How to Change

Personal development is fundamentally concerned with the process of change so, in this article, I want to address the question of how to change. As human beings, we are all essentially change-resistant. We don’t really tend to like or embrace change in our daily lives and our regular routines and, I believe, that is for a very good reason.

We are who we are as a product of many factors including both our genetic inheritance (nature) and the influences of our upbringing (nurture). In addition, I believe that we tried out various strategies for dealing with people and situations in the playground and during our formative years. Some of those strategies we ditched because we found them to be ineffective, others, we kept because they worked well.

Over the course of time, as a product of these influences, our personalities gradually formed and, by our late teens to early twenties, we gradually became recognisable as the adult we became. During that time, we also formed many of our most important beliefs about the nature of reality. I like to call this process map-making. Our maps, models and paradigms that relate to how the world works were largely completed.

Phew! It takes so long to get equipped to enter the adult world and now that we are equipped, it should come as no great surprise to learn that we become quite attached to those attitudes, behaviours, perception filters and decision-making processes that have become entrenched within our psyche. When information comes along that doesn’t fit in with what we already think we know, then it is just so much easier to reject it as incorrect than it is to have to go back through the process of evaluating the information and possibly having to refine our maps.

As we get older, I think that map-refining is one activity that takes place less and less frequently because we know that our approximations of reality, inaccurate as they may well turn out to be, are still sufficiently accurate for our purposes. Hence, we may be inclined to become stubborn and more set in our ways. Pray to God that this does not happen to you. Try to remain truly open-minded as you age. Listen to what other people say even if you disagree with them and even if they are younger – even if they are a lot younger.

All personal change begins, I believe, with our thoughts. When you close your mind to new thoughts, you simultaneously close your life to change. Let’s consider how change takes place. I believe it is a four step process. The following quotation illustrates those steps beautifully:

Sow a thought, reap an action
Sow an action, reap a habit
Sow a habit, reap a character
Sow a character, reap a destiny

By the way, I have seen the above quotation misattributed to many people in various articles across the internet. It is possible that I may be about to do the same thing, but I remember hearing it for the first time and the person who quoted the saying at the time said it was by Seneca. In any case, irrespective of who said it first, it is a wonderful description of the process of change.

In some of my workshops, I finish by showing this quotation because it perfectly illustrates what needs to happen in order for us to significantly change. To become a different person – and that is indeed what personal development is about – involves working on your character. This process shows us that we can change our character by acquiring new behavioural habits.

If you study the quotation, you will also see that it shows us how to form a new habit i.e. by choosing to voluntarily perform the same action over and over again until it becomes – and I love the phrase – second nature. Before that, we see that actions are the product of thoughts. That’s one reason that we need to stay fluid and not reject new thinking.

Finally, we can see the fruit of that personal development – a new destiny. Wow! Let it sink in. Here you see what I like to call the treasure map. This is a cause and effect relationship between our thoughts and our destiny because what you will achieve with your life is, fundamentally, a product of who you are. Perhaps this discussion naturally brings up the question of what new behavioural habits you should be working on. If so, I wholeheartedly recommend taking a look at the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Do you want to change? I hope so. It shows you are engaged with life and that you have aspirations to become a better person in the future. If your goals are ambitious, the chances are that you will probably need to become a different person in order to achieve them. That, again, is the basic premise of personal development. However, I don’t think there has ever been a better description of how to change than is provided by the above quotation.

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