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Book Review: Personality isn’t Permanent by Ben Hardy

I was trailing 5-2 in the three-set match after dropping the first. It hardly seemed possible. As an incoming senior and reigning MVP I was getting beat by Steven, the guy I taught how to play tennis. Even worse, he was offkey singing “Building a Mystery” by Sarah McLachlan. A MVP doesn’t lose to a guy defined by an obnoxious laugh and a criminal past.

Until he does. I blocked his 2nd serve into the net and he was the number one seed.

What the hell just happened?

I was the MVP. I was actively being recruited by colleges. Steven was a few hard sleeps out of jail and was so stressed about our match that he sung a love ballad. That warm summer afternoon always baffled me but like most memories, it drifted away into a rarely retrieved dustbin.

That was until I read “Personality Isn’t Permanent” by Dr. Ben Hardy. Ben relates the behavior of a much more accomplished MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo. Upon receiving his MVP award, Giannis immediately declared it as “being in the past.” He did not define himself by accomplishment, only by where he was going.

Ben’s new book, “Personality Isn’t Permanent” hits the shelves today and he was kind enough to give me an advance copy. With the benefit of a PhD in behavioral psychology and a bit of a hard knock past, Ben lays out hard truths that impede us from being the best version of ourselves. “Personality Isn’t Permanent” explores life and leadership through the myth of personality, the truths of personality, and the walk to a life lived intentionally.

The Personality Myth

The cottage industry of personality tests at this point is a thriving metropolis. I can tell you without hesitation I’m an ENTJ(P) on the Myers-Briggs personality test and I’ve used that as justification for many actions-work and personal related. A good friend of mine was almost turned down from a VP of Sales job because of his Myers-Briggs personality. The company reconsidered and his team posted record revenues for three years straight.

Ben relates a similar story where he took a test prior to dating his wife. He received a color that was supposed to reflect his entire personality and it was white. Bad news. His future wife and her family believed she needed ared. Today, happily married with a small army of kids, Ben and his wife contemplate the potential tragedy it would have been had the allowed a personality test to dictate their future.

Is there every reason to subject our behavior and goals to a static assessment of identity? In short, no. Ben exposes the Myers-Briggs test by illuminating the pseudo-science on which it was based, relating anecdotical tales of people’s changing personalities, and referencing studies on the changing effects of personality.

Perhaps the strongest case Ben makes for the dynamic nature of personality is a published study on personalities of over a thousand fourteen-year-olds in Scotland. The study spanned more than sixty years, and researchers believed they would see consistency in traits as the years went by. Instead, researchers were shocked by the findings. By the end of the study, the personalities of nearly everyone in the study were completely different than the researchers expected.

The Truth of Personality

As an valve corrosion engineer and DJ, I’ve split my time between disparate worlds and behaved drastically differently in those two different realms. There were shocked looks at DJ events where I revealed my engineer status and equally shocked looks when the workplace found out I was a DJ.

Ben dramatically illustrates the changing nature of personality by relating the story of Andre Norman, an ex-convict. During imprisonment, Andre set a single goal of going to Harvard. That single goal forced new behaviors and alignment into a different, better version of himself. In short, Andre’s entire life changed due to a single intentional goal. But how does one set the right goal to change personality?

The Intentional Life

Ben notes that goals come three sources: exposure, desire, and confidence. Exposure is the idea of eschewing comfort in favor of experiences that stretch the mind and create discomfort. Ben points out that desires aren’t innate, but trained and fueled. Confidence is fragile, not constant, and informs the life we live.

Your job and income level are based on your confidence.

Your friends are based on your confidence.

How you dress is based on your confidence.

Ben Hardy

Goals are informed by exposure, desire, and confidence. And in turn, our personality itself changes when exposed to a higher goal. Identity should be intentionally designed and based on our desired future self.

Shift Your Story

At various points, all of us have been told we are not good enough, important enough, or deserving of accolades or grace. It’s never that trauma that is imposed on us that defines us. Rather, it is our permission to allow that trauma to define us. We’ve all met people with baffling and self-limiting beliefs. Ben shares the story of a distant relative who allowed an art teacher to make her feel she wasn’t good enough to be a children’s book author/illustrator. A single interaction with the art teacher fifty years prior made that relative think “I’m just not good enough to be an illustrator.”

How many times do we allow this to happen to us as professionals? I’m not smart/technical/savvy/degreed enough to be the ____? Personality Isn’t Permanent” lays a road for overcoming these self-limiting beliefs.

In particular, Ben’s writing struck a deep chord when he discussed how people decorate their homes. There are slews of photos and sayings pointing to moments gone by. But there are little aspirational reminders of the possibility of the future. The home itself becomes a backward-looking institution. And so do that home’s inhabitants.

We Are Still Bent Some Kind of Way

It’s hard to disagree with Ben’s thesis that personality isn’t permanent as he builds a strong case both with facts and anecdotes. However, removing shortsighted beliefs from truths is a surgical operation. Mixed into my parents’ inferred consul that the corporate workplace was a meritocracy was the guidance that you should try your best every time. Mixed into the guidance of trying your best every time is the delayed understanding that some games are worth your effort at all.

It would interesting to hear Ben’s further thoughts on separating the wheat from the chaff. How do we preserve the well-meaning yet incomplete teachings of our parents, friends, and mentors? How do we leverage the past as a strength while looking wide-eyed to the future?

You Are the Former Nothing

I’m a guy who will watch my automatic garage door open and see beauty. Having this gratitude framework is a superpower as I generally derive joy out of banal moments, ignore triviality, and extract more satisfaction from any event than most people.

That superpower does not come without a downside. I spend too much time sorting and holding onto moments gone by. Reading this book was convicting. I’m a nostalgic guy, steeped deeply in the working-class ideals of death before dishonor. All of my best friends were made when I was under the age of 10. The idea of loosening my attachment to who I was and who we were is difficult but highly necessary in the ever-evolving pursuit of a better tomorrow.

As such “Personality Isn’t Permanent” resonated deeply with me and hit the “DO NOT DONATE” portion of bookshelf with a bullet. It is an actionable guide worth a re-read and scrubbing hard against your priority list and self-perception. There’s a greater me out there in the future. And there’s a greater you waiting as well.

Let’s go get it.

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