A Book Review of ‘Personality Isn’t Permanent’ by Benjamin Hardy

A case for human autonomy

Photo by Doran Erickson via Unsplash

When Holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl, developed the field of Logotherapy, he did so as an attempt to address the never-ending quest that every human undertakes: to find a meaning in life.

In a similar fashion, author (and at one point the #1 writer on medium.com), Benjamin Hardy, PhD undertakes a similar endeavour in his new book, ‘Personality Isn’t Permanent: Break Free From Self-Limiting Beliefs And Rewrite Your Story’. Within this book, Hardy serves to remind the reader of an ever-important, relevant and profound concept: of one’s ability to choose to transcend social typologies and expectations in order to achieve one’s goals for improvement.

‘Personality Isn’t Permanent’ is an apt development of the ‘Future Self’ theme, a mantra which is thematic throughout Hardy’s other two books, ‘Willpower Doesn’t Work’ and ‘Slipstream Time Hacking’. All three books emphasise the importance of the deliberate imagining of who you want yourself to be in the future and establishing that imagination as your practical goal. With no exception.

Within this framework, come some core tenets — including pursuing peak experiences, redesigning your environment and deliberately putting yourself in a state of ‘no return’ — of which are echoed throughout Hardy’s work.

‘Personality Isn’t Permanent’ expands on Future Self paradigm through the lens of personality. More specifically, ‘Personality Isn’t Permanent’ challenges the notion that societal typologies (as delivered through personality tests), are foundational to one’s psychological pursuit of identity verification and discovery. ‘Personality Isn’t Permanent’ asserts that such a pursuit is a misled road leading to disempowerment.

Throughout the book, Hardy dissects the following personality ‘myths’:

  • Personality can be categorized into “types”;
  • Personality is innate and fixed;
  • Personality comes from your past;
  • Personality must be discovered;
  • Personality is your true and “authentic” self.

Hardy posits that, to be passionate and zealous of one’s personality type, is bordering on the notion that one is immutable; that the dynamism of a human being’s complex history, nature and personhood can be grossly simplified by an alchemical exercise. Due to one’s naive acceptance of a 15 minute, pseudo-scientific personality test, one can succumb to the dangerous idea that the trajectory of their life has been predetermined by their innate personality. Such an idea is a myth.

Dr Adam Grant attests to the lack of evidence for accuracy in tests such as the Myers-Briggs, saying that it “creates the illusion of expertise about psychology”. Similarly, Hardy explains that the originators of the test should not be respected for their psychological expertise or practice; such evidence does not exist. “The real lesson of the Myers-Briggs test”, as Hardy puts it, “is not some insight into your personality, but the incredible power of marketing.” This ‘incredible power of marketing’ has led this pseudo-scientific exercise to become a multi-million dollar industry.

Similar to it’s predecessors, ‘Personality Isn’t Permanent’ uses it’s topical focus as a catalyst for a range of self-help, goal-setting activities. Such an activity, is developing the ‘Future Self’ and allowing your future self to craft your current personality and behaviour. Such an activity, challenges the assertion as put forward by popular schools of psychology: that one’s past is the greatest predictor of one’s future. Such an activity harnesses the truth put forward by Dr. Jerome Bruner, that “you’re more likely to act yourself into feeling than feel yourself into action.”

A key, personal takeaway, was Hardy’s insight into the Openness trait (one of the five factors of the more scientifically supported ‘big five’ personality dimensions). A decline in Openness is correlated to a person ceasing to surround themselves with new types of people, undertaking new challenges and experiencing new situations. Such a person may think that their personality must then be ‘discovered’; when instead they have just ceased to practice their innate flexibility. It is this decline in openness that results in a person’s psychological rigidity; a narrowness in how one views the reality of their personality being flexible. By deliberately undertaking new challenges, engaging in new roles and experiencing new adventures, a person is taking the very step to craft the personality and identity that they wish to have.

Benjamin Hardy, yet again, provides an excellent synthesis of a scientifically-supported template for self-improvement; a template that enables individual change within an extremely practical and insight-driven paradigm.

Instead of allowing our life’s meaning to be crafted by something that is falsely considered to be uncontrollable, we should instead adopt the truth expressed by Viktor Frankl all those years ago; the truth of choosing “one’s own way.”

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