Brian Little

Psychologist, author of the book “Me, Me Again and Us. Psychology of personality and well-being.

There are two ways to think about your personality. The first is in terms of personality traits, such as openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and so on. The second is in terms of actions, or personal projects, such as “overcome anxiety,” “stop being lazy,” or “start exercising every week.” These achievements characterize a person as a person, and it is this way of thinking that helps to effectively analyze one’s life.

What we do affects who we are. This happens because personal projects are aimed at the future, they move us forward. If we carefully follow their trajectory, we will be able to understand the most important thing – in our “I”. Moreover, if we do not like the direction, we are able to change it and become more productive.

1. Parse personal projects

Personal projects are not only formalities that we need to follow, such as sending a child to a good school. These include all those actions that we ourselves gladly choose. They can be very simple (walk the dog) or extremely serious (hold a charity event).

To analyze your personal projects, take 10 minutes and write down everything you do at the moment. Do not limit yourself – include both household chores and favorite hobbies in the list. We are with colleagues studied records of thousands of people and identified several categories of personal projects that are most common.

  • Workers: Calculate the estimate for the month.
  • Interpersonal: have dinner with a friend.
  • Household: buy a replacement filter cartridge.
  • Recreational: go on a cruise.
  • Related to the body or health: lose 5 kg.
  • Intrapersonal: learning to deal with anxiety.

The last category is especially interesting and important. It includes actions that are focused on ourselves, such as “learning to listen better to the interlocutor” or “to worry less when communicating.” On the one hand, such projects bind with feelings of depression and vulnerability. If you have similar ones in your life, you are likely to find that you often find yourself in a vicious circle – spending too much time thinking about what needs to be done, and too obsessed with measuring progress (or lack of it). On the other hand, intrapersonal projects also have advantages. They are associated with creativity and openness to new experiences.

If you notice projects in the intrapersonal category on your list, ask yourself who initiated them. If they arose from your vision of your “I”, then they will positively influence you and are more likely to succeed. If they are initiated by other people, it is better to get rid of such projects. Numerous studies confirmthat actions that are internally regulated by the person themselves are more likely to lead to well-being than actions imposed from the outside.

2. Determine the influence of character on personal projects

The most important value of analyzing a person in terms of actions is the potential for change. This way of looking at things allows you to consciously choose and adapt personal projects. But this does not mean that we can ignore our character. Study demonstratedthat the Big Five measures (extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness) influence how we evaluate personal projects.

Moreover, these indicators also dictate which projects we choose and how difficult it is for us to work on them. For example, people with a high level of neuroticism are more likely to think negatively, which means they tend to treat most of their personal projects as stressful. If you experience these kinds of experiences, try to find time for things that lift your spirits. It is not necessary to choose large ones, it is better to start with the regular implementation of small projects that will definitely bring pleasure.

Of course, personal qualities are an important predictor of happiness. However, projects can affect our internal state and well-being much more strongly. For example, a gloomy introvert is not necessarily doomed to a sad existence. He can start his own thematic blog, which will bring him pleasure and make his life better. We are not victims of our own innate qualities – our actions are much stronger than our character.

Imagine that you want to do something that goes against your personal qualities. For example, you are a non-conflict person and do not like quarrels, but you dream of becoming a lawyer. Or you’re incredibly organized and love to plan, but want to be an improv comedian. Are your character traits capable of limiting your choice of personal projects? Not necessary. Sometimes this dissonance, on the contrary, adds intrigue.

3. Use “free” character traits

Our ability to reincarnate is amazing. We often acquire new qualities in order to work more effectively on personal projects. It is in this way that what we do shapes us as a person.

Sometimes we have to change to get what we want. An anxious person may act casually when meeting with the parents of a partner, and a person who hates conflicts may fiercely defend the right to a salary increase. I call these “loose” character traits—qualities that show up when we want to succeed in a personal project.

Sometimes they can confuse others, who will think that you are always calm or conflicted, because in a certain situation you behaved that way. Therefore, when I meet someone, I wonder if the person is really the way I saw him, or perhaps it was a manifestation of some kind of “free” quality.

Think about the job of a flight attendant or collector. Each of these professions is associated with a certain set of qualities. A rude flight attendant or a too kind collector is unlikely to be able to hold out for a long time in his workplace. Therefore, people who do not fit in character, but occupy these positions, adapt using “free” qualities. It’s difficult at first, but the more they do their job, the more natural their behavior becomes.

If you regularly practice “free” qualities, they can become a permanent part of the personality. “I pretended to be the person I wanted to be and finally became it. Or he became me. Or at some point we met each other.” This quote by Archibald Leach perfectly describes the power of “free” traits to create your new self. Archibald dropped out of school and joined a traveling circus, but wanted more. And when he began to achieve success as an actor, he took the name by which we all know him: Cary Grant. He acted like a cool, confident, witty and charming person and, as he himself admitted, became one.

The phrase “behaving out of character” actually has two meanings: to act in a manner that is unusual for oneself, and also to act in accordance with one’s character. We are more likely to act uncharacteristically in the second sense, when we rely on our values. Perhaps, by nature, you are not at all an open extrovert. But when the situation calls for it, you have no choice and you behave just like that – you become an alternative to your personality and, in a sense, turn into an optimized version of yourself.