According to the Indicator from Planet Money, a daily podcast about economics, extroverts make more money than introverts.
According to the podcast Hidden Brain, many companies are basing personnel decisions, including hiring, advancement and termination, on personality tests like the Meyers-Briggs test.
Then there is astrology. According to astrologists, who you I am is determined by the hour and date of my birth.
Does this mean that personality is destiny? Is my fate sealed?
Maybe, but I doubt it.
As an aside, let me say that I am mystified by astrology. What I mean is that I am mystified by the number of smart, scientifically-minded people who know a lot about astrology and nod knowingly when they learn my sign. “That makes sense,” they say after wrongly guessing my sign 4 times before I finally reveal it. I had an old boss who blamed any communication problem on Mercury being in retrograde. Even when it wasn’t it was about to be or just was. She would bring this up in department meetings. It was embarrassing. The idea that the planet Mercury sometimes moves “backwards” reveals a fundamental lack of understanding of orbital dynamics. Seriously thinking that the relative motion of a planet tens of millions of miles away can affect communication is nonsensical. Norse mythology makes more sense. The Flying Spaghetti Monster makes more sense! I could go on for hours on this topic but it wouldn’t be productive.
I must say that astrology does have an impact on adherents. I have written before about the power of placebo. and in that same episode of Hidden Brain (the latest one), host Shankar Vedantam points out that children born in China during the auspicious Year of the Dragon according to the Chinese Astrological Calendar tend to be more successful. This is almost certainly true because they are expected from birth to be more successful. In the same way, an adherent of astrology who believes that her sign is more compatible with this one and less with that one will live into her own expectations and conform to her own bias.
But personality tests are scientific, right? In the sense that they are valid and reliable, no. In the sense that they predict anything at all, no.
So what is personality? Wikipedia has this to say:
Personality is defined as the characteristic set of behaviors, cognitions, and emotional patterns that evolve from biological and environmental factors. While there is no generally agreed upon definition of personality, most theories focus on motivation and psychological interactions with one’s environment. Trait-based personality theories, such as those defined by Raymond Cattell define personality as the traits that predict a person’s behavior. On the other hand, more behaviorally based approaches define personality through learning and habits. Nevertheless, most theories view personality as relatively stable.
So personality is basically how and why you behave. It’s how you think and how you act.
You can change how you act and you can change how you think. In fact, it’s actually how you act that affects how you think rather than the other way around. Smiling and laughing makes you happier. Talking to people makes you less shy. Stop drinking and you will be a person who doesn’t drink.
Speaking of drinking, “fake it till you make it” is one of the pithy sayings you might here around AA or other 12 step programs. It’s for newcomers who aren’t sure they want to fully embrace the program. The idea is to act like you’re not an AA participant and eventually your mind will catch up to your behavior. If you don’t drink and go to meetings and do the steps even though you don’t want to, eventually you’ll wake up one morning and you won’t want to drink and you’ll want to go to meetings and you’ll want to do the steps.
So if you want to take a personality test, be my guest. What I would suggest, instead is to decide what kind of person you want to be and then act that way. Eventually, you will be that way without any acting effort. This is not easy but I refer you to Shonda Rhimes’ book The Year of Yes for an inspiring (and well written) story about an introvert (a very successful one) who purposefully changed her behavior and thus her personality (and her life).
Unless, of course, Mercury is in retrograde, in which case we’re all completely screwed.