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Can People Really Change?

By Linda Sapadin, Ph.D
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Surely there are things about yourself that you don’t like. So you change them, right? Well, not exactly. It’s more likely that you keep on doing them, even though you say you’d like to change them. So is the old adage, “A leopard doesn’t change his spots,” true? That people can’t change?

No, people can change. But you can’t just snap your fingers and say goodbye to well established patterns, even when those patterns result in crappy consequences. Sure, you wish it could be easier. You may be impatient with yourself, giving yourself a good scold: “Just stop it already!” Oh, how I hate the word “just” when it pertains to change. We don’t change “just” because someone (even ourselves) wants us to.

However, the opposite stance is also filled with flaws. Chase away those demons that tell you that you can’t change: it’s too hard, it’s not in your DNA, it requires excessive effort. Such a mindset will sabotage your efforts before you even begin. Though it’s true that “you are who you are” and that your personality structure “is what it is,” it’s not true that you can’t modify, alter, or tweak many aspects of how you behave.

Change quote

So, how do you change?

It’s a process that begins with being aware. This may seem obvious but it’s not. If you’re used to blaming everyone else for your problems (If you left me alone, I’d be just fine), then you’re not aware. If you’re living your life in a daze, (I have no problem; it’s just lousy luck), then you’re in denial. How are you ever going to change anything if you don’t own up to how your thinking and behavior help create the predicament you’re in?

Self-awareness without judgment, similar to an anthropologist observing behavior in an attempt to understand it, is the first step. Yet, you can be fully aware of your bad habits and still not change. What’s missing?

A no-nonsense commitment to change. Casual commitment won’t do. Going on a diet for a week doesn’t hack it. Add exercise to the mix for two weeks, it still doesn’t hack it. What’s a no-nonsense commitment to change? In your quiet moment of truth, when you’re alone and not under pressure by anything or anyone, you, your ‘executive’ self in harmony with your ‘emotional’ self, make a solemn pledge to change.

No more excuses. No more magical thinking. No more self-sabotage. You know it won’t be easy, but so what? You’re committed to the goal. You acknowledge the need for self-discipline, perseverance, and hard work. You know why you want to change. You know who you want to be. You know that your actions need to adhere to your beliefs. You know it makes no sense claiming you want to change but then doing nothing about it. You’re tired of disappointing yourself. You’re fed up with feeling frustrated. You welcome change. You’re ready to go. You get off your butt. And you get off your excuse-making ‘but.’

Adopting new ways rarely comes comfortably at first. You may feel a lot of resistance to change. But if you think about change as an opportunity to grow, not as an unwanted burden, amazing things can happen.

I like Muhammad Ali’s take on it when he said: “A man who views the world the same at fifty as he did at twenty has wasted thirty years of his life.”

So, whether you are years younger than fifty or years older than fifty, I hope you make the change you want. Don’t let rigidity or fear stifle your growth. Don’t get down on yourself by believing that just because everything hasn’t changed, nothing has changed. Even moderate change can reap meaningful benefits. And here’s the best news of all. Change that moves in a positive direction will not only expand your confidence, it can enrich your relationships, enhance your career, and empower your well-being. Wow, what a payoff!

“If you want something in your life you’ve never had,
you’ll have to do something you’ve never done.”

~ J.D. Houston

Copyright © 2015: Linda Sapadin, Ph.D
Linda Sapadin is a psychologist and personal coach in private practice who specializes in helping people enrich their lives, enhance their relationships and overcome self-defeating patterns of behavior. For more information about her work, contact her by email or visit her website at PsychWisdom.
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