Personality vs. Habit

When I meet with Executive Presence clients for the first time, they often tell me about the issues they are experiencing, and sometimes they mention that it’s just part of their “personality”. I find this interesting because it’s generally things they have difficulty changing that they attribute to “personality.” Things that are relatively easy to change, might be “issues” or “concerns” or “what somebody pointed out,” but anything they need help changing is generally attributed to personality.

The question I ask at this juncture, is what is the difference between “habit” and “personality”?

You could be in the “habit” or speaking up or not speaking up, talking softly or loudly, talking at a fast pace or a slow pace, or interrupting others or never interrupting. This could also be part of your personality to do or not do these things.

What’s the difference?

Personality is generally viewed as something we don’t change, shouldn’t have to change, or maybe even can’t change. It’s “just the way I am.” In fact, many people feel they shouldn’t be asked to change their personalities or wouldn’t feel comfortable doing that.

Habits are different. We even have an expression for it: “breaking a bad habit.” That’s how people learn to exercise more or eat less or stop smoking, for example. A habit doesn’t have to be bad; I could be in the habit of eating healthy food or going to bed early to get rest or swimming daily; however, when we hear the word “habit,” many of us associate it with things we wish we didn’t do, but just do  automatically.

For these reasons, I suggest identifying the behavioral things about you that you would like to change or that others would like you to change as “habits” not “personality.”

For example, if your boss wants you to take on more projects, and you see it as your “personality” to be a little more laid back, not speak up as much, never take on more than you can handle, then you might view being asked to step up more and show your leadership skills as an attack. Why doesn’t s/he see all the things you do right? Why are you being judged? How come other employees aren’t being asked to take on extra work? Maybe your boss just doesn’t like you and is trying to phase you out so s/he can bring someone else in? Do you see the thought progression based on taking the comment that your boss wants you to take on more projects as a reflection of your personality?

On the other hand, if you take the same comment as an expression about your “habit” of not taking on as many projects as your boss would like, you might instead think about how you could change your habit. Is there anything you could do to take on more projects that are of interest to you and help you grow without adversely impacting your workload? Is your boss open to letting you hand off some of your current projects that have become routine and less challenging to you that might be a challenge to someone else in exchange for you taking on new projects? Do you need to take any classes to acquire new skills so you can take on more interesting projects? Note the entire thought process is different when you are in the frame of mind of changing a “habit” vs. your “personality.”

Of course, framing only goes so far. If you really feel something is outside the range of possibilities for you, it might feel deep and integral and unchangeable, whether or not you like it about yourself. In some cases, you may not be able to or want to change in ways that would allow you to do something differently; however, it’s important to know you have the choice.

Is it part of your personality or just a habit? You decide!