You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. A leopard can’t change its spots. Once a thief, always a thief. These old clichés teach us that you are who you are. There’s no changing that. And while there are many things that are not a choice such as the natural color of your hair, how tall you are, or your sexual orientation, that’s not true for who you are.
When I was a young boy, I wanted to be a chef. The idea of coming up with flavorful food combinations thrilled me. One day, I added maple syrup to chocolate milk and concluded I was a genius. I was going to be the Michelangelo of the food world. But the victims of that bathroom-visit-inducing concoction, like my poor mother, can tell you just how much of a food genius I was not.
Everyone I’ve ever met has changed who they want to be. Some, multiple times. What and who we want to be when we grow up is as fluid as water. Changing directions over time, like a stream running in different directions.
There’s also a direct correlation between events in your past and the personality traits that you exhibit today. Taking away specific, critical events in your past would have a dramatic effect on who you are. Not only changing your goals but who you are as a person.
Psychologists suggest the idea of “self” is an illusion. While it’s true we have natural born talents and aptitude, what really makes you YOU are the memories you have collected along on the way. Therefore, if who you are is simply based on the experiences you’ve had and memories you possess, the only thing stopping you from beginning a new life is you.
If you’re not happy with who you are, you can change your personality. You can change your life. You don’t have to continue things the way that they are. It’s a choice. You just have to know where to begin.
1. Change is Painful
There’s a reason those clichés above have lasted through the centuries. We don’t like to be wrong. Studies have shown that we are likely to go out of our way to continue believing what we’ve already declared to be true, even when shown evidence to the contrary.
The same goes for your personality. You’ve grown accustomed to being the way that you are, and even if you feel miserable and you know the only way to feel happiness is to change who you are, you’re likely to avoid changing. Because to change would mean admitting something deep inside of you is wrong. And that hurts. A lot.
Your first step to changing who you are is to admit that something’s wrong. If you aren’t happy on the inside and you continue doing what you’re doing, well, it’d be like running into a closed-door over and over again, wondering why you can’t get into your house.
2. Start Small but Start Immediately
Once you’ve made the decision that change is really necessary, start right away. As humans, we have this awful habit of waiting to make changes until artificially invented milestones.
January 1 I’m going to start that diet! I’m going to start going to the gym on Monday! I’m going to start that novel on the weekend when I have time. I’ll get to practice right after I take Jill antiquing; she’s been wanting this adorable boudoir that will look perfect in her third bedroom…
Want to hear a secret?
January 1 doesn’t mean anything. Monday is meaningless. You don’t need to wait for the weekend. And quite frankly, screw Jill. What has she done for you lately? And let’s be honest, that boudoir is horrible, and it would look better in your guest room anyway.
Small changes now can lead to significant changes over time if you start applying them right away. Just like a snowball rolling down a hill, momentum is everything.
If you’re tired of being negative, try not complaining for a day, for a week, or at all. If you’re trying not to be so snarky, limit the amount of comments you make out loud and then start quieting them in your mind. If you want to be more productive, try starting a project today, not next week or whenever Jill has time. You are the arbiter of your success.
Regardless of what part of your personality or your life you want to change, start out small and go from there. Don’t wait for the big changes. One tiny victory each day means your life is already changing.
3. Expect Sabotage and Resistance
Last year, I decided I wanted to be more positive. The negativity in my life had gotten to the point that it was painfully obvious, no matter how much I enjoyed being sarcastic or bad mouthing someone who had done me wrong, it wasn’t making me feel good on the inside to be so negative. I was getting stress headaches, my hair was turning gray, and I often felt stomach pain after incidents of conflict. The negativity was quite literally killing me. So I stopped. Just stopped.
Doing so was an abrupt change. I stopped participating in negative conversations. I ignored people who were shit talking other people. When someone would call me to talk badly about someone else, I’d simply decline to participate in the conversation, redirecting to something more positive and fun.
Overnight my mantra changed for the better. That company decided to support a different charity over ours? Oh well. At least people are being helped! So-and-so didn’t want to hang out with me this week. Well, it’s probably nothing to do with me. Maybe they just need some space. I’ll ask again next week!
I continued this change as hard as I could and in as many situations as I could.
“If this is how you’re going to be now, it’s going to impact our friendship,” one of my friends threatened. “You have to vent frustration. You can’t just bottle it up; it’s not healthy. We have to be able to talk like we always have.”
A year later, we’re still friends. I had changed the dynamic of how our relationship worked. But the friendship continued on all the same.
You see, part of the difficulty of changing your personality is that the people around you will feel it too. Who you are when they’re around will change. Who they are around you will change. And as we already discussed, people don’t like change.
Expect resistance when you start changing your personality or your life, especially if it’s pulling away from a negative habit. Trust your gut. Remember there’s a reason you wanted this change.
Don’t like watching put-down comedy shows anymore? Don’t watch them. Find another common ground.
Don’t like watching raunchy movies anymore? Fill the time with an action flick. Maybe a documentary or even a romance.
Just because you’ve always done something doesn’t mean you need to continue doing it.
Your friends might grumble about it for a while. They may resist and try to push you back to who you were. Stay strong. Your real friends will applaud your efforts to become the best version of yourself.
4. Being Selfish is Okay
In order to make life altering choices, you’re going to have to be okay with being selfish. Your friends liked who you were. They enjoyed doing the things that you have always done. You have to ask yourself: Is practicing self-care really selfish?
I don’t think it is. But for the sake of argument let’s say taking care of yourself is selfish.
No one is going to blame you for taking care of yourself first once in a while. There’s a big difference between being a narcissist, someone who only thinks about themselves, and someone who’s trying to make themselves a better person.
If you can get a really great job in a different town, your local friends will miss you, but ultimately they’ll understand that you need to seize this opportunity for a great job halfway across the country. Your friends might not want to stop playing games with you every Friday night, but if that’s the only day that the course you need to complete your degree is available, or class you need to take your interest from a hobby to a career, or or or … your friends will understand.
It’s great to be someone who is willing to give the shirt off your back to help your fellow human. However, you have to own a shirt first in order to give it away. Don’t think of taking care of yourself as selfish; think of self-care as a future investment on your ability to help people in the future.
5. Happiness is a Choice
Sounds like something you’d hear on the Hallmark movie channel. If this were a video instead of an article, I would cut to a montage of 43 different characters saying this exact line. The thing is IT’S TRUE.
Happiness is as much a choice as your favorite brand of ice cream. Whether your philosophy on life is that we’re all given the hand we’re dealt, and that’s that, or if you believe we make our destiny through the choices we make in life, you can choose to be happy.
Maybe God didn’t make you a basketball star. Mother nature didn’t make you fast enough to be a triathlete. Buddha didn’t grace you with charisma. Tom Cruise didn’t visit your fifth-grade pizza party.
You can blame your problems on anything you want, but the truth of the matter is that they’re still your problems to deal with, no matter who caused them. You can choose to be happy, or you can let yourself be miserable.
Personally, even though I’ve put a curse on Tom Cruise for blowing off my pizza party invitation, I choose to be happy with my life and make as many changes as I can to make it the best life possible.
All you have to do is start toning down the negativity in your mind.
That doesn’t mean you’re never going to get angry. It certainly doesn’t mean you’re never going to feel depressed or be upset. But you can choose to pull yourself out of those negative places.
The next time you’re feeling down or upset, when the world seems like it doesn’t make any sense and life is unfair, think about your happiest memories. Remember the times when life was good, and you were eating your favorite dessert. Smile. Take a deep breath. Keep moving forward.
6. Care Less
If you follow all of the advice in this article, you’re still going to fail sometimes. You will relapse into your old ways. You might ignore the advice entirely. Someone else might do better than you.
Take that little monster inside your head that’s gloating at your failure, jealous of somebody else, envious of your second cousin twice removed, put it into a tiny imaginary jar, slam it into a tiny imaginary cannon, and fire that sumabitch into the sun.
Or use a real cannon. I don’t run your life.
There are going to be so many times where you doubt yourself as you try to change into what you want to be. You’re going to be upset that you don’t have enough followers. Your platform isn’t big enough. There’s no way you can lose enough weight. Tom Cruise still isn’t answering your party invitations.
Listen, you’re only in competition with one person: your former self. As long as you’re doing better, whether that means you’re a better person, smarter, faster, healthier, or just plain old more confident, than your former self… You’re winning.
Care less about the things beyond your control. Care less about what other people are doing. Care less about what other people think about what YOU’RE doing.
In the end, the only person that you need to impress is yourself. The sooner you learn that, the sooner you’ll be able to become the person you truly want to be.