into feeling than feel yourself into action.”
Good feelings are a consequence, not a cause. When you receive a salary from your job, you get paid after working for a month, not before. The salary is a payout the same way passion and motivation are a payout.
As such, the author describes wanting passion before putting in the work as, and I quote, “get-rich-quick thinking and completely lazy.”
Passion is the prize, but you have to invest first. Personality is no different. It is not something you discover but rather something you create through your actions and behaviors.
Personality is a by-product of your decisions in life. Gandhi, Mother Theresa, or Lincoln did not do what they did because of who they were. They became who they became because of what they did.
Purpose Trumps Personality
Without a deep sense of purpose, your personality will be based on avoiding pain and pursuing pleasure, which is an animalistic mode of operating.
When you’re driven by purpose, you’ll be highly flexible and you’ll make decisions irrespective of pain and pleasure to create and become what you want.
Moreover, if you are serious about your purpose, it will change your personality.
Your purpose isn’t something you discover, but something you ultimately choose for yourself.
Stop looking for it and make the choice, then let the choice transform you.
As you proactively make positive decisions, develop skills, and seek out new experiences, your personality will develop and change in meaningful ways.
It will adapt to the level of your goals and decisions, rather than the other way around.
Don’t Try To Find Out How You Are – Choose It!
Trying to discover your personality leads to inaction, avoidance of hard conversations, distracting yourself through consumption, and making excuses for how you’re currently living.
It puts you in the passenger seat of your own life.
Instead, you should be the driver.
According to Cal Newport, the idea of finding your passion is based on self-absorption.
People want to find work they are passionate about because they’ve been taught to believe that work is all about and for them.
However, the most successful people in the world know that work is about helping and creating value for other people.
As Newport states, “If you want to love what you do, abandon the passion mindset (‘what can the world offer me?’) and instead adopt the craftsman mindset (‘what can I offer the world?’).”
The author takes the same approach to marriage and relationships.
While there needs to be a connection at the beginning, a successful marriage is not something life owes you – it is something you build!
Marry for aligned purpose, not personality, because personality will change over time. Purpose, however, will transform you and your partner over time.
- What purpose are you creating for yourself?
- What would happen if you stopped trying to find yourself, and instead became more creative and collaborative?
- How would your personality develop and change if you went to work on it, chiseling and shaping it in desired ways?
- Who would you be if you could creatively design yourself? (Hint, hint: You can.)
Myth #5: Personality Is Your True and “Authentic” Self
Another problem with the “fixed view” of personality is that people feel entitled to do only the things that feel natural or easy to them. The things “they were born for”.
If something is hard, difficult, or awkward, then people say, “I shouldn’t have to do this.”
People believe they have an “authentic self” which is who they should remain true to.
This self is seen as innate, the “real” them.
Unfortunately, this reveals a fixed mindset, and is often a reaction to a trauma or a lack of healthy connection to parents.
“Authenticity” these days is simply another way of saying “I am lazy” or “I am like that and won’t change.”
That prevents people from improving and getting out of their comfort zone.
- Who do you really want to become?
- What would happen if you stopped trying to be “authentic,” and instead faced the truth of why you’re limiting yourself?
- What would happen if you had hard conversations with the important people in your life?
- What would happen if you were “true” to your future self, not your current fears?
Conclusion of Chapter 1
Your personality is not fixed or inherent. It is malleable and flexible, and it is something you can shape yourself.
When you understand the four levers that move it, you become the driver of your identity. You can transform yourself and achieve your goals. You can become flexible.
- Identity narrative based on the future
- Aligned subconscious
- Supportive environment
Your past and your future can increasingly become a story that you shape and define.