Return youth: an experiment with the situation
In 1979, Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer and a group of graduate students furnished the apartment building, observing the style of 1959 in the interior: a black and white TV, old furniture, as well as books and magazines lying in different places twenty years ago. And in this dwelling for five days settled eight people aged 70 and 80.
Before the start of the experiment, participants were asked not only to talk about the past but also to behave as if they really became the same people who lived 20 years ago. “We have reason to believe that if you manage to do that, you’ll feel the same way you felt in 1959,” Langer told them.
From that point on, study participants were treated as if they were in their 50s, not their 70s.
Although they slouched and walked with a wand, no one helped them to lift things upstairs. “You can bring one shirt if necessary,” the assistants said. During the day, the men listened to radio broadcasts, watched movies, talked about sports and other “current events”. They couldn’t mention anything that happened after 1959, they had to talk about themselves, their family, or their work as if it were that same year.
The study was not conducted to put people in the past. The goal was to awaken in their brains and the rest of the body the strengths and biological reactions of young people.
What happened? In short, the men have become younger. They literally got taller. They have noticeably improved hearing, vision, memory, and appetite, they have become more agile. And yet – gained weight, which in their case was useful. Those who at the beginning of the study walked with a wand and relied heavily on the help of children, at the end of the experiment independently left the building and carried their own things.
By allowing men to live independently and interacting with them as individuals rather than “old men,” Langer and her students gave them “the opportunity to see themselves differently,” which influenced their biology.
The fastest way to change
We play the roles that our environment prescribes. And to reject the expectations of society or culture, you need to be an extremely conscious and decisive person.
The 70- to 80-year-old participants in Langer’s study probably didn’t expect to carry their bags themselves. Their opinions didn’t matter for years. And they’ve probably forgotten what it’s like to be stronger, younger, and more confident. But being in a new context and starting to play roles that correspond to this environment, they have changed a lot.
So all of us, getting into a new environment, being next to new people, and taking on new roles, quickly change – for better or for worse. This is one of the fastest ways to change. After all, when we fully get used to a new role, we begin to change from the inside.
Personality in captivity of patterns
Our personality is constantly changing: its changes depend on the roles we play and the situations in which we find ourselves.
The word “personality” itself comes from the word “face”, “face”. The latter was called the moving part of the military helmet, completely covering the face, or actor’s masks. So, wearing a mask, you play another character, portray a different person. Even William Shakespeare said: “The whole world is a theater. It’s women, men, all actors. They have their own exits, departures, and everyone plays more than one role.”
Think about it: are you always the same person? The question may seem strange because internally you always feel yourself. But it’s not that simple. Sometimes you get bored, uncomfortable, or shy. And sometimes you’re in the seventh heaven of happiness.
“You” are always different depending on the situation. If your house is robbed, you are not the same person as you would be on a plane, at work, or at a rock concert. In a certain circle of people, such as old school friends, you can become a younger yourself. Somewhere you manifest yourself more vividly as an introvert, and somewhere – as an extrovert.
But as a person grows older, he ceases to face new experiences, get into new situations and environments.
In other words, a person’s personality becomes more stable because they stop interacting with the new context.
Philosopher and psychologist William James believed that basic personality traits are formed and fixed by the age of 30, after which a person’s life most often becomes extremely monotonous and predictable.
The fact is that there are many similar scenarios. And by the time we reach the age of 30, we stop having the “first-time” experience. In childhood, adolescence, and even when we are over 20, we get a lot of new impressions: the first kiss, the first time behind the wheel, the first job, the first major failure, the first move to another city.
At some point, however, we decide to “settle down.” We stop playing new roles that could reveal our new traits, or get into unfamiliar situations where we could show ourselves in a different light. As life becomes extremely monotonous — in terms of both social roles and environment — our behavior becomes predictable.
This is one of the main reasons why a person is considered stable and his behavior is predictable. But it is not she herself who becomes stable, it’s just that routine and social roles squeeze us into the usual framework.
To check if your identity is within the rigid framework of the templates, answer a few questions:
- How long ago have you been doing something “for the first time”?
- When was the last time you did something unpredictable?
- How long have you taken on a new role or found yourself in an unusual situation?
- Do you have clothes in your closet that are more than five years old?
According to Stanford University psychology professor Lee Ross, it’s not the personality but the situation we find ourselves in that determines our behavior: “People are predictable, it’s true… But that’s true because we see them in situations where their behavior is limited by the environment, the roles they play, and the relationships they build with us.”
Therefore, it is so important to approach the choice of the environment seriously. Until you think about it and start consciously choosing the context, you won’t become who you want to be. But if you make it so that your environment – both the place and the people – will correspond to the desired results, then you will change for the better.
– “Flexible Personality”, by Benjamin Hardy
Mann, Ivanov and Ferber, 2021
Personality is constantly changing: today you are not the same as a year ago. At the same time, the label that you put on yourself limits your opportunities. If it weren’t for him, you’d be focused on specific circumstances and goals.
This book is for those who want to develop and improve, who are ready to learn new things and change throughout life. For those who want to achieve new heights in their career and personal life. It asks questions that make you think about your personality and the future that you choose yourself.
The author gives examples of how people completely changed their lives, although it seemed that it was predetermined by circumstances.
Based on Benjamin Hardy’s book “Flexible Personality”