Many people argue that they can’t change. It comes in many forms. Some say, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” The more contemporary image claims, “I’m just not wired that way.” The old standby complains, “That’s just the way I am.”
Maybe and maybe not.
Some traits cannot be altered. We can’t change our height or age or race or place of birth. With substantial effort, we might change how much we can lift, how long we can hold our breath, how neat we write or how fast we can run.
Other traits resist change. Most people find it difficult to change their weight or craving for coffee or the length of time they actually stop at a stop sign. Even changing our hair style or morning routine or favorite restaurant gives us some pause.
Some things can be changed, but we use the old excuses to avoid making an effort. Somebody who uses foul language or picks at every small detail or name drops or passes on partial truths often justifies such behavior with an internal “I’m just wired that way.” Are some behaviors difficult to change? Yes. Are they impossible to change? No.
Much of what we do can be altered. We don’t have to spread a sour point of view to everybody we meet. We don’t have to see dark clouds when others only see sunshine. Nothing makes it impossible for us to give up bitterness, malice and deceit.
Negative habits, poisonous attitudes, punitive responses, malicious comments, and a bitter spirit can be altered. Dogs can learn new tricks, and so can you and I. We can rewire enormous parts of our lives while we live them. We can’t lower our age, but we can lower our rage. Once adults we can’t alter our height, but we can resist our willingness to fight. We can’t change our place of birth, but we can reduce that extra girth.
Behind these seemingly impenetrable walls of poor behaviors are weak props that keep us from growing better, wiser, and kinder. Once we give up the thinking that “I can’t be different than I am” the way is open to being a better person, a more productive employee, a more loving family member and a stronger citizen.
It starts with deciding not to use the weak old excuses any more. We can say, “I’m not going to be that old unchangeable dog.” “Never again will I use the trite excuse about some mythical internal wiring that cannot be short circuited.” “I commit to reexamine every conclusion that begins with ‘That’s just the way I am.’”
Try some easy ones first. Change your routine: Brush your teeth and then shave. Make a list of the things you think you can’t change and pick two or three that don’t hold water. Plan a reward: Give yourself a chocolate chip cookie when you go a day without swearing.
Get some help. Challenge a friend to change a negative behavior that you share. I will work on speaking only the absolute truth if you will too. I give you permission to flag any of my statements that don’t measure up.
Identify the faulty thinking that makes you think you can’t be better than you are. Make a list in the notes app on the phone of mistaken beliefs you have internalized over the years. Review them regularly as a means of changing your way of thinking.
Decide to make these minor changes for the major good. Give up saying “That’s just the way I am” and start living, “That’s just the way I want to be.”
This piece appeared in the Parkersburg News and Sentinel on May 2, 2017.