Can People Really Change?

Can People Really Change?

As a coach I’m often confronted with this question. Can people really change? Clients, especially kids and teens, often ask me whether people really can change. Often they ask this because they are wondering if they themselves can change. Can they really get better at things they are not currently so good at? Can they stop making the same mistakes or reacting the same way?

And sometimes this question relates to others… Can their parents or their friends really change? Or are people just the way they are? It’s a question of hope. A question they ask to help them manage their expectations.

I love to answer this question because I remember having the same question myself. I would wonder, am I just the way that I am? How fixed is my personality? Are we just born to be a certain way? So here is my answer…

It depends.

Yes, people can change. I know this because I have witnessed myself change a huge amount in the past ten years. I was demanding, sometimes harsh, had impossibly high expectations of myself and others and was quite a pain in the a**. As my mom observed, somehow I now seem more at peace, calmer, softer, gentler, more considerate of others, more patient and tolerant. I can feel it in myself. I notice that how I respond to things now is not how I used to respond to things before. Discussions don’t become adrenaline infused dramas but constructive desires to understand. Even my degree of vanity shifted… where what I used to wear or how I did my hair were very important to me. Now I’m more comfortable in my skin and although I still like to take care of myself, it’s less from a place of trying to make a good impression than before. Yes, I’m definitely different.

So I’m living proof that people can change.

The other proof that people can change is how our brain works. In particular something called Neuroplasticity. This is how scientists refer to our brains and the fact that they are constantly changing depending on what we do, think or feel. The brain is a bit like a muscle. What we do more of becomes more engrained in the brain. When we behave or react a certain way the brain gets the message that this is important. The more we do something, the more important the brain thinks it is. So it dedicates more resources to making that pathway in the brain stronger and faster. Things that we don’t do are considered as unimportant by the brain. Well, if it was important, the brain assumes we would do it.

That being said, if we consciously chose to behave or respond differently, the brain immediately responds and starts to create this new pathway. This is hard word because it’s a new pathway. But the more we do it, the stronger the pathway gets and the easier it becomes. The old way then slowly decreases and eventually disappears if we don’t use it anymore. Pretty cool huh? Oh and by the way, scientists now know that this happens our entire lives… not just during childhood, so no excuses.

Now, changing isn’t necessarily easy. We also need to be motivated and have a good reason to want to change. Otherwise, why bother? So yes, people can change. But they have to want to change. And we cannot make them change or make them want to change. We can plant seeds, show that we believe in them, maybe paint the picture of what could be, but ultimately we can only change ourselves.

What do you think about this? Have you witnessed yourself or someone else change? Is there something you would like to change but are not sure it is possible? Feel free to share here… who knows who you might inspire.