People Really Can Change (Including You)

Yellow flowers on a tree against a bright blue sky

You may have noticed that I often write about self-improvement topics.  I’m kind of a self-improvement junkie.  I’ve read many self-help books, and I find psychology fascinating.  (I’m currently reading a new book called The Craving Mind by Judson Brewer – you should check it out.)

Some folks take a cynical view of self-help books, and of their fellow humans.  How many times have you heard phrases like “once a ______, always a ______”?  When I encounter someone I haven’t seen in years, I sometimes fall into the trap of judging them based on things they said and did long ago without getting to know the person they are today.  I’m working to correct this thought process, because I certainly wouldn’t want everyone judging me based on the way I behaved as a teenager or college student.

In Tuesday’s post, I suggested that we all reacquaint ourselves with the way we were as children. While there are certain hard-wired traits and preferences we carry with us throughout our lives, the flip side to this advice is that people really can and do change.  Sometimes we change as a result of traumatic events in our lives, and sometimes we change because we want to change.  Exposure to new people, experiences, and ideas can lead us to reevaluate long-held beliefs that may have manifested in our behaviors and habits.

Research backs me up on this.  Studies show that not only do personality traits gradually shift over time, but they usually change for the better.  According to psychologist Christopher Soto, “most adults become more agreeable, conscientious and emotionally resilient as they age.”  Research on neuroplasticity has demonstrated that our brains are quite malleable.

I see this in myself and in people close to me.  I’ve become less judgmental than I used to be, in part because of experiences I’ve had and in part because I’ve begun to consciously question my assumptions.  I’ve watched people in my life grow kinder and happier as they’ve worked through psychological baggage and changed their circumstances.

Self-acceptance has its place, but saying “that’s just the way I am” is sometimes a cop-out.  If you really want to become a better person, you can — it may take a good bit of effort, some soul-searching, and the help of a trained professional, but you can work to become the kind of person you want to be.  And let’s all give others the benefit of the doubt when they tell us they’ve changed.  Maybe they really have.

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