Ten Common Myths About Personality That Are Probably Not Serving You
June 20, 2023
How much do you really know about your personality? There are many common misconceptions about the concept we call “personality” today, and acting on these misconceptions can limit how you live and perform in profound ways. Understanding the nature of personality can change everything in terms of our happiness and professional outcomes. This article dispels ten common myths about personality and its relation to energy, productivity, and creativity.
Myth # 1: Our personality is easily describable as one pattern called a "type."
The initial idea of typology was enormously helpful and applied simple categories that could help us understand how our natural preferences differ. By taking a forced-choice personality assessment, we can quickly discover our leanings and contrast them to others. While this is still helpful today, this practice alone stops short of helping us truly grasp the complexity that makes up what we understand as the concept of "personality" today.
Compared to other science domains, psychology is still relatively new in that it has only been a science for less than one century. Psychology is a growing field that is rapidly evolving, which necessitates ongoing education beyond early personality assessments and practices. For example, early experts informed us that the resulting "type" pattern from a forced-choice test (like Myers-Briggs) is likely to remain constant throughout our lives. This idea remained widely accepted in the business world, but more recent psychological research has established that personality traits follow a continuum rather than a neat category. For example, no one is only an “introvert” and “extrovert.” Instead, there’s a continuum ranging from very highly extroverted to very highly introverted, with most people falling somewhere in the middle. Most personality traits fall within a normal distribution, meaning that most people fall within the average. People who are “slightly” introverted are more similar to those who are slightly extroverted than extreme introverts. So why would it make sense to group slight and extreme introversion into the same group?
Unfortunately, the acceptance of old ideas such as this can unwittingly encourage self-limiting beliefs that result in a self-imposed glass ceiling. For example, if we believe we are introverted versus extroverted, we may use it as an excuse for avoiding social growth or personal growth through introspection.
New paradigm: Your "type" is useful information to understand your preferences but is not a complete picture describing who you truly are.
Myth # 2: Believing others should “be like me.”
Another misunderstanding that can be an unfortunate result of "type" workshops is the "be like me" judgments that leave the room after such team experiences. This result defeats the whole purpose of exploring typology with others who have honed different preference patterns. The truth is that we all have the potential to be just as similar as we are different. We all have a heart, gut instincts, and a mind that contains both logical and creative aspects, all blending to help us survive the first unique human system that was our first - the family of origin. Some of us learned to rely on social skills, some by tapping into logical arguments, others on persuasion, and others through courageous actions. The personality that forms is our unique strategy for dealing with an environment of social relationships and stress. Our method for managing stress may be to withdraw while others decide it's best to fight. Experiences in early life help us learn what works best for that situation. The question is, “will it also work in other human systems” that are very different from our first experience? Indeed, interaction with new individuals, systems, and cultures helps expand our perspectives through varied experiences.
We go wrong when we forget that much of our personality arises from responding to the world around us. Our perceptions of the world are unique, so our strategies will inevitably also be different from others. When we view others from the "be like me" precept, we miss the point that their methods have worked for them and that ours might not. Indeed, we can all learn from one another's experiences, which is why group workshops can be so informative and helpful. Not to convince someone they should be like us, but to consider other points of view and get curious about evolving our perspectives through social learning. Realizing that we can do more harm than good when we put our preferences onto others is a step in the right direction.
New paradigm: People behave in ways that have worked for them, so meet them where they are and be curious instead.
Myth # 3: Our personality is who we are.
One of the most considerable dangers in believing that you have a specific personality type (Myth #1) is to use that type to define you and limit what you can do. We are so much more than our personality. Even the ways we behave are represented by more than our personality traits. For example, someone high on extroversion may be the center of attention at parties and also possess the situational awareness to know that the same expression of extroversion is not appropriate at funerals. Underneath the primary pattern that others notice lies numerous sub-personalities that arise as needed for various contexts. In addition to smaller sub-personalities lies an even more critical aspect of being human. The authentic, real self is essential to your humanity. This true self is the part of you capable of being the observer of your personality in action. This capacity to observe allows you to be aware of your context and express the appropriate behaviors.
Tilt is a framework of organizing principles that can help you learn about yourself to choose behaviors more consciously to be your best self in various contexts. You can then operate less from imagined fears and more from the strength of a centered true self. We designed the True Tilt Personality Profile™ to identify your most automatic preference patterns. These patterns may characterize how you most commonly think, feel, and interact with the world around you, but they do not necessarily limit who you are or become. Your true self will emerge more clearly as you increase self-knowledge and become more aware of your strategic patterns. It follows that interactions go better when you become self-aware and approach situations with your real self.
New Paradigm: You're much more than your personality, and your real, authentic self is what matters most.
Myth # 4: You can't change your personality.
Personality is where your patterns begin, but your character is what you choose to do with it. The new science of neurobiology has helped us learn about brain plasticity, which has shown us that we are far from being "wired for life" and are designed to adapt to new contexts continuously. There are many natural ways that personality changes over time that we overlook, like natural changes that happen as we age. For example, people usually become more agreeable and conscientious as they get older. Further, the development of new traits and personal strengths that may not come naturally to you is not only possible, but it is a means of supporting personal evolution and the ability to think at ever-increasing levels of complexity. Consciously choosing to change specific traits and actively changing your behaviors to match the desired changes can alter your personality.
Focused efforts to change personality can lead to noticeable results in as little as 4 to 8 weeks. However, the lengths of different interventions aimed at changing personalities vary. The key to eliminating counterproductive habits is to become more self-aware and make new choices that align with your goals and increase self-respect. Building better practices and the positive reinforcement from increasing positive self-regard helps replace old patterns with positive new patterns.
New Paradigm: You can build on your personality through focused character development.
Myth # 5: You should "fix" your weaknesses.
There is no correct or best personality. The best behaviors are situation-specific, so something that is a strength in one situation may show up as a weakness in another. For example, being honest is a strength, especially when the stakes are high, and the wrong decision could be costly. However, if you are too direct, you may come across as blunt and unnecessarily hurt someone’s feelings instead of helping them make a better decision. Thus, parts of the personality aren’t weaknesses, but consistently misusing strengths in certain types of situations should be evaluated.
We learn what we believe are appropriate uses of our traits and strengths in our first social system, the family of origin. We understand what works in this situation and can generalize those behaviors to other dissimilar situations, but they may or may not work as effectively. This necessitates ongoing learning as we encounter new systems and people. Additionally, the more danger we encounter early on, the more we may react with extremes that show up as overused personality traits. These extreme patterns can get wired into our automatic behavior patterns and cause us to overreact in situations that don't call for drastic measures. For example, we may have come to rely on using attention-seeking behavior as a child to get what we needed from our parents, but now that same behavior may become annoying to those we encounter at work. We first need to understand why the pattern exists and how it has served us to decide if the underlying issues or concerns that triggered it initially is relevant in the new setting.
New Paradigm: There are no weaknesses, only overused strengths that need to be balanced and managed by the real self.
Myth # 6: You should focus on your strengths and ignore the rest.
The new science of positive psychology has helped us move beyond a one-sided negative mindset about human development. Instead of focusing on what is wrong with us, we realize that we can focus on more than our negatives. We can also strive to build positive qualities. This movement has often implied that we should only focus on the positive and exclude anything negative, but this approach is also incomplete. It serves our overarching development better to take a holistic approach that reduces the negative expression of traits and uses strengths to the fullest.
The implications of misinterpreting the positive psychology movement can show up in the workplace. For example, individuals may limit their careers if they believe that they can only pursue jobs in line with their strengths. Someone who is exceptionally qualified may opt not to apply for leadership positions because they think they are not charismatic enough. The positive psychology movement also influences how leaders interact with subordinates. For example, leaders have realized that including more positive feedback is needed to keep people motivated and engaged. However, some leaders miss that giving too much positive reinforcement without balancing it with real and constructive improvement needs can be just as problematic. This practice has led to the recent emergence of entitlement thinking and feeds narcissistic ego needs that hinder the growth of adult responsibility and maturation. If the receiver of all positives believes the feedback, it can lead to a distorted and inflated identity that can overshadow the real self, leading to incorrect perceptions of worth.
The best approach to healthy self-esteem and trust in the real self is achieved more often by interacting with other healthy people who choose holistic development by balancing positivity with the truth.
New paradigm: Err on the side of positive reinforcement but balance it with real honesty in a 5:1 ratio.
Myth # 7: Your "type" determines whether you are creative.
Many people think that creativity requires a particular type of personality. Not so. Everyone has a brain, and that brain, in itself, is immensely creative. Your mind is a fantastic instrument of creative design that helps you survive diverse situations every day. Whether anyone notices that creativity is another matter, but it is always there. For example, team trust, and a collaborative culture are critical for creativity. Yet, if you believe you aren’t creative, that misconception can lead to a negative cycle that keeps you from demonstrating creativity. If you think you will fail at creative tasks, you may limit the effort you put into creative endeavors, and when you don’t do creative things, you build on a belief that you are not creative.
The Tilt framework serves to increase self-awareness about your natural tendencies, enabling you to tone down extreme patterns and evolve them into balance. When balanced, your identity can be your ally instead of your nemesis. As your self-knowledge grows, you will naturally move away from counterproductive patterns, such as doubting your abilities. This improvement frees up precious energy that can be directed by your top interests and creative work. Thus, with increased self-understanding comes increased capacity for creative endeavors of your choice.
New Paradigm: You are creative by natural design.
Myth # 8: Your personality determines what you are capable of achieving in life and work.
Personality gets way too much credit and way too much blame for our results. Recall that personality can be changed (Myth #4), and we can consciously control our personality’s expression to fit the situation. Thus, one’s ability to choose how their nature is expressed by operating from the real self is far more important than personality. When we interact with others more from the authentic self, we are less manipulative, more trusted, and more comfortable to be around. Being authentic helps other people operate more from their real selves as well, and such interactions are mutually respectful. No one person knows everything there is to know about life and work, so we are social beings who need one another. This understanding of our humanness helps us be aware that we all have different sets of interests and are, therefore, experts in areas where we spend the most time or have the most experience. Our authentic self is strong enough to shift with context and consider that others may know more than we do in certain situations.
Unfortunately, our real, authentic self can also be shrouded and overshadowed by the insecure ego's active strivings. When that happens, we may genuinely become limited by our personality, and our outcomes thus limited too. Character strength development is the best answer for someone who senses their personality tendencies are the obstacle to their progress. Practical assessments, self-exploration, transformational coaching, or therapy can all help. The goal is healthy inner self-esteem and self-concept that is grounded in reality, not a delusion. What a hurting ego strives for is always insatiable, while the real self can experience contentment.
New paradigm: Your personality is only the beginning; it's your character that determines the sustainability of your outcomes and personal fulfillment.
Myth # 9: Your personality dictates whether you can be a leader (or not).
As early as 1998, scholarly reviews of leadership theory had concluded that using personality traits to predict leadership was an obsolete idea. A 2002 review of studies using an established personality framework to predict leadership effectiveness found more promising results, but at best, personality predicted less than 25% of the variance in leader effectiveness. A focus on leader behaviors in context sets a better conceptual foundation for leadership than personality.
Although many people have an idea of what makes someone a leader (e.g., intelligence, strength, charisma, drive, dedication), great leaders must adapt their behaviors to the context. Today, what's valued most is the agility to adapt to the context. The skill of adaptability (leadership agility) arises in a person with a strong inner identity. With inner strength, one can flex to new environments more quickly and remain open to new encounters. Agile leadership flows when a leader is balanced and secure, but rigidity appears when they shift into operating from ego-fear.
New Paradigm: Today's imperative is about shifting quickly to context.
Myth # 10: Changing for the sake of others will stick.
One final myth about personality is that you can change yourself at the request of others. Changing your behaviors based on subjective feedback from others focuses you outside of yourself and therefore is less likely to be sustainable. Indeed, focusing outward to do what others want can even shrink your self-esteem, undermine your sense of well-being, and ultimately shrink your positive influence on others. The desire to change is best if it arises an inner desire to create new habits that stick. When we focus on what we can control and choose to change for ourselves, we will reduce the frequency of repeating patterns that no longer serve us. This change requires objective feedback and actionable data about behaviors that can strengthen self-respect and, thus, inner identity. Positive influence doesn't expand from the outside in -- only from the inside out.
New Paradigm: Change sticks if it arises from within and is aligned with your authentic nature.