Can we change who we are?

It’s a pretty provocative question, isn’t it? And maybe an even more thought provoking question might be, do you want to change who you are?

  • Inherited or learned?

Perhaps the answer is connected to the issue of how much of our “personality” is determined by nature versus nurture. Whether the way that we behave is influenced more by our genetic make-up, or by the way in which we have been raised and the early environment that we’ve been exposed to.

It seems that scientist’s now-days acknowledge that both hereditary and environmental factors combine to shape who we are. There are certain innate traits that we have inherited – and other qualities and characteristics that we have learned. Well, we can’t change our genetic imprint – but we can do something about much of our behaviour that has been shaped from our experience. In other words, behaviours that have been learned can, under the right conditions, be unlearned. Additionally, we are capable of learning and adopting new behaviours.

  • Changing a bad habit

You know, instead of thinking about changing your personality – which can be quite an overwhelming thought – maybe it’s easier to think in terms of simply changing some “bad habits”. The term suggests a pattern of behaviour that is repeated frequently – and usually without conscious thought. A habit is something we just “do” – it often seems that it hasn’t been a deliberate choice. When we make a judgement that a particular habit is a “bad” one, this implies we feel it has been doing us more harm than good.

There are many people who would say that the key ingredients for changing a bad habit include …

i)   Self-awareness of what exactly needs to change and why

ii)  Desire and motivation to change

iii) Persistence and stamina, to cope with occasional lapses

iv)  Encouragement from others and recognition of signs of progress during the change process

But here’s something that many people overlook when they seek to change a habit – whether they might be hoping to stop smoking, or stop eating junk food at lunchtime, or stop interrupting other people when they are speaking, or stop fidgeting when they are delivering a speech……..If you are wanting to stop a particular behaviour, then it needs to be replaced with an alternative behaviour. You can’t just leave a void – it needs to be filled with something else. It’s not enough to think to yourself that you want to stop doing something – you must decide what you will start doing instead.


  • Start instead of stop

So for example, to help you stop fidgeting, you decide to gently clasp your hands together in front of you. To help you stop smoking, you decide you will instead go for a walk. To help you stop eating junk food, you bring salad sandwiches for lunch.

Su making successful changes to aspects of your behaviour is less about stopping something that you’ve done for a long time in the past – and more about what you want to start doing as you move towards the future.

  • Who we are in our relationships

There are other patterns of behaviour that can impact on our relationships with those around us. Whether we are open, trusting, communicative, optimistic, assertive, affectionate …… these are qualities and behaviours that some would argue are much harder to change.

Perhaps that is true. But hard doesn’t mean impossible. It does suggest that more effort will be required. And quite often before a change can be made to our interpersonal behaviour – there will need to be a shift in the way we are looking at a situation. We need to change what we are thinking about a situation and how we are viewing it, before we might be able to alter how we have always responded to it.

So for example, it’s pretty unlikely that I am going to be capable of being open and trusting of my partner if I fear that they are going to cheat me. If my frame of mind is suspicious, then this clouds and impacts upon the way I deal with others.

  • Change the inside to enable change on the outside

A change in outlook is required and an internal shift in my belief system that guides my behaviour. A change on the outside needs to be accompanied by a change on the inside

What I think influences what I do – and what I do will influence what I get out of a relationship, or out of a situation.

You may know of some people who practice the use of affirmations. They are attempting to cultivate a positive belief and sub-conscious thought process that will enable them to more readily acquire a new behaviour. For example, maybe some unassertive adults were taught to have self-doubt and be self-effacing because of an early upbringing where an authority figure would say to them “Be quiet, what would you know!!”

In order to change this early wiring, the person starts regularly mentally repeating and affirming to themselves throughout the day a statement such as ”I am a confident and assertive individual, respecting myself and the people around me”. As this new belief system is gradually embedded – and an assertive self-image is cultivated, then assertive behaviour may become more “natural” for someone who has not been so assertive in the past.

When this new belief is combined with some actual skills training in assertive communication and some on-going mentoring from an experienced and wise advisor, then the change process is being built upon a strong foundation.

For more ideas on this theme of how to change, you might like to take a look at a very inspiring video clip featuring Jim Rohn, titled “The day your life turns around

  • In closing

So, can you change who you are? ….. As someone who has worked for more than 25 years in the fields of personal development and performance coaching – I would say yes. Simply reflect on who you are now compared to who you were 10 or 20 tears ago – wouldn’t you say that you’ve changed?  Experience has probably taught you certain lessons that have changed your outlook – which in turn influence the decisions you have made. So why wait another 10 years – start deciding right now, who do you want to be?

And one last thing – make sure any change you decide upon is really for you – and not just to please someone else.

About the author

Brian Carroll is the founder of Performance Development, a leadership training company in Melbourne Australia.  He is a qualified psychologist, experienced management coach and an engaging presenter, with a passion for helping people develop their full capabilities. You can find out more about Brian at his Google + profile

About PerformanceDevelopment

I am a qualified psychologist, and established my corporate training business, Performance Development, more than twenty years ago in Melbourne, Australia. We focus upon Leadership Skills development and helping people to develop the capabilities and confidence they need to get the best out of themselves.
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