As human beings, we’re no strangers to the concept of change.
I mean, at the end of the day, life is nothing more than a series of changes. From childhood to adulthood, we’re constantly moving from one thing to the next -- at school, in the workplace, even with our own passions.
And change is a very important part of life; without it, true progress is nearly impossible. If there are aspects of your life that you’re not particularly satisfied with, there are always changes you can make to “right the ship,” so to speak.
If you’ve noticed some of your life choices have been teetering on the edge of “seriously unhealthy,” you can consciously make adjustments to your lifestyle by changing your diet or kick-starting a cardio regimen.
If you’re unhappy with your particular group of friends, you can meet new people and change the faces you decide to surround yourself with.
If you suddenly decide you want to pursue a new passion, you can make changes to your own career choice. If you’re bored with your own personal style, you can chop off some of your hair (add a little dye) and change that, too.
As long as you’re aware of the aspects of yourself that you want to improve, you can change them.
Certain aspects of yourself, however, are much more difficult to change, no matter how aware you are of them -- like, say, your own personality.
For a long time, personality traits have always been considered fixed. If you were outgoing as a child, you’d most likely grow up to be an outgoing adult.
If you were reserved and introverted, it’s highly unlikely you’d suddenly develop a newfound love for the club sometime in your late 40s. It’s always been assumed that we are who we are, despite what we have to say about it.
But new research provides a different perspective. Especially if you have anxiety.
Douglas LaBier Ph.D writes in Psychology Today that we can, in fact, change our own personalities.
“It occurs from awareness of what we want to change or develop and working hard to ‘practice’ those aspects of ourselves in our personality,” LaBier explains.
Like most of the other types of changes I alluded to earlier, you must first be aware of the things you’re trying to change.
So if you’re an anxious person, the first step is admitting you’re an anxious person.
If you’ve been battling anxiety, before doing anything else, address it. Come to terms with it. If you ever hope to break free from that anxiety, you must first understand it might be holding you back.
Don't worry (no pun intended) -- this might actually help you help yourself.
LaBier references one study conducted by researchers at the University of Illinois that “tested the degree to which people could ‘grow’ a particular personality trait or quality over a period of 16 weeks.”
Although the results were described as "modest," they did, in fact, show that “at the very least, people's personality traits and daily behavior tend to change in ways that align with their goals for change."
In other words, the more motivated you are to change some aspect about your personality, the more likely you are to succeed. I tend to agree with this idea. I believe when people are truly motivated to change anything, they can.
LaBier suggests that social anxiety, in particular, is one aspect of your personality that can be consciously changed:
Even seemingly fixed traits like social anxiety are found to diminish when the person attempts to serve another person in some way -- which is a form of 'growing' a dimension of personality.
Being around people might give you anxiety, but when you focus your attention on helping them, you can divert your attention away from feeling self-conscious or uncomfortable.
As LaBier explains, “letting go of preoccupation with your own self or focusing on how others will perceive you, think about you or form assumptions about you, generates more positive expectations and behavior toward others,” thus showing a growth in personality.
Ultimately, all change is motivated by a goal or desire to attain some outcome. If what you’re looking to change is your own anxiety, the answer might not be to focus on improving yourself as much as it is to focus on improving other people.
Look around your community for ways you can help out, whether it’s at a local soup kitchen or some other type of charitable organization, and get involved. Over time, you’ll end up helping yourself.