On changing your personality – Does it work to pretend to be someone else?

Sometimes in my life, I’ve experienced the desire to be someone else or to be another version of myself. To be able to allow me to behave in other ways than my usual behavioral patterns. When I was a child, I had the belief that we are born with one type of personality and that that’s just the way it is. But that’s not at all what I believe now. I fully believe we can change who we are, consciously.

Some people do stay the same. Year after year, decade after decade. When we grow up, much of our personalities are shaped by our parents, childhood friends, and social environments. And yeah, some of those patterns will be deep-set and if we don’t take action (or are forced) to change those patterns, we will stay the same. But our brains have neuroplasticity and are constantly changing with each input it has received. Every new experience and thought creates new neural pathways in our brains, and with repeated exposure, those pathways become “stronger” and more easily activated.

If you’re interested in a more scientific deep-dive, here’s the Wikipedia page on Neuroplasticity >

A Method of Pretending to be Someone Else, Fake it until you make it

In my last psychology course on the subject of personality, I found a section about a method in CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy). This method was to give the patient the instruction to “pretend” to be someone else, another persona, for a while. And this persona would preferably have another name and distinct characteristics.

For example, someone (say his name is Alex), who has social anxiety would create a persona of someone (let’s say with the name Adam), who is highly socially extroverted, and unafraid to be themselves in social situations. And for a week or a month, Alex would get the assignment to everyday wake up and pretend to be this Adam person. During this period, if Alex would get into a social situation where he starts getting the familiar feelings of social anxiety, he would change his internal mindset and pretend to be in the shoes of “Adam”. This would allow Alex to act out his own preferred version of himself. And with repeated actions, those neural pathways in his brain that allow for those behaviors will become stronger and stronger. With time, it will start becoming comfortable for Alex to behave in those ways (familiarity).

Trying it Out Myself

As I was curious to as if this therapy method works, I decided to try it out on myself. And no, I am in no way a professional therapist or a scientist. But I just thought, why not? Why shouldn’t I try it on myself? The only thing that could go wrong is if nothing would happen (although I did feel like I was perhaps deliberately trying to give myself a split personality haha).

Anyway, back to my experience using this method.

Short summary: it works!

I first sat down with myself and allowed myself to be fully honest about the characteristics of my own personality that I would like to change. This wasn’t too hard since I’m always journaling and analyzing myself in my day-to-day life anyway. After identifying 2 main things, I created this “persona”, as by the instructions I found in my literature – Personality: Theory and Research by Daniel Cervone and Lawrence A. Pervin (affiliate link). One of those things for me was to stop self-shaming, or trying to hold myself up to some sort of moral high ground for small things.

Then for one month following, I would pretend to be this persona I’ve created, when I felt the need. For example, if I was hesitant to behave in a way that I wanted to behave, I would remind myself “pretend to be X”; If I was experiencing anxiety for something I’ve done, I also reminded myself of “How would X relate to this?”. And, my experience was that it did help me a lot. It was a very effective way to transfer/project any social fear or anxiety onto this persona, taking the burden off myself and my “ego”. My experience is that this method allowed me to be freer, and let go of some of the restrictions I’ve put on myself regarding “appropriate” behavior or thought patterns.

Moving forward, I’ve decided to continue using this method as long as it serves me (as it has).

WHy does it Work?

If you haven’t read my other articles on personal development, a short summary is that I believe that our perception of “ourselves” is simply the construct of our ego. What we identify as “me”, is just our ego. I believe that the true nature of any human is simply our consciousness/awareness. Everything else such as our name, our sexual or gender identity, our relationships with others, our identifications with sub-cultures, and more, are just labels we’ve embraced as we grew up. But those things are just neural patterns in our brains that have become solid as it’s been activated again and again.

Recommended read: What are words of affirmation? Positive Affirmations & Love Language

If we believe my view of the self to be true then it is also logical to believe that the method I tried out would work. If we are not our behavior (set in stone), then practicing other types of behavior would change the structure of our brains and in turn, change our default behavior.

This is not to say that we can change every single thing about our personality or our behavior by using this method. Of course, much of our behavior is in fact genetic and so deep into our personality structure that it’s nearly impossible to change without some type of brain trauma. But even so, we do have the ability to change some aspects of our personality. And as research continues, I believe we’ll find even more ways of reprogramming our own minds.

I know some people find it unsettling, to try to change who someone is, and I can understand that. But if we don’t take accountability for ourselves, then who is doing it? If we are not the ones deciding about our own behavior, that means that someone or something else is doing it for us (genetics or other people). Isn’t it better to be the one who’s in as much control as possible over ourselves?

Wendy Zhou

UX/UI designer from Sweden. I write about design, tech, side projects, personal finance and cyberpunk. Contact: wendyzhou.design@gmail.com

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