Debunking the Myth: People Don't Change
How often have you heard someone say, “People do not change”? I don’t know about you, but I have lost count; and in the back of my head I am thinking, “What bullshit”. Of course many people may think I have lost my mind, and I am happy to say I have lost my mind! Okay, I am not crazy, but I have grown; I have changed.
In the past I would say to myself, and even others, that I want to change. They would then reply, “How”? My answer was a simple, one-word reply, “Willpower”. I bet you can guess that this never worked. Attempt after attempt, I would let my self, and others, down. We would get excited that there was some change and then...it was gone. Just like that; fail after fail.
After many attempts, I had to think a bit like Albert Einstein - literally. He once said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results.” Great! I am not backing myself up at all in this post! First I am showing I am not changing; and that I am going insane by attempting the same thing over and over again, expecting the one thing that didn’t happen: Change.
First off I had to understand what change is, how it works, and how it feels. Lucky for me I like to nerd it up and read about neuroplasticity, proteins, synaptic gaps etc. Am I losing you? Lets take a quick look at how our brains work.
Our brains run on electricity. The electricity is conducted through neurons. They are like a complex mesh of wires running through our brains at different levels with different connections. Each neuron is a nerve cell connecting to over 40,000 other nerve cells. As we begin to feel a certain way they begin to fuse together essentially wiring themselves into their own circuit. Scientists call these communities of nerves neurocircuitry.
As we fortify the moods we are in, the connection of the neurons grows stronger and stronger. Your moods grow stronger and stronger. As you get in this cycle of your moods growing stronger and your connections growing stronger, we begin to show physical evidence (on MRI, CT’s etc.) that our brain is literally wiring itself to be in that mood. As the neurons fire electrical impulses to other neurons, they begin to connect the gaps with proteins to solidify the connections. As they fire the same way over time, the proteins built up create a hardwired circuit that becomes our personality. Our very own thoughts are changing the structure of our brains to think in one way to create who we are. This concept is called Synaptic Potentiation and is the beginning to our moods, temperaments and personalities.
The problem of change is that we already wired our brains to feel a certain way; to make us act a certain way. You created and wired your own personality. However, what is stopping you from creating a new neuro-network? Better yet, what is stopping you from destroying the old ones?
Chances are you are running on autopilot. I bet you wake up in the same bed, press the snooze button at the same time, wake up, look into the same mirror, think bad thoughts about yourself, brush your teeth with the same toothpaste brand you have used as long as you can remember, drive to your job on the same path, arrived to your job that you loathe with out even realizing you made it, work your day, come home, eat, shower and go to bed. Does your day sound similar to that? How many of those things do you do without thinking? You are running off hard-wired connections. Let's think of these connections like a box in your brain.
You need to think outside the box! Metaphorically speaking of course! If you create new neuro-networks by thinking, you need to constantly reinforce the new networks to form. By changing how you think, you change your brain physically. This is what we call neuroplasticity. Our neurons in our brains are plastic and mouldable to become what ever we desire.
As we think outside the box with new thoughts we sprout new connections. As we reinforce these new connections they grow to be stronger and stronger. The proteins build up to create newer, stronger bonds. As we are doing this we are pruning the old connections ["sprouting" and "pruning" are scientific terms]. Researchers at the University of California have demonstrated that sprouting and pruning can happen in a matter of seconds but it often doesn’t stay. This is where we get the misconception that people do not change.
To change it takes a large amount of knowledge, skills, understanding (which coincides with knowledge) and willpower. We need the willpower to put our skills to work, and the knowledge to give us understanding to help drive our willpower. If you are doing things with willpower alone, you will often end up worse off then before.
Change is often unwelcome or even feared. I have feared change in the past and still do fear change sometimes. It’s like jumping into a big black pit without knowing if there are spikes on the bottom, or a giant ball pit stolen from McDonald's PlayPlaces. It may feel good at first, but within a week or two, you may begin to feel not like yourself.
As you begin to take action in your life, you are sprouting new connections and pruning old ones. The old you is getting weaker, and the new you is still sprouting like a little tree. The old connections are generally a lot stronger and want you to continue on your familiar ways; they do not recognize your new connections and may even see it as a threat. You are so adapted to the way you felt for so long, that not feeling like you normally did begins to feel unfamiliar. This is where the myth is created. This is where so many of us return back to the familiar self. This is where we often don’t change.
With the newfound knowledge you know that you need skills to get through the "feeling unfamiliar" stage. You now understand what is going on to make an even better conscious effort to get out of your rut and change. When you say to yourself, “This doesn’t feel right” or, “I feel uncomfortable” this is your old self talking; this is your old self unconsciously trying to force you to make the old decisions again.
Once you can understand that changing one's self will result in discomfort, as the challenge of thinking outside the box results in true biological death of old neural connections, you will have the power over change. Just like the phoenix rises from its ashes, so shall you!
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