If you’ve ever taken a personality test, you may have been eager to review the results. Maybe you’re a Helper or Achiever on the Enneagram chart. Or perhaps, like me, you’re an INTP on Myers-Briggs.
While these tests can be fun to take—who doesn’t love to learn about themselves?—they could also hold you back, says Benjamin Hardy, psychologist and author of Personality Isn’t Permanent: Break Free From Self-Limiting Beliefs and Rewrite Your Story.
“Personality tests promote the misconception that personality is innate and unchanging,” he says. “They look at your past to predict your future, and that can be sad for someone who wants to grow or change. Anyone who wants to make a change wants their future self driving, not their past.”
Why we love tests
Personality tests are popular because people are fascinated by profiles, says Hardy. “We like to develop theories to explain things, but people are not easy to categorize; we’re not like fruit and vegetables,” he says. “People are harder to predict, and personality tests can create stereotypes that cause trouble. It’s like assuming all women or people from a religious denomination or race are the same.”
Tests can also feel comforting as they can give you a sense of identity. “Your personality is how you consistently act and behave,” says Hardy. “Your identity is how you define yourself, and it can predict your personality. It’s a label you can use to explain yourself to others, but it imposes limitations. A label may be accurate at a single point in time, but it will also be false many times, even throughout a single day.”
Take the results lightly
Ask yourself if you’re the same person you were 10 years ago. Hardy argues that most of us would say “no.” “If you’re not embarrassed about who you were 12 months ago, you’re not growing,” he says. “You probably don’t hate who you were in the past. But you’ve probably gone through a lot, and you see things differently. You may have different habits, patterns, choices, and priorities.”
It’s healthy to view your former person as a different self. It’s also good to think of your future self as someone else too. “When you view your future self as a different person, you can make intentional decisions for that person in the present,” says Hardy. “You can also engage in a deliberate practice or learning. When you realize that your future self will be someone different than you are today, you don’t get so hung up on your identity.”
Beware of fixed mindsets
Buying into an identity can create a fixed mindset, which is when you believe who you are right now is who you will always be. If you adopt a growth mindset, you know that labels are not definitive. For example, if you were bad at math in school or if you had a bad public speaking experience, it doesn’t mean you will always do poorly at those things.
If you hold onto a label that a personality test provides, you may seek to cling to and defend it, says Hardy. “You’re not as flexible if you seek to confirm your label,” he says. “This leads you to believe your future self will be exactly the same as you are today, which is an impediment to growth.”
Don’t let personality tests hold you back
Most people want to make positive change in their lives. To do so, you need to adjust two things. First, reframe your view of the past. “If something negative, like a trauma, happened to you, it’s easy to be defined by that former experience,” says Hardy. “Fixed mindset is often created in traumatic experience.”
A negative experience can shape identity, and you need to reframe those meanings from the past. “It’s best to view the past as positive,” says Hardy. “Even something negative could be viewed as the best thing that could have happened to you if you frame it correctly.”
It can help to talk about negative experiences, either to a trusted friend or therapist or through journaling. “You can gain a clear picture of the event and start to see it differently,” says Hardy. “You can choose better meanings for the past and reconstruct the memory based on who you are in the present. The past is fiction, and the goal is to become flexible to move forward by choosing to give an experience a positive meaning. Look at the gains and not the gap.”
Next, imagine the person you want to be. “You can’t make intentional decisions in the present without context of the future,” says Hardy. “One reason people fail to clarify their future is because they spend way more time remembering their past. Imagination is more important than knowledge.”
Preferences in the present that aren’t in the best interest of your future self can be a detriment. “Don’t hold onto your current identity,” says Hardy. “A growth mindset is saying, ‘This is who I am. This is who I want to be.’ And that takes courage.”
When you see yourself as a future person, you can make decisions today based on future preferences, and you can leave the limitations of personality tests behind.