Can We Change? Yes We Can!

Change“The beliefs, assumptions, expectations that you’ve gotten from your friends, family, culture — those things, Mischel explains, are the filter through which you see the world. Your mind stands between who you are, your personality and whatever situation you are in. It interprets the world around it, and how it feels about what it sees. And so when the stuff inside the mind changes, the person changes.”*

That’s it folks. That simple. All you have to do is change your mind. To quote again from the article, “People can use their wonderful brains to think differently about situations….To reframe them. To reconstruct them. To even reconstruct themselves.” Back in the day the idea was that personalities were stable. Once a cheater. Always a cheater. Once a hothead. Always a hothead. This despite psychologist Walter Mischel’s findings to the contrary. Walter Mischel is the marshmallow guy, who told children in his studies that they could have one marshmallow, but if they could wait a bit they could have two. Then he tracked the kids’ lives, over 40 years, and found that the kids who could wait were more successful in life on a variety of measures than the ones who couldn’t. The subtitle of his book is Why Self-Control is the Engine of Success.

But Mischel laments that this has been taken by many to mean that personality is set at an early age, stable over time, unable to change. Not what he thinks because what appears to have gotten lost in the mix was how flexible and situational ‘who we are’ really can be. So, for example, the kids who were told to just pretend the marshmallow wasn’t really there were able to hold off and get two marshmallows, just by this simple change of the situation and trick of the mind. This is what we mean by reframing the situation, changing the mind, changing ourselves. There was a 1928 study putting kids in a situation where they could cheat or steal. This study found that a child who might cheat in math class didn’t cheat in other classes. And how many otherwise sweet, kindhearted mothers do you know who wouldn’t tear the eyes out of someone who threatened to hurt her baby. Nothing set here. Situation matters a lot.

So what about you? Have you ever noticed how different you can be in different situations? Of course, you are not going to behave exactly the same in a job interview as you do with your friends at happy hour, are you? Different situation. Or how about with different people? Over and over again I notice that, as my clients** begin to ease up and enjoy themselves more, they begin to want to spend more time with other people for whom happier, healthier, more productive is the norm. No one tells them to do this, exactly. It just happens. Somehow they figure out, maybe because they have felt themselves changing, that we humans are not so set in stone; that to a greater extent than they knew they were who they were with. There is a great book on this: Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives — How Your Friends’ Friends’ Friends Affect Everything You Feel, Think, and Do.

But now that we are on the subject, why wait for it to just happen. Why not make it happen. Start wherever you like. Start big or small. Change something about a situation, or the people in it – or simply how you think about it without actually changing anything else at all. Begin to notice where, when, and with whom you are your very best you. Practice, practice, practice, and see what happens.

To work on this or something else, would love to hear from you:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

*Source: NPR

**Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2017. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.





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