In people’s conversations we can often hear: “It was expected that he would do that,” “He promised, but he did it his way,” “I thought she had changed, but as you know, people don’t change”…
So is it really true? That people are who they are and don’t change? In fact, we can be anything we want to be. But first we have to free ourselves from the deceptive attitude.
How do we determine that a person has changed?
Modern society on the one hand advocates individuality, but on the other hand likes to put labels. This and zodiac signs, and the level of education, marital status, position at work, as well as personality type.
Take personality type, for example. Today it’s cool to ask, “Are you an extrovert or an introvert?”, “Are you a choleric or a sanguine?”, “Do you prefer white or red?” What’s all this data for? As if these labels will help you really define a person’s personality? That’s a fallacy.
A recent study conducted by the American Psychological Association confirms that personality type, much less behavior and zodiac signs, does not determine a person’s actual personality at all.
These scientists conducted a study many years ago in which they assessed 1,200 adolescents aged 14 on six characteristics: self-confidence, perseverance, stability of mood, conscientiousness, originality, and desire to learn. 63 years later, half of the participants were tested again. Researchers asked each person to evaluate himself or herself according to the same criteria and to get an evaluation from someone close to him or her. In the end, there was almost no match with the original characteristic.
According to Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert, a person needs 10 years to become completely different.
And this is a complete change! Various small changes in personality and behavior change much faster.
How was this conclusion reached? During his research, Gilbert asked people how much their interests, aspirations, and values had changed over the previous decade. Participants noted significant differences. Then he asked how much they thought their interests, aspirations, and values would change in the next 10 years. Most suggested it would not be significant.
It seems to us that we will remain as we are now. But the same Gilbert said: “Every man is an unfinished project that mistakenly thinks he is complete”. Therein lies the problem.
How does the thought of an unchanging personality hinder us in life?
First, it makes us tend to form opinions about others based on their past. For example, when we get to know someone we are thinking of hiring, we ask about their past experiences, we study their accomplishments, and we ask what other people think of them. We take it for granted that their past actions will tell us how they will behave in the future.
Undoubtedly, past actions can tell something about a person and are worth learning about. But it is better to assess current attitudes or approaches to hypothetical situations. If you want to know about the candidate’s experience, ask what and why he did in the most difficult situation and what he would do now, if he had the opportunity. This will help you understand how flexible the person’s thinking is, what motivates their choices THEN and NOW.
And this applies not only to job candidates, but to all people in general. Try to judge them by how they think and behave in the present tense, not sometime before.
Second, because of the belief that personality is permanent, we don’t believe that we ourselves can and will change. That means we guarantee ourselves that bad habits, addictions, and unhealthy reactions will stay with us.
How can you change any part of yourself?
Motivational speaker Tony Robbins believes (and I agree with him) that you need three conditions to overcome any deep-rooted habit:
- A desperate desire to get rid of it;
- A traumatic or critical event that signals that you must change. It could be anything: your child’s worry that smoking will cause you to die early, or your doctor telling you to change your diet to avoid another heart attack;
- The opportunity to replace one habit with another.
I tested this theory on myself. For more than 20 years I was addicted to Diet Coke. At my peak, I couldn’t do without six (at least) cans a day. I made a heroic effort and once lasted a full six months before severe stress caused me to snap. Later I started noticing that I often get sick after flights and lack of sleep, easily catching colds, so I started taking a supplement to improve my immunity. I was warned that it could cause a rash as a reaction to poor diet or alcohol. I figured that didn’t apply to me. A week later, when I was supposed to give a speech at a conference, I woke up covered in a rash. I realized that it was caused by the chemicals in the cola, because I was otherwise eating well. After that, I was disgusted at the thought of drinking anything that was so bad for my body again.
That was three years ago. I replaced the old habit by drinking several bottles of kombucha a day. And I would never touch diet cola again.
Decide right now what you will be tomorrow
Everyone is capable of changing established beliefs and character traits with regular effort. Maybe you’ve always been shy, but at one point you realized that it was preventing you from accomplishing something very important. Or you were living aimlessly until chance pointed out to you the need for change.
People change. This is true and it’s possible. Find something that will push you to transform, choose a substitute habit or a desirable personality quality, and start. Most importantly, don’t accept old attitudes or traits as an integral part of yourself.