Habits can positively change genes and traits

Character can be changed

Character can be changed

Do you want to change your character? Certain traits and strengths can be successfully trained. See for yourself!

A kind of psychological request concert - that's it, we often think, when the small and big annoyances of everyday life take over again. Then we would like to see a lot of discipline, because another month is over in which the fitness subscription has not been used anywhere. Or more guts and ingenuity to parry flippant remarks from a colleague more confidently and more eloquently.

Sounds good, but is an illusion, do you think? Because you can't change as an adult? You can, as the latest psychological and neurobiological findings show. Accordingly, the character is not a rigid something that was partly put in the cradle, partly arose in childhood. On the contrary: characteristics and core elements of the human being such as perseverance, fairness, curiosity, humor, enthusiasm, creativity or integrity can be trained regardless of age.

Develop character strengths

“I am who I am” - that doesn't get anyone any further

And that seems to be worth it. Because those who work on developing their character traits and strengths live happier and healthier than someone who stubbornly follows the motto “That's how I am, and that's how I stay”.

At least that's what the representatives of positive psychology, a young branch of science founded a good ten years ago by the renowned American psychology professor Martin Seligman from the University of Pennsylvania, say. The researchers working with Seligman are primarily concerned with the question of what makes us humans satisfied, how we can get to know our mental resources and expand them in everyday life.

To this end, they have developed, among other things, a comprehensive test that can be used to find out your strongest characteristics. Experts from the Chair of Personality Psychology and Diagnostics at the University of Zurich have adapted this scientific instrument for German-speaking countries and put it on the Internet for study purposes, where anyone interested can work through the test (see extra box).

The genes shape the character

The genes, upbringing and experience shape character

You can track down your character even without an online test. "This first step, self-awareness, is the prerequisite for honing one's personality," says Dr. Mathias Jung, Gestalt therapist and author from Lahnstein (“My character - my fate?”, Emu-Verlag). But the navel gaze hardly works alone. “When it comes to our own features, we have a blind spot and we tend to idealize ourselves,” says Jung. Most of the time you can see yourself well in the mirror of others, through assessments from friends and family members. “The ideal school of character, however, is relationship. If you ask your partner what he likes about you and what bothers him, you get the best information about yourself. "

But to what extent can the character be changed at all? What is certain is that our personality is in part genetically determined, but a large part is formed in the first few years of life by upbringing in the family and our social environment. The brain also plays a lifelong role in character formation. Neuroscientists use “neural plasticity” to describe the ability of our thinking apparatus to construct new nerve cell interfaces and complete networks when we have decisive experiences or learn something. These synaptic decisions influence how we will behave in similar situations in the future. A constantly growing and changing structure, which, according to researchers such as the Freiburg neurobiologist Prof. Joachim Bauer, largely determines what we feel and which character traits emerge.

Great feelings and crises motivate people to change

From a psychological point of view, it is above all the classic opposites of love and suffering that lead us to take inventory and change our behavior. “Sincere love and loving interaction fuel empathy and allow us to mature. Just like crises and emotional clashes, ”says therapist Jung. In the case of negative experiences, questions can help: “Why did that go wrong? What part did I have in it? " That spurs change, says Jung, who is convinced that everyone can shape their own character: “However, that requires consistent work, because traits cannot be switched on and off. Patience and the will to change are essential. "

Simple exercises for you at home

Simple exercises for you at home

For important characteristics, VITAL has put together exercises together with the Department of Personality Psychology at the University of Zurich. They seem simple, but still give you the competence to build up strengths in a targeted manner. They may even encourage you to create exercises yourself. As for playing the piano or learning vocabulary, the same applies to character training: the more you practice, the faster you will rethink and build new habits; the desired behavior will ultimately become part of your flesh and blood.

For more discipline: Find a role model, someone you envy for their "staying power", and try to emulate them. Just the thought of role models has a motivating effect, as US researchers recently demonstrated: test subjects who thought of a disciplined acquaintance lasted longer when pressing a hand muscle trainer than those who had someone lazy on their mind. Whether it's a job, diet or sports program: take on something that is actually achievable! Plan in intermediate steps so as not to lose track or lose interest. Another trick: Make your goals visible (e.g. put up a photo of yourself when the four additional kilos were not on it yet) and let them motivate you.

For more authenticity / inner strength: Stop the negative spiral by consistently reversing what is dragging you down to positive thinking - without fooling yourself. Instead of “I screwed up the exam completely” rather: “It didn't go well, but I'll prepare better next time”.

For more creativity: Whether it's a watch advertisement, a politician's head or a chocolate bar - cut out pictures that you like from magazines and transfer your thoughts to your situation. This creates wild connections, one approaches a problem from completely different directions. It is also effective to look at a situation like in role play from different perspectives: Be the dreamer and let your imagination run wild. But also be the realist who checks how good ideas can be implemented. And finally mutate into a critic who taps usable results for weak points.

Train in a targeted manner

Once you know how you want to be, you can start exercising

For more social skills: Show your human side with little things, such as helping a mother carry the stroller up the stairs. Give the left turn, behind which a motorcade is already jammed, right of way, etc. Reactivate old contacts, spend more time with family and friends. Pay attention to your behavior: Those who appear politely show appreciation for others - and that is usually reciprocated.

For more courage: Why did I pinch? The more clearly I analyze doubts and concerns, the more specifically I can plan reactions and mentally anticipate future worst-case scenarios. Because knowing what to do when all else fails gives you the serenity to face the situation.

His character profile can be determined free of charge with a scientific personality test at the University of Zurich. The psychologists have put a questionnaire with 264 points online at www.charakterstaerken.org. Click through - and you get a list of its salient features. The researchers are currently working on a follow-up program for strength training.

For more optimism: For 15 minutes each evening, focus on the positive things that happened to you during the day. That changes your perception, you become more attentive to pleasant things, see a different part of reality and go through life more gratefully and more kindly.

That's what matters

That's what matters

When it comes to the psyche, fears or depression are often the focus. The US psychology professor Martin Seligman calls for a closer look at the neglected good qualities of humans. Together with his colleague Christopher Peterson, he evaluated philosophical, religious and psychological sources from different cultures. In doing so, the scientists identified six positive core traits and associated strengths of character that keep cropping up and that are worth developing:

Wisdom and knowledge With our cognitive skills such as curiosity, critical thinking, creativity and the love of learning, we can collect and use knowledge. If these strengths are promoted, it increases the practical understanding and the wealth of ideas.

Bravery / courage A distinction is made here according to three aspects: psychological courage (to cope with crises, for example), moral (if, for example, there is a risk of loss of prestige) and physical (if one overcomes the fear of pain and injury). In general, the term combines emotional strengths such as perseverance, diligence, integrity and enthusiasm, which cause us to pursue a goal and not allow ourselves to be dissuaded by external difficulties, internal doubts or resistance.

humanity Standing up for others, making friendships, approaching someone openly - qualities from the interpersonal area such as sympathy, friendliness, social intelligence, the ability to bond and the ability to love help.

transcendence This includes meaningful characteristics that also establish a reference to a higher power. This includes gratitude, optimism, humor, spirituality and a sense of the beautiful.

justice This term brings together social strengths that promote coexistence and a functioning community - e.g. B. Teamwork, fairness and leadership skills.

moderation Knowing when to do the right thing and when to do the wrong thing - this skill protects us from debauchery, not just about eating, drinking or using drugs. Above all, what is meant is the ability to keep an eye on one's feelings and motives. Characteristics such as modesty, willingness to forgive, caution and self-assessment help.