Do People Really Change?

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I’m fascinated by change – if you listen regularly to this podcast you may have noticed that.

Change has been the focus of my professional life.

When I started as a psychotherapist, I helped people overcome problems in ways that changed how they lived their lives.

Afterwards, as a life coach, I focused on supporting people to reach their goals and potential. This also implies change.

Now, as a business coach, I assist service professionals to change their mindsets to become more impactful change-makers.

Yet, once in a while, I have friends who ask “Do people really change?”

This question is not new

Back in Ancient Greece, many philosophers also wonder about this.

They questioned change in general.

In fact, there was a group of philosophers who argued that nothing really changed.

They said that what we perceive as change is merely an illusion of our senses.

In the fifth century BC, Parmenides argued that nothing can become anything other than it is.

It’s a total contradiction of what we perceive – it’s a paradox.

Yet, the logic behind it is solid and mind-boggling.

And Paramenides' ideas had a big impact on philosophy and in the development of science.

For me, this idea that nothing changes is very contra-intuitive. And I have the tendency to think that it will be contra-intuitive to other people too.

Yet, when I think about expressions that people often say:

“He is what he is.”

“He was born like that.”

“People don’t really change.”

“It runs in the family.”

“It’s in their genes.”

Maybe the question “Do people really change?” is asked so often, because for some people that’s what their intuition or experience tells them.

Going back to Ancient Greece, to the fifth century BC

There was another group of philosophers who argued that everything flows, everything is always changing.

The most well-known is Heraclitus.

Even if you don’t know his name, probably you are familiar with one of his quotes:

“No man ever steps in the same river twice.”

Or the longer version:

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man.”

I love this quote, yet I also recognize that this idea of constant flow, constant changing, it can be felt as lack of stability, confusion, even chaos.

For instance, think about our technological world. The pace of change is so fast that sometimes it can make us feel uneasy, and wish for more stable ground.

If you had to decide between these two extremes – nothing can change or everything is in a constant state of change – which would you pick?

Difficult choice. And what I love about philosophy is that it shows us that there is at least a third option, an option that transcends these opposites.

Back to the 5th century BC, Empedocles proposed the idea that both Parmenides and Heraclitus were right.

Yes, nothing changes AND everything changes is possible.

If we believe that everything in nature consists of four elements – earth, air, fire, and water – and that these elements never change, yet can be mixed in various combinations.

How is it possible that four elements to be the basis of everything we see?

Think of a painter who has the red, yellow, and blue – and can mix these primary colors to become all other colors.

Or think about atoms. Yes, there are more than four atoms, yet we believe that everything in nature is made of atoms.

I love philosophers and thought leaders who help us transcend opposites.

How to apply these ideas to how we see change in ourselves

For instance, we can work very hard to change characteristics that are very ingrained in ourselves.

Or we can work to accept these characteristics as a given that we can’t change.

Yet,  now we have a third option.

Why not use our energy to mix and match these characteristics so that we produce our desired outcomes.

Similar to a painter who has a limited palette, by mixing and matching, we are only limited by our imagination.

We can use our creativity to transcend our own limiting contradictions, and transform our mindsets.

Think about the possibilities 🙂