Is it really possible to change who and how you are?
Ultimately I believe the answer is yes, though some changes may be easier to achieve than others. The ease with which change can occur comes down to a few factors.
- When the behaviour (that you want to change) first began
- How motivated you are to change it
- Whether there are any benefits to not changing.
When the behaviour (that you want to change) first began
The reason why this can be a factor in your ability to change is because as children we have an imprint period. Most psychologists believe this to be between the ages of 2 and 16 years. During this period of time we are absorbing so much information about life, it begins to create the rules and standards about who we are, what we expect from others and how we live. That said, it is possible to reject the moral codes that we are exposed to at this time. You’ve probably heard of stories where two brothers who grew up together, were exposed to the same experiences and the same morals from their parents and yet they take very different trajectories in life. Whilst it a great deal of our learning during the imprint period is unconscious, you do still have choices about what ideals you do or don’t subscribe to.
For those who want to change behaviours or elements of their personality that they believe have been with them since their youth, it is entirely possible to do so. The most important initial step (after recognising that there is something they wish to change) is believing it is possible to change it.
In my experience, the elements of our personality that we develop at a young impressionable age, are the ones we think of as the most fixed and excusable. I say excusable because I believe that this relates to the helplessness and dependency we have as children. In some way we seem to have the idea that because this behaviour/unfavourable part of our personality was nurtured/taught by someone senior to us, at a point when we couldn’t help but pay attention and accept it, that those same rules still apply now, even in adulthood. That “This is just what I was taught/told as a child” makes something that we couldn’t possibly take responsibility for.
However, suggestions/unwanted behaviours or ways of being as a child doesn’t mean you are stuck that way now. Not if you don’t want to be. Of course it’s a challenge when you have a network of people who expect you or want you to stay as the old you. You’ll be going against she grain in changing and they might not offer you any support in doing that, particularly if they fear your change or have concerns that they will lose you. That’s why it’s so important to resource yourself with as many supporters of change as possible. Eleven years ago I started my NLP Practitioner training and went in to become an NLP Trainer. I still stay in contact with a great number of people I met on that journey because we were all having the same experience of wanting to change and improve who we were. Now when I have (what my original crew of friends and family I grew up with) a crazy idea, I make sure to talk to my NLP friends about it because if it’s a good idea they’ll encourage me and trust me to make good decisions, whereas some of my original crew might be more likely to be negative and cast doubt upon my ideas. They do it out of love of course!
How motivated you are to change
It is possible to increase feelings of motivation using NLP usually we build the momentum of motivation using both pain and pleasure. Often (though not always) the best motivation comes from pain, simply because as a survival mechanism we want to move away from pain quickly. Pleasure is nice to have but humans can be lazy and if they are comfortable-ish then putting in the extra effort to have real pleasure might not be much of a motivator.
When I’m coaching people and using NLP I’m listening out for them to demonstrate their motivation levels so that I know that they are really ready to make the changes they wish to make. If they say things like “I’m itching to do this” or “I am sick of being how I am” I know that there is a likelihood our sessions will be really successful. When you’re ‘itching’ you’re moving and motivation requires motion. If they’re ‘sick’ of how they are then I know that most of the time people want to be rid of sickness.
In the past when I have experienced feelings of motivation I have thought or said the following things:
I just want to get on with it now.
I’ve researched it inside out and I know I can do it.
Bring it on.
These phrases I would never say if I didn’t genuinely feel ready. They imply urgency, they demonstrate movement (having researched I’ve already invested time and energy) and there is also responsibility there.
Taking some initial starter steps towards the changes you wish to make are a great way to start building the momentum and movement required for motivation. Plus if you’re working with an NLP coach or signing up to training it will let the people you are working with know that you are serious about making a turning point.
Are there any benefits to not changing
Having got this far through the article you might be wondering “Why would anyone find a reason to not change if they knew that the change was good for them?” But people make those sorts of decisions all the time! Just look outside and see all the smokers. There really can’t be many people on the planet who believe that smoking is good for them. The vast majority know that making the change to stop smoking would be the best thing that they could do for their health and yet they continue. Many will cite the reason as addiction but there is often a bit more to it than that.
A useful question is “What do you get from doing what you do/being how you are?” You might think that if someone is considering changing they would only have negative answers to that question, but the truth is many negativities have a way of meeting a deeper psychological need.
Smokers for example are part of a special group, they might socialise with other smokers. They may get a sense of relief from smoking or it might give them a break from a stressful time at work. These benefits do not outweigh the dangers caused by smoker, unless of course they do in the mind of that person. The smoking can be replaced with anger, self pity, nail biting or any other kind of behaviour or character trait that someone wants to change. If they value the payoffs they get more than the reward of letting it go, the change will be more difficult to achieve and they could end up sabotaging their efforts. It’s important that as NLP coaches we have a belief that change is possible and expose our clients to techniques and modes of thinking that can increase their ability to stick long term, with the positive changes they wish to make but it’s important to not disillusion ourselves that we can change those who do not really want the change (even if they say they do!). Ultimately everyone is in charge of their own mind and therefore, their result.