Can People Really Change?
There’s a funny scene in the movie Bridesmaids in which Kristen Wiig is arguing with Rose Byrne about whether people really change. I remember the first time I watched this, I agreed with Kristen. We have these innate qualities that shape us and make us who we are and at a certain point in adulthood, people just are who they are. But I think, maybe I only agreed with Kristen’s character because she’s the hero of the movie and I felt bad for her. Plus I didn’t like Rose Byrne’s character because that’s what the movie intends for you to feel. A few years have passed since this movie came out and I still think about that scene. Now, I actually agree with Rose. People do change. People change all the time. Just like she says. If they didn’t, we’d be stuck in an endless loop of stagnation and insignificantries (I made that word up but I like it so it’s staying). Not to mention my mom’s profession (psychologist) would be completely useless. Going to therapy would be a waste of time and this world would just basically implode.
Ok maybe that’s a little dramatic. But the truth is, I’m feeling a little dramatic these days. And I think everyone is kind of with me. Something my mom keeps reminding me is that negative patterns of thinking or just an overall pessimistic attitude...that’s a mode of mental operation. But it isn’t set in stone. We develop this way of thinking as a form of self-defense and preservation. In some ways it is useful, like when it starts movements and unity. It sparks, you guessed it, CHANGE.
But in most personal cases, pessimism, self-doubt, negative self-talk...it's quite harmful to our overall happiness. In fact, there’s a great book I’m currently reading called The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris. He writes about how prevalent depression and unhappiness is in today’s society. Our patterns of negative thinking are ingrained in us as a tool for survival. Long ago we needed this fearful way of thinking to protect us from saber tooth tigers. But now, we don’t really need that anymore...Unless you’re at the Natural History Museum and you accidentally trip near the saber tooth tiger exhibit, knocking it over and causing it to impale you in the chest. Or you are an avid mushroom picker/eater and you accidentally pick the poisonous mushrooms instead of the edible ones...
Ok, but seriously, most of us don't deal with these every day life-threatening things anymore, yet we still have this way of thinking. A tendency to fear, to be negative, to see the glass half empty...And at this point you might be thinking, I don’t know, I’ve been struggling with X for so long now, I’m not sure how to change it anymore. First off. YOU CAN ALWAYS CHANGE. It doesn’t matter if it’s been a year or fifty. But if you don’t believe me that’s fine. Many days I don’t even believe me. But have you ever believed something and then changed your mind about it? Have you ever felt so sure about something one day and completely differently another? Or think back to a few years ago. How about then?
I just went up to San Francisco. And while there, I thought about the last time I was there a few years ago. How I was different. The things I hadn’t experienced yet. Things that have changed how I think. Guided me in figuring out what I want and what I don’t want. I think about how I am always learning and changing my mind. How some things have gotten easier. Some harder. Some the same. The last time I was in San Francisco, I was the same person. I still hold many of the same values, habits and quirks, same humor and goofy exterior. Same turmoil and struggling interior. But there’s been progress. A slow one. A constantly evolving one. One might even say a CHANGE of sorts. And that’s something.
We develop patterns of thinking that can be self-defeating. But it doesn’t mean we can’t break it and change it. Your MO is malleable. You can re-wire your brain to think differently. Anyone who tells you, it’s just the way I am...only has one piece of the puzzle right. Yes, that is how you are, but your brain and your self are two different entities. And if you don’t like something about yourself, you can change it. It won’t be easy. In fact, it’ll be the hardest thing you’ve ever done. And it’ll be a constant struggle. Maybe you’ll never be able to change it completely. But change doesn’t mean polar opposite. It just means baby steps of adjustment. You’ve already done it. In your life, you have created change without trying, life has already pushed you in new directions.
Honestly, I don’t know if I’m writing this to convince you or me. Because even now, as I write this, I think about how hard it all is. But I'm working on it. Acceptance of the struggle is probably the first step. So for those of you that like lists. Here’s how to change:
- Acknowledge and accept your struggles and imperfections
- Believe that change is possible. (Or just, you know, humor yourself and lie)
- Know that most days will have moments of suck
- Appreciate the good ones
- Do your best to defuse the thoughts that are not helpful to you (I highly recommend the Happiness Trap to get some techniques for this).
We can’t grow without change. Maybe you didn’t speak up in class because you were afraid of what people would think. But now, your boss is asking you to give her an update on your latest research project in front of all your colleagues. Maybe you used to avoid going on dates because you were so afraid of rejection. But now, you’re on dating apps and dealing with the constant ups and downs of that world because you want to find someone to share your life with. Or maybe you didn’t want to pursue your passion because you’re afraid of failure. But now you’ll watch this Will Smith Instagram story that will make you think twice about what it means to fail.
So can people really change? NO. Jk. YES! Of course they can. They’re already changing. There are ways you’ve already changed without even trying! Imagine what you can do when you set your mind to it. So, why not grab the wheel and steer yourself in the direction you want to go?