Soft. Quiet. Introverted. Scared.
These are some of the words that folks frequently used to describe me as a teenager. I hated it. But I bought in and chose to believe them.
Tough. Charismatic. Outgoing. Brave.
These are some of the words that folks frequently use to describe me as an adult. I find these words far more palatable, far more comfortable to represent myself with. Now, I’m sure I don’t have to point out that the words in the second list are in clear contrast and in some ways are the opposite of the words in the first list. That’s by design. And while it’s true that I’ve come to believe the words in the second list truly do reflect who I am today that wasn’t always the case. Shaking the labels in that first list and stepping into the reality of that second list has been a journey.
So, how the heck did that happen?
Wait, what? But they always told me that people don’t change. Lies. But then, what about all the psychology books I read in university that told me that personality was not malleable, or at the very least, very difficult to modify. Also lies. However, if I’m being real, and I always try to be real, it was really easy to believe that changing wasn’t actually possible. But, if that’s the case then how on Earth was I able to do it? Am I special? Naaah. Do I have some secret trick up my sleeve? Nope, not a magician. Have I figured out the recipe to the secret sauce? Not even close (and trust me, you probably don’t want a recipe from me anyway—ask my mom). So then, how was I able to change? Well, it started with a realization.
I realized that I could be anybody I wanted to be.
I. Could. Be. Anybody. I. Wanted. To. Be.
That’s worth repeating. So here’s the thing, that first list of
words again—soft, quiet, introverted, scared—those
descriptors were given to me. That second list of words—
tough, charismatic, outgoing, brave—those were attributes
I cultivated for myself, earned through observation, changing my
mindset, risk-taking, determination and practice.
In a few paragraphs I’m going to outline the process for personal
change that worked for me, but before we can go down that road
there is an important point to make: in order to become who you
want to be you have to love yourself enough to believe you deserve to be who you want to be. Easier said than done, but it is possible. Furthermore, for personal change to happen in your life you have to be willing to be uncomfortable. You have to be willing to absolutely suck at something you want to become while you practice and learn how not to suck at it. This process isn’t always fun. But it works.
So, personal change—here’s how I did it:
First, I made a list of qualities I wanted to be and what behaviours and mindsets were attached to those qualities. In conjunction with that, I made a list of qualities I didn’t want to be and what behaviours and mindsets were attached to those qualities. Secondly, I made friends and connections with folks who possessed the qualities and mindsets I wanted for myself. Then I became an urban anthropologist and followed the five steps below.
Okay, now that I knew what qualities I wanted to adopt and which ones I wanted to shed, I started looking for examples in the real world. I started to observe. Simply put, I became the world’s most devoted people watcher. What was the one thing I wanted to get better at most of all? Social skills. So I watched those who were good at it. How did they open a conversation? What was their tone of voice and facial expression? How did they orient their bodies to the people they were talking to? How did they use gestures to enhance storytelling and emphasize punch lines in jokes? How did they save an awkward or embarrassing moment? Etc. etc. etc. I studied all of it.
Change needs to happen in our heads before it can happen anywhere else. The first step is simply believing, truly believing, that change is possible. If you don’t believe change is possible then it becomes easier to quit prematurely, not give your best effort, self-sabotage or engage in the dreaded self-limiting thoughts, plaguing your mind with notions like, “this isn’t realistic,” or “I can never be what I want to be.” UNTRUE! Don’t let your mind ruin your personal aspirations. Instead, master your mind and your thoughts. Pay attention to your thoughts and your beliefs so that when you do have a self-limiting thought or a maladaptive belief, you can reject it and intentionally force yourself to think something that will support your engagement with your own growth. Once again, to use myself as an example, I intentionally worked on my mindset through affirmation and intentional self-talk. So the next time your mind tells you something isn’t realistic, back your self-limiting thought up into a corner, grab it by the collar and with your sternest mind-voice, tell your self-limiting thought to scram because if someone else can embody the qualities you want to have then it’s possible for you to possess those qualities too.
I had to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. The thing about doing anything new or different, especially if it’s something you care about, is that it involves risk. It means putting your ego on the line and inviting the possibility of failure, embarrassment and shame into your life. Yuck! Nobody likes these feelings. We’ve been conditioned to avoid them by ‘unimportant’ people like parents, teachers and the bully from the lunch room in grade 3 who never seemed to brush his teeth but you wouldn’t dare say anything to his face because he was big enough and mean enough to squeeze the pulp out of you like a Tropicana orange. Well, all that shame and embarrassment you’ve been conditioned to avoid all your life? You have to learn to lean into it, to become one with it, to accept it and to love it. You have to be comfortable with discomfort. You have to take risks.
Now, this sounds all doom and gloom and sadness, but in reality, like jumping into a cold pool, it’s not so bad once you get used to it and just like jumping into a cold pool, it’s easier to handle if you just do it instead of thinking about how uncomfortable it’s going to be and then doing it. And just like that cold pool, once you sit in that discomfort for a while you get used to it and miraculously it’s not so bad anymore. If you want to be who you want to be you have to risk making mistakes on your way to becoming that person. All this being said, it’s best to take risks that are just a little bit out of your comfort zone. One hundred baby steps equal one giant step.
Have you ever seen a baby learning to walk? No matter how many times they fall and no matter how many times they cry, they just keep getting back on up and they keep trying. They are going to walk. No. Matter. What. And then after they start walking they start climbing and getting into all of your stuff (including the cookie jar, cereal boxes or the cabinet you use to keep all the extra toilet paper and then you wake up from your unplanned afternoon nap to the haunting laugh of Spongebob Squarepants and a living room completely absent of anything but miles of two-ply streaming across your apartment. Or maybe that was just me. Don’t hire me as a babysitter. Anyway, I digress). The point is that when you are in this process you cannot give up, no matter how bad you want to. Just when you think things won’t get better they do. For real.
Ever heard the phrase practice makes perfect? Well that’s a whole steaming
load of cow dung, and that cow had an unpleasant dinner. Nobody is perfect
all the time. Nobody. So, instead of practice makes perfect I like to think of it
as practice makes better. I firmly believe that in any area of your life it’s more
important to be better than it is to be perfect. Perfection can in fact be such
an implausible destination that chasing perfection might simply overwhelm
you so much that you never even try. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been
there…and the fear that I couldn’t be perfect just made me avoid stuff.
However, when I started judging myself based on whether or not I was
growing, improving and getting better is when my commitment to being
better became sustainable. And then I was able to put myself in the situations required to try out all the fancy skills and mindsets I had been observing, learning and integrating into my identity. In short, I was able to commit to practice. And practice you must if you want to be the person you want to be. And then I practiced and practiced and practiced until the qualities I wanted for myself became a part of who I was, until things just clicked and sank in. Until the ink with which I wanted to rewrite my destiny bonded to the proverbial page that was my personhood and dried. I wrote my own book for the world to read.
Rather than succumbing to and accepting the traits and labels given to me by others, by a hard ass life, and most significantly, by trauma, I rejected the stencil provided to me by my life’s experiences and instead created my own, and in doing so, I created my own destiny.
Change is possible.
Okay, so I’ve written all of these words and if you’ve gotten this far you’ve read them, but still, what if I’m spouting out nonsense? Well, do you want to know something cool that might just prove my theory to be true? Think about this: all of your body’s cells have been replicating and killing off the older versions of themselves since you were born. What that means is that the cells that made up who you were as a baby no longer exist—heck, the cells that made up who you were just five years ago no longer exist. In essence, you are literally a whole new person than you were five years ago, even down to the cellular level. So if you think that you can’t change, just remember that you already have. And if you want, you can continue to change, as much or as little as you want. With that change you can rewrite your life and your future.
It’s completely up to you.
...if someone else can embody the qualities you want to have then it’s possible for you to possess those qualities too.
In essence, you are literally a whole new person than you were five years ago, even down to the cellular level. So if you think that you can’t change, just remember that you already have.