“Mainly, we aren’t as effective as we could be because we don’t want to change.”
This is the thing: the key to being effective lies in adaptability – not just doing what feels comfortable, but what the situation calls for. To be adaptable requires that we have access to a wide repertoire of capacities, which we may not yet possess. Therefore, effectiveness also demands growth and change. However, change runs counter to the functions of the mind and the ego, which strongly urge us to sameness. Sameness promotes predictability, efficiency, automaticity, and ease. Growth isn’t easy, and it’s often uncomfortable, so we resist it.
Personal change is so especially difficult because we prize self-knowledge. It feels safe to know what the boundaries of “us” are. We feel authentic and whole. Self-development demands we question what and where those boundaries are. The first hurdle in personal change is in coming to grips with the idea that your self is not something you can pin down like a butterfly on a mount. Our self has the capacity for fluidity, but we often try to capture it with beliefs that trap it in a structure. We tell ourselves stories about who we are, and these stories become beliefs that guide our behavior, which reinforces the story. “I’m terrified of public speaking!” Therefore I don’t engage in public speaking, don’t develop the skill, and perpetuate the fear and avoidance.
Though we may resist it, change is inevitable. We all know people who seem not to have changed. Maybe they never left the small, safe circle of the world where you met, they never challenged their own basic beliefs about the world and who they are. The things they do day in and day out have been the same for decades. And yet – they aren’t the same. They become caricatures of themselves. If we visualize the neural connections in our mind as physical grooves, theirs have become deep, furrowed ruts from which they cannot escape. The young man with a tendency toward negativity and risk-aversion becomes the classic curmudgeon. The person with a talent for detail and accuracy becomes a quintessential micromanaging fussbudget. We can choose change that results in expansion and flexibility, or change that results in getting narrow and brittle.
We don’t have to box ourselves in to dichotomous categories to be authentic. I was cleaning out a closet this summer and came across a box of memorabilia. In it was a book I received in grade school about a young girl – to my delight, also named Dana – who was hailed as a hero for selflessly dashing into oncoming traffic to save a small child. It also turned out that she was actually anything but heroic – in reality, she was timid and fearful. While I enjoyed living vicariously though my namesake becoming a local heroine, I also learned to grapple with the notion that people are complicated, that it is possible to have within ourselves seeming contradictions – fearful, but brave; or bossy, yet self-effacing.
You are the architect of you. Imagine your self as a house. There are core parts of you – the foundation, if you will – that are unlikely to change. But the rest of the house can be tinkered with. Maybe you simply repaint a room to freshen up what’s already there. Or maybe you knock down a wall to open things up a bit, or build a brand new addition. You can keep what you want, change it or not, or add something new. Sometimes, people outgrow their houses, and they up and move into a completely different one – a different way of thinking and being in the world.
What’s the need for change? Ultimately what determines whether or not you will change is whether or not you want to. For change to happen, the perceived need must be greater than the resistance. Ask yourself: What do I want? Who do I need to be to achieve that?
“Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they’re finished. The person you are right now is as transient, as fleeting and as temporary as all the people you’ve ever been. The one constant in our life is change.”