[00:00:19.4] ANNOUNCER: Welcome to The Science of Success. Introducing your host, Matt Bodnar.
[0:00:11.8] MB: Welcome to the Science of Success; the number one evidence-based growth podcast on the internet with more than two million downloads, listeners in over a hundred countries and part of the self-help for smart people podcast network.
In this episode, we go deep on the science of personality. We look at how we move way beyond the debate of nature versus nurture. We look at the myth of authenticity and the danger of just being yourself. We examine why human well-being AKA success, depends on the sustainable pursuit of core projects in our lives.
We explore the complex dance of self-improvement between the limitations of biological, social factors and the identity of us as individuals. We look at how much agency and control we really have in shaping our personalities and lives among all these different factors, with our guest Dr. Brian Little.
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In our previous episode, we showed how you can decode scientific studies and spot bad science by digging deep into the tools and skills you need to be an educated consumer of scientific information.
Are you tired of seeing seemingly outrageous studies published in the news only to see the exact opposite published a week later? What makes scientific research useful and valid? How can you as a non-scientist read and understand scientific information in a simple and straightforward way that can help you get closer to the truth and then apply those lessons to your life? We discussed that and much more with our previous guest, Dr. Brian Nosek. If you want to be an educated consumer of scientific information, check out that episode.
Now for our interview with Brian Little.
[0:03:23.1] MB: Today, we have another fascinating guest on the show, Dr. Brian Little. Brian is an internationally acclaimed scholar and speaker in the field of personality and motivational psychology. He's currently a research professor at Cambridge University, where he's a fellow of the Well Being Institute and director of the social ecology research group in the Department of Psychology. He was previously voted the favorite professor of Harvard's graduating class three years in a row, and his work has been featured in Time Magazine, the Ted Stage and much more.
Brian, welcome to the Science of Success.
[0:03:55.0] BL: Thank you, Matt. Delighted to be here.
[0:03:57.4] MB: Well, we're very excited to have you on the show today. To start out, I'd love to dig into, obviously you're an expert in in personality and what makes us ourselves. I'd to start out with one of the things that you've talked about and written about a lot, which is the field of trait psychology and the fundamentals of the big five personality trait model and how that works.
[0:04:20.7] BL: Yeah, happy to do that. Before a while, trait psychology was very much the dominant perspective in studying human personality. Then in 1968, a book was written by Walter Mischel that really challenged the whole notion of whether there are stable traits of personality. Then subsequent to that, there was a Renaissance work on personality and on how traits do have predictive validity, and that it isn't nonsensical to talk about our personality traits.
It is in that context of a revitalized trait psychology that the work of my own work and that of my colleagues and students is placed. In this renewed personality trait psychology, the big five is the most dominant perspective. It postulates that each of us can be placed on five spectrum that represent the big five traits, and these traits are – they spell out an acronym. It spells out OCEAN; O, openness to experience. C, conscientiousness. E, extraversion. A, agreeableness and N, neuroticism.
There are many challenges to the big five, but it is still the dominant perspective. One of the challenges suggests that there's a sixth factor, which might be called honesty and humility, and that is differentiated from the others. Now what's exciting about big five is that they are predictive. Your score on these scales predict consequential outcomes that are really important, such as but you're likely to be divorced or whether you do well in your organization, or in terms of the overall theme of this program whether you're likely to experience success and what success you're likely to experience.
For example, the difference between openness and conscientiousness is each can predict success, but those who are open to experience more likely to find success and creative, innovative spheres. Whereas, those who are conscientious are much more likely to find them in fields that are more conventional in answering questions to which there is an answer. Whereas, the more open individuals explore questions that are new and are themselves innovative.
Each of the other dimensions; extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism, or its obverse stability are highly consequential. I'd be happy to go through each of them in more detail, but that's the bare bones of what the big five traits is about they're relatively stable, they have consequential outcomes that matter for people’s lives, and they get us up to the starting point, but not all the way through to understanding who you are as a person.
[0:07:31.4] MB: I do want to dig in a little bit and there's a couple different pieces I'd like to explore. One, I'd love to hear a little bit more about some of those research examples, or implications of how the big five can predict life outcomes 10, 20 years down the road. Then the second piece I'd to dig into maybe after that is learn a little bit more about the different paths of success of somebody who is more operating out of openness, versus somebody who's operating out of conscientiousness.
[0:08:01.4] BL: Yeah. First of all, the long-term predictions, one of the most interesting of these is the trait of conscientiousness. It is a very good predictor, as you might expect of promotion in your workplace, of relative success in university. Yet, perhaps more surprisingly, conscientiousness is more likely than other traits to predict health and success in the future. Even, and I find this most interesting, it even is a good predictor of premature death.
Conscientiousness, just to flesh it out a little bit is a Tennessee to get things done, to get them done on time, to be responsible, and we can understand why that plays out well in our organizations, but why would it affect our health? I think this is probably due to the fact that highly conscientious people who are able to self-regulate are more likely to follow through on health advice in their positions, for example. They stick with the health regimen. They count those calories, and consequently they live longer and they're healthier throughout most of their lives. That's a consequential outcome that I think plays out into our futures and actually may impact the length of those futures.
The other example is on agreeableness. Now agreeableness is at the positive end, is the person who is well, agreeable, pleasant. They don't like conflict they, and so they do things in groups, or in relationships, which will subvert conflict and get around it, sometimes in very subtle ways. The lower end of that disagreeable people also have a risk factor for their health. The evidence is pretty clear that low agreeableness poses risks for coronary heart disease. The reason for this, as you may remember the old work on type-A personality, the person who is trying to get ahead and push, push, push, push, and it was often thought that it was at hurry sickness that was the predictor of cardiac risk, but it seems not to be that.
The behavioral pathogen appears to be hostility, and hostility is the core component underlying both type A behavior, and it is related to scoring low on agreeableness on the big five. Again, you have a personality trait with long-term implications for the way our lives go. That I think it's helpful to know about. I think in terms of the subtleties, you may take somebody else, because quite active an extrovert. They need stimulation, they love to have stimulants and they react well to stimulants, because neocortically they have a tendency not to be as arousable, so they need to have stimulation in their field, in their environment, or by the ingestion of stimulants of some sort.
They can be seen as irrepressible and so on. It may well be that you have a partner who is very extroverted, and you may worry that they're overdoing it. They're working crazy hours. They're working 70 hours a week. They’re push, push, push. You may think that they need to slow down and you force them to go to the Caribbean for a week. There they are checking their e-mail and you're tempted to say and you might say, “Good. You need to stop. Stop right now. Look at me. You're going to kill yourself.”
Now the paradox there, the subtlety there is that person may simply be extroverted and not disagreeable. They may not have that hostility that the real coronary-prone person has. The subtlety here is by loving them and trying to get them to slow down to improve their health, you may actually increase their hostility. I think that we need to be very careful when we interact with our loved ones and our colleagues that we understand the full spectrum of their personality dispositions when we're trying to do well by them and do good for them.
[0:12:48.7] MB: Let's come back to this, the different paths of success. I'd love to hear a little bit more about how people with high openness find success in life versus how people with high conscientiousness find success.
[0:13:00.4] BL: Yeah. The high open to experience person loves exploration. They have what I call alacrity. They're keen. When you mention something to them that sounds interesting, they throw themselves into it. They are as I mentioned earlier, they tend to do well in fields that require creative problem-solving. There have been some wonderful studies mainly out of the University of California Berkeley on creative individuals.
One of the most clearly emerging patterns of what these giants of creativity, I mean, in architecture were talking people like Frank Lloyd Wright. I mean, these are – he actually did not appear he was unable to, but people of his rank were studied and were compared with individuals who were not rated as creative as them in their fields; architecture, arts, science, technology and novelists and so on. They were in the same firms if they were architects, so you had a nice control group there. You had that highly creative ones, you had partners in the same firms that were not creative and you looked at their personality.
One of the best predictors of the creative individuals was their openness to experience. What's interesting about openness to experience is that when it comes to emotions, it means that you're very open to negative emotions, but also positive emotions. You have individuals a high in openness to experience, who are willing to accept and register in their daily lives that they're anxious, that they're depressed, that they're feeling a bit vulnerable, but they’re self-conscious about how things are going right now. These are aspects of negative emotion.
You also see in the highly creative people that they're over the moon joyful when things progress. That they could be cheery, they have aesthetic chills. One of the best unique features of open to experienced individuals is they experience what we call piloerections. These are your hair standing up when you – at the back of your neck when you’re listening to your favorite piece of music.
The interesting feature of those who are open to experience is that they may be seen as being very emotional, very up and down in their moods, passionate perhaps is another word for it. This can lead them both to extraordinary success in their emotion-driven creative work, but they can also be a real pain in the neck to work with. They require individuals who were perhaps more conscientious to check the bank balance in that major architectural project. To check the provision of elements for the creative acts and theater, or whatever it might be. To check that your search grants are coming through in the field of science.
One of the features of one of my books on Me, Myself and Us is that there's a bit of a myth of the creative hero that we think of highly creative individuals as being beyond the norm and emergent at a level where they cannot be compared to the normal person. I'm more interested in not the creative hero, but the creative project, the creative outcropping of those creative individuals. They cannot occur, will not occur without the concurrence of individuals who will tell you that the bank account is low, that they'll double-check the things you need to do, that will tell you if your fly is open when you're going to the bank manager for a loan.
It's the interplay of these different personalities that I find particularly intriguing and that we need to be mindful of, before we say there are good people, bad people, personality and the expression of personality is a social ecology. We draw from and contribute to the pursuits of others.
[0:17:24.2] MB: In some sense, that's almost like the classic artistic stereotype and that makes a lot of sense. I'm curious, we've talked a lot about these big five personality traits and how they can impact and predict life outcomes. How immutable are these traits, or how changeable are they?
[0:17:42.5] BL: It's a service of considerable research interest rate right now. In one sense, they're fairly stable. If you look at the kids in kindergarten who were the outgoing, extroverted ones, relative to their peer group when you come back for your school reunion, there's still relative to their peer group the outgoing extroverted ones, and the shy ones still tend to be a little bit shy and so on. There is this what we call rank order stability across the decades. That doesn't mean that individuals may not change. In fact, much of my own research has been looking at in how we may change from let's say, being an introverted person into being more extroverted, and why do we do this.
I coined a term, free traits, to discuss the characteristics or depict the characteristics of individuals who are biologically introverted, let us say, but whose actions appeared to be very extroverted. I use myself as an example, that I've been as you said in your introduction very, very graciously that I received some recognition for my teaching. In the first couple of lectures, my students certainly don't think I'm introverted. Biogenically, which is the term I use to subsume genetic and evolutionary and biochemical and other features of personality, biogenically, I'm very introverted.
One of the features that you can tell about introverts is that they don't handle stimulation in the same way as more extroverted people do, so that if I had a caffeine late in the afternoon, I can't sleep at night, whereas more extroverted person is relatively unaffected by that. What I find is that my trait expression and the trait expressions of the people listening to this program can often be shaped not just by your biogenic dispositions, but by the things that really matter to you, what I call your personal projects in your life, and my personal or personal projects is being a professor. It seems to me that as a professor, I'm called upon to profess which, means to convey with passion what I believe to be true, no holds barred.
When I talk to my students early in the morning and they'd be and up all night drinking milk, I need to engage them and have them not fall asleep or fall further asleep. I’ll do it, and I do it because I love my field and I love my students and I love to expose them to what I find is exciting in our research.
I can do that fairly easily now, because I've had decades and decades of experience doing it. People who act out of character in this way may run the risk of burning out. A naturally extroverted person can put on an entertaining lecture and not necessarily feel any cost for that, but those who act out of character can experience a cost. It works with the other big five traits. You may be naturally a very agreeable person, but you have a parent who needs to go into a care facility and you're getting stymied at every turn. For all of March, you need to act as a disagreeable person. You do so and it's hard for you, because you're naturally very, very sweet, but you do it.
It raises the question, why do we engage in this behavior? As I say, I think it's because of the core projects in our lives. We act out of character for professional reasons and we also act out of character for love. A guy who is trying to put on a great birthday party for his kid is likely to act out of character, even if he is introverted, as a goodtime dad who is really enjoying the party. After the party, he's ready to go into his room and just so to collapse.
This is part of what makes us human, I think. This is where I think, as I mentioned before that the study of our traits gets us into the study of human personality, but it doesn't take us all the way in. To look all the way in, we need to look at these core projects in our lives. To look at how we sometimes act out of the character and look at how we sometimes bend to accommodate to the social expectations, the professional expectations, the expectations that come from being a good friend. This makes life more complex, but to me it makes it much more intriguing.
[0:22:51.8] MB: I think that makes a lot of sense. I want to dig into the concept of free traits a little bit more. Before we do, you touched briefly on this concept of the biogenic nature and I want to zoom out and examine. You've talked previously about the three different natures; biogenic, sociogenic, etc. Would you explain that framework and why that's important in understanding personality?
[0:23:16.2] BL: Yeah, thanks for that, because it's a really important distinction, I believe. We’ve moved way beyond the nature-nurture debate of what I would have been exposed to as an undergraduate on. We now know that one has one's nature or nurtured, that their genetic expression is contingent upon context and certainly an intrauterine life, their influences from external influences that will shape the expression of genes. We can't simply talk about something just purely nature or purely nurtured.
That said, I think it's useful when we talk about traits to talk about the biogenic influences on them. We know for example, that some of the personality characteristics, particularly openness to experience and extraversion are linked to dopaminergic pathways in the brain and the reactivity, other aspects, the more stabilizing aspects of conscientiousness and so on. I seem to be more related to the serotonergic pathways. They're also some influence and some research. Not all of which is concurs with other research, so there's still a bit of complexity and about the molecular genetics of personality and various snips and sorts that will shape our lives that has not been as cumulatively impressive as it was originally thought.
I think that there is no doubt that there is a biogenic base to personality. That's the base that we may act against when we're deliberately trying to shape our own lives, or we can act in accordance with it. Let's take extraversion as example. We can clearly examine and lay out the biogenic influences on extraversion as I mentioned. There are also sociogenic influences on the expression of behavior that is regarded as extroverted. Some cultures placed a premium on extroverted conduct, others place a premium on more introverted conduct.
For example, when people in some Asian countries are talking about problems with their content in school, they're worried that their kids are too extroverted and they want to become more introverted, because the norm there is a more introverted norm. Whereas in North America is typically the opposite, that that is the concern of the parents.
We have biogenic, we have sociogenic influences upon our behavior and they meet as if we’re in the idiogenic, and that's the same root as the word idiosyncrasies; is the particular singular aspect of your own behavior. I think it's important, and so let me just preface some further comments on that by saying that in personality psychology, we study the way in which each of us, each of the listeners here is like all other people, like some other people and like no other person.
The idiogenic source of our personality are the singular pursuits projects, the commitments that you make in your life. I believe that all three of these influences play out as important factors in shaping our lives. As you move through your profession, as you try to improve yourself as many of your listeners are motivated to do, we can look at the dance as a word between your biogenic propensities, the sociogenic constraints within which you work and the idiogenic projects, commitment, concerns that really motivate you, that make you distinctive among all the other people in your life.
I think that if we ignore any of those roots, we'll miss something really important. It's funny, I would often, before my classes I would meet with them and they'd be milling around before class and I got into the habit of saying, “So, how's it going?” The answer was always, “Fine.” The next day, how's it going? Fine. Every day it was the same routine. One day I came in and I said, “How's it going?” The response was, “Fine.” I just said, I looked at the student, I said, “No, really? How's it going?” That no really, was really an opening to discourse and exchange of ideas and what really concerned them, that was very, very rewarding, both for them and for me, because I genuinely was interested in how they're doing.
The response would be, “Really? Terrible. My girlfriend's gone to Stanford and left me again.” I think the multivariate statistics was designed to suck the very soul out of me. They get into things that are singular about your girlfriend, Leslie. Distinctive about how you find stats difficult. That allows me to understand them way more than if I were to simply look at their scores on big five personality traits.
I guess, one of the things I'm crafting here is the argument that traits are a necessary way of understanding one personality, but they're insufficient. There are these other ways in which are like no other person. The distinctive Bodnarian aspects of Matt that I think are really important to take into account. Else, or else, we just stick you in a category, put you in a pigeonhole and I'm not even sure pigeons belong in those pigeon holes.
[0:29:22.4] MB: In some sense, by the way I love that phrase, the Bodnarian aspects of Matt, that's a good one. Rather than this black and white conception of an individual as a collection of a bag of traits, it's really a much more complicated mix of biological factors, social impacts and also individual desires, goals and experiences.
[0:29:44.1] BL: That's right.
[0:29:44.7] MB: How do you see agency, or individual agency and control playing into how we can shape our own personalities and then how it interacts with this stew of factors?
[0:29:58.3] BL: That's a really great question. That could take us three hours, but let me compress it into two minutes and eight seconds. Agency is really a crucial concept to invoke when you're trying to explain the shape of human lives. This is where the idiogenic sources is highlighted, that earlier perspectives on human personality would argue that we're simply the victim of our biogenics, or upon shaped by the sociogenic influences in our lives.
I've argued for many years and there are certainly other theorists as well; Al Bandura, perhaps most, well certainly most famously in the field of psychology, who have argued that we are not pawns, but agents, that we craft our lives in ways that transcend the forces that arise out of our biologies and our cultural shaping. That there are is that we’re fates beyond traits. I believe that agency, the act of shaping of our lives, which is what I mean by an agency, is a necessary way of understanding why individuals do what they do. I think it is an important stance to take in our lives to feel that we can shape things, that we’re not victims, but that we can shape our lives.
I also believe that we can overdo in our expectation that we can invariably shape whatever it is we want. One of the things that I emphasize when I'm talking about people's personal projects is that they be based on reasonable appraisal of the ecosystem in which they're working. By that, I mean that if you are not aware that there are legitimate constraints upon your behavior, legitimate in the sense that these are reality constraints, that no amount of wishing and no amount of agential optimism can subvert, that you need to take these into account when you're shaping as best you can your life.
This is the kind of reality test. Sometimes it's really difficult to tell students for example, the course that they’re trying to pull at might work, but a much better one in which they can be truly excellent is this one instead. Many people I think find themselves hooked onto a particular desired identity in the future, without sufficiently checking into alternatives that could bring them to joy in the sense of efficacy and the sense of joy that they wish. Therefore, they can actually squander their twenties by pursuing something which would be better off downplayed and explore other alternatives.
I think a good teacher will provide those alternative paths to people who are stumbling on the paths that they're currently exploring. A good parent would do that with their kids, and a good friend will do that. “When you say so, I'm going to do X.” You wonder if in fact this is such a good idea. Go for it is very rewarding as a thing to say to a friend, but only – but all too often, it's a cheap way out of I'm not really being a friend, because you realize that there may be alternatives to that action that would be better off, given the person's natural talents and we all have talents that can create successful lives for us if only we would explore them instead of getting bogged down in less fruitful ones.
[0:33:57.2] MB: It's funny. I think in many ways you're echoing a theme that we hear repeatedly on the show, which is this idea that’s accepting and facing reality as it is, rather than as you want it to be, including the self-awareness of looking at your own limitations and weaknesses is really an essential component of success.
[0:34:16.9] BL: Absolutely. It's very interesting that as a professor, I find that the hardest lecture I give is on this topic, because students want to be told that they want to have reinforced what they've learned, that there's nothing you can't do if you want it enough and work hard enough at it. I wish this were so. I would love to play in the World Cup, but I'm a little too old and I have no football skill, but I can certainly become the most astute observer of the World Cup in Canada where I’m from. If we can find alternatives to the projects that we want to pursue that are more viable, this is highly desirable.
In fact, I've reached the conclusion that human wellbeing, success in terms of the show's themes, depends on the sustainable pursuit of core projects in our lives. A core project is a project which if you woke up without it tomorrow morning, if it were no longer there for whatever reason, you may wonder whether you should carry on at all. These are the things that crowned us, the philosopher Bernard Williams called these ground projects. These are things that are the greatest source of meaning to us in our lives.
For many of us, it's family and the love of spouse. For others, it is their profession. A core project has to be sustainable. In one way, it can be sustainable. The sustainable pursuit can be maintained if you have sufficient internal motivation, and if you realistically examine your ecosystem, which goes to your point Matt, that if you really don't think that there is a barrier there and there is, and you get as the British say god smacked by reality, it can really unhinged you.
I think we need to be more cautious and discerning in the things we undertake by looking at the possible difficulties. Indeed there's some exciting research out of Columbia University on precisely how envisaging these barriers to project or goal pursuit may enhance your ability to cope with them and to bring them through to completion.
[0:36:49.1] MB: This is a two-part question, but what shapes our selection of our core projects, and then also how can we select the right kinds of core projects for ourselves with the perspective in mind of what we've talked about in terms of sustainability and internal motivation and an assessment of our own place within that stew, or that ecosystem of various factors?
[0:37:13.3] BL: Yeah. This is a hard question and it's one that I don't have an answer to – that satisfies me yet, but I can give you a few directions that I've been going over the years in trying to grapple with it. I think the question of how do we choose the core projects goes to the whole question of our biogenic natures. I think that we are naturally predisposed to being attracted to things that become our specialty, and that if we look at little kids who suddenly become excited by animals and they fantasize about animals and they develop a really discerning orientation to them, or sports, or friendships.
These natural dispositions that we don't borrow from our cultural scripts, but are just naturally oriented to I think are the first line of influence that help shape what will become a core project. Getting social validation for them in terms particularly of having them modelled by people you admire, this could be ranging from your parents to individuals who are become your mentors, this can make you suddenly go up and say yes. Yes, what Rajit has been doing is exactly what I want to do, and I'm going to internalize that as a core project in my life.
I think that again, I love your invoking of the word stew. I think that out of the stew, emerge biogenically influenced, but also socially and culturally shaped aspirations the ideal me, the possible self that I could be in the future that is anchored in a core project. When I talk to clinicians who have worked within the framework I've been looking at with core projects, but they say that individuals who lack any core project in their life, who are equally interested moderately in a whole bunch of things don't fare as well.
When they do become committed to a project that trumps everything else, meaning in their life is enhanced and the clinical picture becomes more optimistic. I think that the sustainable pursuit of core projects is vital. The way in which we get those core projects, how they are shaped or more challengingly, how they arise in the first place is on the agenda for my colleagues and students over the next few decades more.
[0:40:01.9] MB: This is a change in direction, but I'm curious and I think it ties back into this in some ways. When you talk about and you've previously written about the myth of authenticity, can you tell a little bit more about what that means and how that interacts with what we've been talking about?
[0:40:17.3] BL: Yes. The myth authenticity. One of the influences that really shaped my early development in the study of personality was by a psychologist who should be read much more than he is, but he's quite famous among personality researchers, by the name of George Kelly, who's an American, who wrote about The Psychology of Personal Constructs. In one of his books, he talked about how insipid was the admonishment to be yourself. He said that I can't think of anything much more boring than being yourself. It's a very boring way of living your life.
Let's try to see what you might become that's different. Let's look at alternative construals of oneself. I remember that interesting me at the time, and then it coming up again when we see this whole business about authenticity, which is very hot in the management literature right now and the organizational behavior literature, and the notion that it is really crucial for a young manager for example, to be authentic in her or his management style.
I remember a wonderful depiction of this as something that sounds great, but can actually really, really backfire. The example in the Harvard business review was of a person who said, “Yeah, I'll be authentic. I have to be a woman. I want to let my staff know that I'm scared, I'm vulnerable. I feel really nervous when I am speaking to the board.” She did and it ended up that this rather than this authenticity bolstering her management credibility, lowered it.
It would have been better according to the analysis, had she not given in to the authenticity of her biogenic nature, but idioenically in terms of the goal that she had to act in a way that was more assertive and confident and self-efficacious. Your listeners may be saying, “Maybe I should just be natural and be authentic by being not very agreeable. I'm a disagreeable person. Really being – spending most of my time playing games on my computer. Yeah, I'm not conscious, but man I'm really, really authentic in missing deadlines, because that's me. This is the authentic me.” With Bud, you get Bud. You don't get somebody else. I'm an authentic slob.
That is not likely to wax well for Bud, because succeeding in life I think requires that we adopt core projects that shape us in ways that are not just socially desirable, that would be rather superficial, but lead on to greater fortune, lead on to productivity, lead on to exciting new ventures.
You may be, you may regard authenticity as something which reflects only your true biogenic you. I think this is misleading. I don't think you should just naturally be yourself, except perhaps with your dearest friend, where we say, “Yeah. Now I can really be you. I can be me and you can be you and we can hang out together and let everything just be natural.” There is another authenticity and it is showing adherence to and respect for your core aspirations in your life. It may mean that some people may see you as being a little bit disingenuous. On the other hand, acting out of character in the way we've been discussing can also lead to real change. It can also mean that you become that which you're opposing, and that can be liberating for creating new paths in our lives.
[0:44:31.8] MB: For listeners that want to concretely implement some of the ideas that we've talked about today, what would be an action item or a piece of homework that you would give them to start implementing some of the things we've discussed?
[0:44:46.2] BL: I'm a big believer in the effectiveness of self-change projects. One thing that’s worth mentioning is that when individuals take on a desire to change, in the way that the philosophy of your whole podcast is about constructive, personal change that will lead to greater success, the origin of that project is really important. For example, if you're very introverted as I am biogenically, and you want to become more extroverted, then it really helps to practice this. Practice it in small settings first. Try speaking up at a meeting where it's not too threatening to do that, or and expand it and gradually build up from small starts, small wins as we call it, to more challenging approaches.
Now if you initiated it, it's much more likely to go well, than if it were forced upon you by somebody else. If somebody says to you, “Doug, you've really got to be more outgoing starting next Thursday man,” that is less likely to be successful. Than if Doug himself chooses that project after a degree of reflection. Those who are listening who want to work on enhancing their social repertoire by becoming more agreeable, but retaining the capacity to be disagreeable when it's warranted, to be both extroverted and more introverted depending on the context that you're in, to be stable emotionally, but to see the value of being sensitive and hypersensitive, which more neurotic people feel.
You can mount these experiments. They can be itself change experiments that you may start off slowly and maybe take, the first one will be a week. For this week, you're going to move in a direction on the big five, or any other desirable change that you want. That is a step in the right direction. Then reflect on it at the end of the week and see, “Whoa, boy. That was tough, but the feedback I got was really terrific. Or that really sucked, and the feedback I got was what on earth is up with you.” Well then, you may have to shape that back a bit.
Now here is where getting some professional help and counselling help is always a good idea. I find that the people are able to do these little short-term experiments of what George Kelly, who I mentioned before called fixed role explorations, where you try out a new way of behaving, and then you monitor the effect that it has. This can be quite liberating, and particularly if you have a community of people who know that's what you're doing. I don't think this has to be done by self.
You say, okay, I'm not that agreeable a person. In fact, people have called me the seventh most disagreeable person in New York. I think that it's getting me into difficulty. I know it's not good for my health to constantly piss people off. For the next week, I'm going to try doing things, and if you catch me being agreeable and pleasant and it doesn't seem phony, let me know because I'm going to do this for a week. If you think we were able to do those shortcoming experiments, self-change experiments, I think that would be a good concrete way in which you could change the trajectory you're on right now.
[0:48:19.6] MB: For listeners who want to learn more about you and your work, where can they find you and your various books, etc., online?
[0:48:27.0] BL: You can at all major book dispensers. You can get a book called Me, Myself and Us: The Science of Personality and the Art of Well-Being. The other book for those with shorter attention spans is called Who Are You, Really? The Surprising Puzzle of Personality and it's based on my TED talk 2016 by the same title.
[0:48:52.5] MB: Well Brian, thank you so much for coming on the Science of Success, sharing all of your incredible wisdom and stories. It is a fascinating conversation, really, really interesting and very much appreciate you joining us on the show.
[0:49:04.0] BL: Thank you. Delighted and your podcast is vitally important. I'm just delighted to participate in it. Thank you.
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