9 surprising ways your personality changes as you get older

My great uncle used to say something I still find hilarious:

“Aging is pretty awful, but it beats the alternative.”

He’s dead on…

And as we age, it’s not just our body that gets older. Our personality also changes and adapts with age.

1) The maturity principle 

First, the good news:

Many of us tend to mellow out as we age and become a bit more easygoing and emotionally stable. 

This is certainly welcome news, especially when there may be parts of your behavior or personality that you’ve had trouble improving over the years. 

As Isobel Whitcomb explains

“Psychologists call it ‘the maturity principle.’ 

People become more extraverted, emotionally stable, agreeable and conscientious as they grow older.”

Does it apply to everyone?

Well, “some individuals might change less than others, but in general, the maturity principle applies to everyone,” according to psychologists. 

That temper you had a hard time controlling as a 30-something? 

Fairly harmless now…

Your tendency to turn down invitations to gather with friends because it seemed pointless?

Now you say ‘why not’ and meet up and have a barbecue with them anyway… 

Your habit of leaving trash around when you checked out of a hotel? 

Replaced by a mild-mannered habit of carefully cleaning up after yourself when you check out. 

I mean, the maturity principle really sounds like good news for all involved. 

But what about that old guy who seems to have gotten angrier and even more bitter since you saw him ten years ago?

How does the maturity principle apply to him? 

2) The pickle principle 

This is what I call the “pickle principle.” It’s the unpleasant version of the maturity principle. 

Whereas maturity might cause us to mellow out in some ways and lighten up a bit, it can also cause us to cling even harder to nasty and bitter ways of being.

A pickle is created by fermenting cucumbers in saltwater brine

Time and strong salts cause the cucumber to shrivel and get a sour, acidic taste that some people enjoy. 

But when humans become a pickle, it’s a different story. 

Too much bitterness and salt causes them to become angrier and more set in their ways with age until the day that an old man yells “get off my lawn” to some neighborhood kids without any trace of irony. 

The pickle principle has had its effect.

This is why we have to keep a close eye on our habits and what we believe day after day, because as we age, our personality has a habit of locking in some of our worst traits. 

3) You shape yourself to fit your role

As we get older, tragedy, triumph and dramatic experiences are inevitable. 

Very joyful and sad things are going to happen to all of us in this life. 

But psychologists have found that these aren’t the most influential factors that cause shifts and changes in our personality. 

Instead, it’s the slow steady pressure of expectations and duties that has its greater effect. 

Things like:

  • Becoming a parent and having many new responsibilities
  • Caring for a sick loved one
  • Taking on greater financial responsibility for dependents
  • Transitioning into a new and more difficult career

And so on…

As we rise to the challenge of new situations life presents to us, our personality changes. 

We become more mature, certainly, but also generally more responsible, quiet and determined. 

4) You stop having time for nonsense 

Another of the surprising ways your personality changes as you get older is that your nonsense tolerance goes down to zero. 

You no longer waste time watching stupid new TV shows that are being raved about…

You stop caring about the latest ridiculous affair of whatever politician or celebrity…

You don’t jump on bandwagons that could propel your career by using the right pronouns or talking about the right subjects the way superiors want you to…

You simply become a lot more emotionally minimalist

If something is unnecessary and a waste of time (whether that be a person, a scandal, a show or a job) you do your best to avoid it. 

You’re only interested in important things and you know that life’s too short to waste on frivolity. 

5) You’re more direct in going after what you want 

The next of the surprising ways your personality changes as you get older is that you tend to get more assertive. 

If you want someone or something, you go out there and go for it. 

As we age, we have a lot of time to look back on regrets.

And more often than not, regrets happen when we live too much in fantasy and “what if” and not enough in the reality around us. 

Becoming more assertive as you age is a natural byproduct of gaining confidence in yourself and your ability to go out and get what you want. 

This relates directly to the next point:

6) You become wiser about your own desires and goals

Another of the surprising ways your personality changes as you get older is that you become more self-aware. 

You learn your weak points as well as your strong points:

You’ve already tried all sorts of half-measures, drowning your sorrows or only focusing on the “positive.”

You now know that the solution lies somewhere in the middle:

Knowing your weaknesses and focusing on your strengths, being aware of what you don’t want while taking active steps towards what you do want

You have become wiser about what motivates you in life and your purpose in life, because your self-awareness has grown along with you. 

7) You become more decisive and learn how to say ‘no’

In addition to becoming more assertive about what you want, you become more decisive about saying no. 

There are many things we say yes to because we’re simply too nice. 

We end up in relationships we don’t want to be in, for example, or attached to job duties that are frankly exploitative and taking advantage of us. 

All because we didn’t want to be a downer and just say no.

But as you get older, your personality tends to change and you become more emphatic and confident about establishing your boundaries. 

You become more decisive and thus can confidently deliver no without obsessing about how that no will be received.

Do you want this job? No.

Do you want to date? Sorry, no. 

Sometimes it really is that simple. 

8) You become more forgiving of the mistakes of others

At the same time as your tolerance for nonsense tends to decrease, you may find you’re more forgiving as a person. 

As we age, we see just how difficult life can be and how easy it is to make mistakes. 

When you’ve experienced letting people down and letting yourself down enough times, then you can recognize right away when other people are doing the same. 

And as you recognize that kind of behavior, you tend to become a bit more forgiving. 

Falling short of what we’re capable of is sad.

But it’s also something that’s best forgiven, because having another chance and trying to do better is much easier when you know that people see your best and can see you have good intentions. 

So that becomes a courtesy you also extend to others as you get older, whereas while younger you may have tended to be more judgmental or harsh. 

9) You become more empathetic about those close to you 

Last in terms of the surprising ways your personality changes as you get older is that you tend to become more empathetic about those close to you. 

This may be your partner, your siblings, your parents or your kids.

It may be your friends or coworkers. 

Whoever it is that you sometimes find challenging, you may notice your personality becoming more understanding as you age. 

You don’t necessarily agree with what they do or the ways they’ve acted, but you’re understanding about the process and stage of life they’re going through. 

Phrases like “kids will be kids” are something you can say now and really mean it…

The real you

Your personality changes as you get older, there’s no doubt about it. 

But somewhere under those changes remains the real you. 

Finding that real you and nurturing it is a mission we are all called to do. 

Finding who we want to be at a deeper level and imbuing him or her with purpose, resilience and authenticity is the task of a lifetime no matter how many outer changes take place. 

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