Meditation Part 1:
Mindfulness Meditation and Personality Change
Q: So much of the advice at Real Men Real Style seems to revolve around changing my personality. But is that even possible? I know I can change a habit or two, but there’s nothing I can do about my personality, right? If I simply don’t care enough to change, am I hopeless?
A: Scientific research has shown that there are things you can do to change your personality. First, changing a large number of habits is basically the same as changing your personality (since personality is basically your behavioral patterns over a long-term period), but there’s a new method that has become very popular in psychology because it works: Meditation.
Introduction to Meditation
Modern life is kind of the opposite of meditation: it’s fast-paced, there are hundreds of things grabbing for our attention all the time, and our attention is divided many ways.
Meditation is all about sitting with your own thoughts and not doing anything “productive” (at least, not outwardly productive).
But the first step to changing yourself, your personality, your habits, and the way you come across to others is to BECOME AWARE OF YOURSELF.
- It might seem like sitting around and wasting time, but scientific research has shown that meditation makes a huge difference in this area.
- It’s one way to become more self-aware and change major aspects of your personality, concentration, emotions, and self-concept.
What is meditation?
There are three broad classes of meditation:
- Concentration meditation – Focusing on a specific subject, image, or mantra. Visualization is a form of concentration meditation.
- Mindfulness meditation – Learning how to become more aware of your own thoughts and emotions without reacting to them. This allows you to really be aware of how you think and feel.
- Lovingkindness meditation – A very specific kind of meditation that helps you learn to have more compassion on yourself and others.
The articles in this series will be focused on mindfulness meditation, but the others have benefits as well.
You might be asking, “Wait, isn’t meditation some kind of Buddhist thing? I’m not religious/I’m not spiritual/I’m spiritual but I’m not Buddhist!”
Mindfulness and Personality Change
- People generally have the idea that personality is “fixed” and there’s nothing anyone can do to change their personality. That’s not true.
- There is scientific evidence that mindfulness meditation can influence personality in positive ways.
- In a study published in the journal Comprehensive Psychiatry in 2014, four Italian researchers sought to examine how mindfulness meditation influences several personality traits:
- Also known as self-determination. The ability to adapt one’s own behavior according to the demands of the situation in order to pursue one’s personally-chosen goals and values. People high on this trait are able to act quickly and decisively, in the moment, to make decisions that get them to their own goals.
- The ability of a person to work well with others rather than being self-centered and hostile.
- This relates to the spiritual domain of a person (not necessarily religious). People high on this trait feel connected to others and the world, and also see that there are more important things in life than themselves.
This study is powerful because it tracks a decent number of participants over a long period of time (a year).
Over a course of 24 months, three mindfulness meditation training courses were organized. 41 people were selected to be in the courses based on having no experience with meditation. A group of 15 people were selected as a control group (they got no meditation training).
The members of the groups were given a personality test before they learned how to meditate.
Then they were given an 8-week meditation training course that consisted of 2-hour classes every week, as well as instructions to meditate daily for 30 minutes (they were given a CD to guide them through meditation every day).
After they went through the course, each participant was asked whether they *really* meditated every day or if they slacked off.
Then, they were given the personality survey again.
Over the course of the year, there were three meditation groups.
Participants were placed in one of the groups, not for any reason, but just according to the time that they signed up for the classes. Analyses showed that the members of each of the groups was basically the same (in terms of personality traits) before starting.
After the training was over, it turns out that Groups 1 and 3 were pretty good at consistently practicing meditation. Group 2 ended up being inconsistent with it.
The groups that were consistent with meditation practice (Groups 1 and 3) turned out to have significantly higher character improvement than Group 2 or the control group.
This means that they had significantly higher levels of all three traits:
Since these are all measured by self-report (people describing themselves and their traits), this shows that meditation changed how people perceived themselves and talk about themselves.
This shows that personality can change through concentrated effort. Those who consistently meditated found themselves:
- Better able to make dynamic decisions in the moment that get them to their goals.
- Better able to work with others without being perceived as hostile or too aggressively self-centered.
- Better able to tap into the sense that there are ideals and values that transcend their own self-interest.
AND, consistent meditation helped people think better of themselves and their own personalities.
These are all traits that set a successful man apart from his peers.
Campanella, F., Crescentini, C., Urgesi, C., & Fabbro, F. (2014). Mindfulness-oriented meditation improves self-related character scales in healthy individuals. Comprehensive Psychiatry, 55, 1269-1278.