And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 18:3
After 3 days of skiing, I sat in the Denver airport waiting for my flight home to board, and started reading my Saturday stuff – my daily devotion and then looking at the news, the Wall Street Journal, my email, etc. Something I’ve grown accustomed to doing in the morning. One of the things in my email is a news aggregator from Apple News which has several articles to read for the weekend. The first of this was entitled “You (and your Therapist) Can Change Your Personality.”
No, I am not making this up. The article goes into great depth of the various studies, some of which are contradictory, as to whether you can, in fact, change. One extreme line of thought from a 2010 article on psychology says that you are stuck with who you are – your personality is genetically imbedded. This line of thought says that your personality is “stubborn” and is formed in early childhood and lasts through adulthood.
The other line of thought is more optimistic (if that’s what you can call it) and labels your personality as so unstable that trying to measure any change is worthless. In this month’s Psychology Bulletin, a review of 207 studies suggest that personality can and does change, often very frequently, but only with the help of a therapist. Really! The article goes on to state that personalities generally change with age – the older you get the more mellow you become. My wife would agree with that statement.
I forwarded the article on to my Christian counselor friend, Paula Rinehart, and asked her what she thought. She said she saved the article because she found it interesting that a therapist could affect neurotic behavior in only 90 days. Then she said this: “Really, it [the article] upholds much of what we know by experience about how life inside relationships in the Body [of Christ] …. changes me as an individual.”
As I was reading this, I had to reflect on my own experiences and observations. Given that the studies were entirely secular, I can’t help but believe that the researchers are overlooking the possibility that coming to a relationship with Christ can change your personality and behavior. One only should look at Paul’s conversion – the life before and his life after conversion – to see that transformation is entirely possible. He went from persecutor to persecuted on the Damascus Road.
I have used Myers Briggs personality profiles in mentoring. They are useful in telling how one is “hard-wired” or their default inclinations when it comes to personality traits. But, even the article admits reflects what it calls a “sociogenic” side of your personality may affect your hard wiring. The “hard-wired” side is called “biogenic”, but factors which are social in nature can make changes through clinical therapy or real life experiences.
I would take issue with the academic world of psychology and their conclusions. I have seen remarkable changes in people’s personalities after they have had a conversion experience. With the imbedding of the Holy Spirit for the first time, their actions often are controlled by a greater power. They start to exhibit the fruit of the spirit for the first time in their lives. That’s real change, and they didn’t need a therapist for it to happen.
In my own case, I won’t say that my personality changed overnight after my faith experience at age 38. But as I got into the Word and learned what God expected of me as a husband, father and provider I realized God wanted me to change. The first thing that changed (and quickly, too) was my language. Not that I was a profane person, but I was often less careful with my language than I should have been.
Change through Christ is possible. Anything is possible through God, so this should not be a startling conclusion. I’ve used the MB (Myers Briggs) profiles to help those I mentor to learn about how their default wiring works. As in all things, the assessment is not entirely 100% accurate, nor are similar types of tests like the DISC test. But they are a tool in helping me understand my mentee and help him understand himself.
We all have strengths and weaknesses, and learning about your personality gives you clues as to what those strengths and weaknesses are. It is a departure point for helping a mentee figure out how to best tackle his or her vision. When I encountered my first mentee years ago, I didn’t use MB Profiles, but, in hindsight, I managed to figure out how he was “wired” which led to my understanding of how to help him.
After listening to him articulate why he was unhappy in his chosen profession as a lawyer, I asked him if there was anything on his desk that he enjoyed doing. The answer was yes, there were, in fact, some things he enjoyed doing, but he was also doing a lot of things he didn’t like. What emerged from that was that he was a specialist doing a general practice.
In other words, he worked best when he performed tasks which he had mastered, but he struggled when each task was new and unfamiliar. My suggestion was simple: eliminate the things that frustrate you and makes you unhappy, and over time, you will be better off.
The solution was achievable. We started to help him develop his practice doing only the things he enjoyed, at the same time slowly eliminating those matters that made him unhappy. I told him it would take 3 years to accomplish, but that if he stuck to it, he would have transformed his practice into on that he enjoyed. It worked.
While I can’t say that he changed his personality, he did change his attitude and blossomed with a new enthusiasm for life because he could see that he would not be stuck in a rut for the rest of his career. Life is better when you enjoy what you do for work.
I enjoy reading Henry Cloud. He’s very practical. In his book entitled “Never Go Back: 10 Things You’ll Never Do Again“, he advances the proposition that “change is a process.” While I won’t go through all of his suggestions, I want to highlight a couple, particularly if you have things in your life that you want to change. Sometimes they may be life patterns that are very resistant to change.
The first suggestion was that “self-help“ is an oxymoron. I resonated with that when I read it. Where he goes with that is that if your imbedded patterns are ones that you cannot change, you need to reach outside yourself and put a “never-go-back” team together. It might be a support group, therapist, peer group or mentor. He concludes: “Oftentimes, change can only be empowered by outside sources: God and other people. So reach out and ask for help.”
The second suggestion comes from John 15: “Stay online with God for System Updates“. We are designed to be connected to God and his power. “To truly be all that we were designed to be and accomplish all that we area able tot accomplish, we need to be plugged in to God and his power.” Good stuff!
The challenge here is straight forward. Change in your life is possible, but it can be hard. As I have said before, Christianity is a team sport. You can help your mentee advance the ball and become the best he or she can be by figuring out how they are hard-wired. It offers a clue into what is possible (or not). You may not be able to change their personality – that’s not your job. But you can help them harness how they are wired in making progress towards their goals.
MENTOR TAKEAWAY: Use personality assessments with your mentee to help both you and he (or she) understand how they are wired. It can be a valuable glimpse into how to make them succeed in life.
FURTHER STUDY: Henry Cloud’s book on “You’ll Never Go Back: 10 Things You’ll Never Do Again” is available in Kindle on Amazon.
WORSHIP: Listen to Bethel Music sing “You Make me Brave”
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