Are humans capable of change? Or are we set to be a certain way for the rest of our lives? Believe it or not, these two questions are ones I have pondered since I was little. I have always been fascinated by why people are the way they are. My mother and I have had multiple discussions throughout my life on breaking the cycles of behavior we notice in ourselves and others -perhaps that is where my fascination started. Are we destined to be a certain way because that is how it has always been? Or are we capable of breaking cycles of behaviors and habits?
I also acknowledge that from year-to-year, we do change our views and perspectives as I don’t wholeheartedly feel and think the same way as I did, ten or even five years ago. However, are behavioral changes possible?
My answer is, yes, I believe they are because I have changed behaviors and habits myself. Since I know that it is possible to change one’s behaviors and habits, I recognize now that I find it particularly irksome when people say things like, “This is how I have always been, I’m never going to change.” There is a part of me that always wants to push back and ask why they think that? I often don’t because I find pushing back on people’s views of themselves doesn’t always go over well, so I resort to speculation.
Why do people believe that just because they have been a certain way their entire life that they are never going to change?
I believe it is because the task of putting in the effort to change things about yourself is difficult and daunting and it is easier to say this is how I have always been and there is no changing me. I believe changing your behavior or habits requires a great deal of motivation and accountability which can be difficult to muster.
A Personal Tale
I have anger issues, or at least I did. I am reformed for the most part. I get my anger issues, from one of my parents but I am not naming which. A couple of years back, my anger got the best of me in a disastrous way which was humiliating considering I was in school for Conflict Management. When I spoke to the parent of whom I mimic in this behavior they had a very calm response, they said, ” There isn’t much I can say to you as you have seen me behave this way throughout your life. Plus, I know you are beating yourself up enough. All I can say is try to do better and be better.” This conversation was a wake-up call for me. I did not want to find myself twenty years later having to say something similar to my child when their anger got the best of them. I also was becoming a Master of Conflict and needed to apply my education to my life.
How Did I Change?
My transformation did not occur overnight, and I will admit to having slip-ups every now and again; I am human after all. But not to the extreme of the situation I describe above. I implemented change in the following ways:
Motivation: I was motivated to change. As mentioned above I didn’t want to have that same conversation with my child that my parent had with me. But also, in general, I didn’t want to pass on my anger issues. I didn’t like losing my temper or allowing my anger to get the best of me. It made me feel out of control and embarrassed. Plus, I felt like a hypocrite going to school for conflict management and expressing to others how to manage their anger, yet failing to control my own. The motivation to reform my anger issues was there, but now I needed a plan of action.
Accountability: Two things kept me accountable, myself and my husband, Bernard – though we weren’t married at the time. I’ve journaled throughout my life, but in 2013 I began journaling regularly. Journaling was the way I kept myself accountable. If I got angry, I wrote about it. It allowed me to take a step back and analyze what made me angry and how I could change my outlook on the situation. It also was a kept record of all my outbursts, which written down on paper were not enjoyable to reflect and read. Bernard helped in the sense that he wouldn’t engage with me if I lost my temper. He would say to me, ” If you can speak calmly to me about this then we can talk, but I’m not speaking to you until you calm down.” Every time we reached this phase, while I wasn’t happy about it, it forced me to take a minute and compose myself, mainly because I always want to resolve an issue and the only way he would allow me to do that was to calm down. I must be honest too, while Bernard never acted superior to me because of this flaw, in my mind, the fact that he could remain calm all the time made me feel like he was, and I was not going to let him outshine me. (Healthy competition in a relationship is a topic for another time.)
Recognizing Triggers and Managing Expectations: From journaling, I learned that certain things triggered me more so than others. Often, I was set off because I had a certain expectation of how I thought a situation was going to go, and if my expectation was unmet that triggered my anger. For example, if we ordered food for delivery. I would take my time picking out food that appealed to me. In the time it would take for it to arrive, I would get hungry – I would think about how good this meal was going to taste. But once it would come, they would mess up the order or give the wrong thing. The expectation I had was unmet, and this would make me fly off the handle. Being able to recognize my triggers was incredibly helpful because I learned to manage my expectations. Before food would arrive, I would acknowledge that my order may be incorrect. It wasn’t personal, and people make mistakes. If it was wrong, I needed to learn to make the best of it. I also acknowledged that there are hungry people somewhere in the world, this was a very first world problem, and I needed to check myself. I did this with anything I recognized as a potential trigger to make me upset, and I would ask myself what my expectations are? What could occur that would cause my expectations to go unmet? How will I handle this situation if it happens? Doing this helped to minimize the chance that I would be triggered and lose my temper.
Minimizing the Storm: I recognized that being able to implement a change would take some time, but I needed to figure out how exactly I would reduce my anger if I found myself upset. How could I do it quickly enough that it didn’t reach a disastrous level? I found that breathing, pausing, and walking away for a minute were my best bets. I was able to recognize when things were escalating and when that occurred, I shut my mouth (a challenge in and of itself), I took deep breaths, I walked away and took a minute to pause. When you get angry, you can get worked up, and it can cause you to think and act irrationally. Just taking a pause or walking away for a minute can reset your mind enough to allow you to make more precise and rational thoughts.
By having the motivation and implementing accountability, recognizing triggers, managing expectations, and minimizing the storm, I was able to curtail my anger issues, which has significantly improved my well-being, and my relationships. It also made me a believer in people’s ability to change.
Therefore, if you find yourself needing to change something about yourself the key to doing so is having the motivation, being accountable, putting a plan in place to accomplish it, and forgiving yourself when you mess up because it is bound to happen, you are human.
I am continually thinking of ways I can change and better myself. I have stated in the past that my goal in life is to be the best version of myself possible which is something I’ll always be aiming to achieve but will likely never fully accomplish. Currently, I am working to change holding onto a grudge and resentment. It is a process that takes time. But I firmly believe that if one wants to transform you can do so indeed!