You might think that it’s not easy to re-invent yourself especially with the same DNA! But in reality, it can be done with some determination and conviction.
I’ve found in my 25+ years work as an author, director, developer and clinical psychologists at the Smart Therapy Centre that people often fail to realise that they can change themselves psychologically even at very profound levels.
We don’t have to be boxed into old, obsolete categories and versions of ourselves. In fact, whenever we want to, we can decide who we would most like to be, and this change can be achieved much more easily than might be imagined.
Interestingly, if you are determined to change who you are, then it is best done by working from the inside-out by changing your inner attributes (like making yourself more mentally tough or more willing to cry or be vulnerable). These changes then clearly show on the ‘outside’ to others who ‘read’ them and respond to them by treating you differently. The changes also register on the ‘inside’ making the person subjectively feel like a completely different person – creating a win-win for everyone!
To do this, all you need do, is change your behaviour (physical and mental) by changing what it is you focus your attention upon.
Let me give a brief example.
Let’s say that you often end up doing what other people want you to do rather than what you want to do for yourself. You feel ‘owned’ by others, as though you are ‘powerless’ in relation to them and you have no freedom to really be yourself.
Over time, feeling coerced and at the behest of others, makes you feel bitter, envious, blaming and angry that you’re not getting what you truly want in life. This bitterness means that you struggle to be kind to others and often leaves you behaving cynically and with cruelty.
After a sudden insight, you decide that being bitter and angry is just driving other people away from you and leaving you feeling desolate and lonely. You notice that you barely have any friends left and are feeling miserable. So, as a result you make a commitment to change yourself and undertake finding a way to do it.
Now, we know from cutting-edge neuroscience that whatever we pay attention to we will consolidate and learn, and it will become a bigger and bigger part of our physical brain and of our sense of self (the person we ‘believe’ we are) if we continue to focus our attention upon it.
On this basis, we know that the more we pay attention the more we will pop-up millions of dendritic spines in our brains, that release ‘attractor’ chemicals towards other neurones and build synapses (connections) ‘devoted’ to the exact theme to which we are paying attention. Thus, physically changing our brain.
In this example, you suddenly see that you are paying undue attention to your anger, envy, bitterness, cynicism, cruelty and blame by ‘replaying’ these themes over and over (ruminating) in your mind. This means that over time you will ‘behave’ more and more in accordance with those nasty little well-practised themes towards others.
You reflect even more. What has caused you to develop these angry themes? Are you just a horrible person? Then, all at once you realise that it is because you fail to assert yourself properly in the first place and then feel coerced into meeting other peoples’ demands. This is what makes you resentful, mean and cruel.
At this point you note that it is NOT because you were born cruel, or that you are intrinsically a mean, bitter or cynical person, but rather the problem has been that you have spent decades ruminating on ‘revenge’ themes because you just never learnt how to get fair outcomes by asserting yourself in the first place. Not by any means a hanging offence!
So, what do you do?
First you must make a committed decision to change who you are.
Second, you need to think about exactly what type of person you would like to become. In other words, which precise attributes matter to you. On this basis, you might decide you would like to become assertive, kind, friendly and never cruel or cynical.
Third, you must identify which of your (current) unique attributes lend themselves well to the new you and then develop, expand and flaunt those fantastic attributes. You note that you have always been a keen learner with a very curious and open mind. Also, when you are not being cynical you can be kind as well as hilariously funny and make others feel very warm and happy around you. You decide to pay lots of attention to these attributes and really expand and flaunt them at every opportunity.
Fourth, you must identify the current aspects of yourself that are simply getting in the way of developing your new identity. You note that being unassertive in your behaviour sets off the whole cycle, so you determine to learn the complex skills of assertion. Your good learning skills and curiosity will help you with this.
You also note that you often have the harsh body language (voice tone, facial expressions) that go with bitterness and hostility and are so easily ‘read’ by others, so you decide to change these into more friendly versions of yourself. You undertake to smile more, release the jaw, unclench the fists, nod more, have a softer, kinder voice tone. It doesn’t matter if you don’t yet ‘feel’ that way, because you soon will, so long as you keep practising!
Also, as part of this step, you acknowledge that you must stop your ‘habitual’ mental behaviours of paying attention to thoughts, feelings, sensations images or memories that are in any way related to anger, blame, cruelty, envy and bitterness. Give these themes absolutely no air-play time and simply make the decision to stop paying them any attention whatsoever, instead focussing your attention onto the new and constructive skills you are building in order to change yourself.
There is an old saying that says you must kill the person you were in order to become the person you want to be. This has a faint glimmer of truth, but the reality is much less violent! Just spend lots of time paying attention to the inner attributes you would like to develop, making them a larger and larger part of your brain, and pay absolutely no attention to the things you would like to be rid of, allowing your unwanted synapses to break apart with ease.
Keep in mind that neural synapses break apart very quickly when they are no longer used and they correspondingly lose their input capacity – so changes (even large scale ones) can occur very quickly. Before you know it, you will be thinking and behaving quite differently and you will subjectively ‘feel’ and, be treated by others, like a completely different person. Your life outcomes will significantly improve.
If, at any stage, you would like assistance with this work, our ‘behavioural change experts’ at the Smart Therapy Centre in Fitzroy North www.smartherapycentre.com.au will be more than happy to help guide you in this process.