Have you ever wished that you could change your life? I used to, all the time.
There were all sorts of things I wanted to change about myself and my life. For ages, I worked a job that I knew wasn’t a good fit for me, so I wanted to make a career change. I used to wish I was the kind of person who travelled, instead of the kind of person who spent most their money on restaurants and alcohol. I used to wish I read for leisure more often, that I walked more, that I went to bed earlier (ok, going to bed earlier is still on my wish list).
The way I thought about these things seems kind of strange now. It was almost wistful, dream I knew would never be realized. Why not? Well, because people don’t change. Everybody knows that.
I used to believe that, and I think a lot of people do. You hear it often enough.
A leopard doesn’t change his spots.
That’s just the way I am.
I was a psych major, and I remember learning in personality theory that by the time adulthood rolls around, personality traits are pretty much stable. I remember feeling kinda discouraged by that tidbit. One of the “Big 5” personality traits in psychology is openness to experience, and I used to wish that I one day I would transform into one of those perennially adventurous people who were up for anything. But according to what my professor was saying, that’s didn’t seem all that likely.
Turns out, the adage that people never change is false. I know now that lots of people change, and anybody can. People who say they want to change but don’t either don’t know how, didn’t really try, or didn’t truly want to.
So many people believe that the way we think about things, and our intentions when we go out into the world are what matter most.
I disagree. I think that our behaviour is what matters. And I believe altering it is the key to changing our lives.
Let’s go back to my personality trait example. Openness to experience. I won’t pretend to be an expert, but I know this: behaviour matters more than inclination.
Let’s say that I’m reluctant to try new things, preferring to stay in my comfort zone. We might say I’m not particularly open to new experiences. Let’s say I also fantasize about being the kind of person who is always pushing my boundaries. If my inclination is to be cautious and reserved about new things, but I challenge myself to seek them out over and over, then guess what? I’m not cautious and reserved anymore. I’m the kind of person who is always pushing my boundaries.
Do you see what I mean? Your behaviour, the action you take, is what’s important. You are what you do.
This one is my favourite, because it’s so easy to prove wrong!
Lots of people (i.e. most) have things they wish they could change about their lives. But most of them don’t ever really try to make those changes. You know why? Because they believe change is too hard, or that it takes too long. People want instant gratification, and if something is going to take time, or worse, hard work, then it might not be worth the effort.
Ok, that was unfair. Most of us are willing to work for what we really want. But the truth is, when we have a big goal, and we don’t know where to start, it’s easy to get discouraged.
The thing about change is that it isn’t instant, doesn’t happen overnight. And it doesn’t happen with one huge move that you have to build yourself up to. It happens in the little details, bit by bit, day by day. So, in a way, change does take time. But you can also start today. If you change one small behaviour today, you’ve just begun your journey toward your goal. And no one can argue that changing one small thing today is too hard, right?
There you have it, three myths about change busted. You can change. It starts with behaviour, and it starts right now.