Do people have the ability to change? Are we correct about who we think we are? Who am I? Who are you? I think about the answer to these questions a lot (probably too much).
A year ago I looked in the mirror and didn’t recognize the person looking back at me. Classic Mulan experience here, except I didn’t disguise myself as a man to go defeat the Huns. I decided to quit my corporate job and move from Washington DC to San Diego, California.
It’s a cliche to say that you don’t recognize who you have become or that you feel lost. But aren’t cliches cliches because they are true? It really does happen. We all change without realizing it. There are days when you wake up and realize that you don’t recognize yourself, what direction you are going in, who the people around you are, and what the hell you are doing with your life.
After a lot of introspection and singing the above iconic Disney song, I realized that you are never who you think you are. I know that sounds a little out there, so let me explain.
You are never who you think you are
We have a lot of biases and prejudices built up in our heads from experiences that skew our self-concept away from reality. When we experience things, from scary things to exciting events in our lives, they change the way we view ourselves. This can either change the way we view ourselves towards the way we actually are (aka reality) or it can change the way we view ourselves away from reality.
For example, you think that you are unattractive to the opposite sex which makes you act unconfident around them. However, are you really unattractive? Or do just think you are because of experiences that you have had? It is probably your negative experiences with the opposite sex that are shaping your self-concept.
Imagine experiencing situations that make you feel more attractive, like a girl or boy complimenting the way you look. Experiencing these compliments will shift something in your mind to think that you are better looking than you thought you were. Then you started to notice more and more women or men paying attention to you.
Slowly (through these new experiences) your self-concept shifts away from thinking you’re unattractive. This shift away from thinking your are unattractive will leads to more actions contrary to your initial belief like speaking to the opposite sex more easily. This will lead to more confidence and more experiences that oppose your self-concept of being unattractive. Through these building experiences your mind will start to believe that you really are attractive.
Then BAM, one day you will embody that mindset and confidence without even realizing it. You will be the attractive person that you never thought you were. Even though, you were that attractive person the entire time. You just needed to experience more things that change your self concept, and in turn your actions to reflect who you are.
If our views of ourselves are not concrete and can change, then why not change them ourselves? Why don’t we put ourselves in situations to experience things that can shape our self concept? You hold the power to change because you have control over the experiences that you put yourself through. Yet, we box ourselves into the person that we think we are.
people can change
There are a huge faction of people that believe that we can not change. I think this is total bullshit and just excuses that people either make for themselves or other people. I will say that our underlying personality characteristics may not change, but your mindset can definitely change. The way you view yourself, the world, and the way you act in it, can change. Those things make up more of who you are than your innate stubbornness or anxiety prone behaviors.
Like I mentioned earlier, most people have convinced themselves that they can not change because they have limited themselves to only who they think they are (read more about this here). The main excuses I’ve heard are, “I’m not that type of person” or some form of “that’s just not me”? I have heard this excuse so many times I want to pull my hair out. They have convinced themselves that the way they are now is who they are going to be forever so they don’t even try to change.
The funny thing is, if these people look back and look at who they were a little while ago, they will see that they have already changed.
Then there are people who really want to change but they are afraid to. Maybe they are afraid of being judged by other people or they don’t have the self-confidence to make the change. I will be honest people will judge you and question you for making a change. I’ve learned, through my own misguided judgement of others, that people will judge you no matter what. Change or no change they will be judging you anyway so why not do what you want?
you have changed
If take a step back and think about you in the past, you will see a lot of changes. I will bet that you have grown and transformed more than you realize. The further back into your past that you go, the more you will see how much you have changed.
I like to take a walk down memory lane on Facebook. I will go back through all of my pictures which go all the way back to 2006 when I was just a sophomore in high school. Thinking back to that little girl, I see someone who was insecure, didn’t take care of herself, gave a middle finger to societal rules, and had no idea what she wanted from life. Other than the occasional middle finger to societal rules, I have completely changed from that insecure little girl.
Think back to when you were in high school, I am sure you are a completely different person now than you were back then. Maybe you have even transformed into a completely different person in the last year. We have all experienced things in our lives that have changed us forever.
Like I said earlier, some of our habits, interests, and underlying personality characteristics may have stayed the same but our mindsets have changed. There is no way you haven’t changed after getting older. Unless you have lived in a room with no windows your entire life. Even then, I’m sure living in that room has changed you.
You have probably failed at a few things and picked yourself back up. You have probably achieved things you never thought that you would achieve. All of these things add up to changes in your self-concept and the way you act. That turns into changes that you project to the world.
The funny thing that I noticed is many of the changes in my life and in other people’s lives were unintentional. I didn’t intentionally become more confident and self assured. I definitely didn’t intentionally fall in love with writing and self-improvement. It all found me.
The changes were shaped by the things that I experienced. The experiences that we have are mostly under our control. Why don’t we play more of a part in how we change through our experiences?
shape your EXPERIENCES
Since you will inevitably change as you experience new things, why not shape and guide your experiences and change into who you want to be? Like I stated before, you have power over what you experience on a day to day basis. If you already know how you want to change, like being more outgoing, you can put yourself in situations where you can practice being more outgoing.
Maybe you want to be more adventurous? Then you can go out and try new things that you think are adventurous. Maybe you want to be a better storyteller or a comedian? Take some time to research how to be better at telling stories and jokes. Go out there and talk to be people. Practice telling stories and making people laugh.
Whatever is it, take a few steps out of your comfort zone and test out if you like being that person. The more you experiences things that confirm this new self-concept the more you will start to believe it. The more you believe it, the more it will become real. Eventually you will just be that person. It will be a part of who you are.
Be whoever you want to be
Even if you have no idea who you want to be, go out there and experiment. You are not limited to anything other than what you limit yourself to. Test the boundaries of what you are comfortable with.
Growing up as a tom boy, I thought that being a girly girl was stupid. I found the color pink repulsive after age 7 and I clung on to the idea that I was cool because I wasn’t like other girls. Now I am really playing around with being more girly. I have found that I enjoy getting dolled up, spending time on my hair, doing my make-up full out, painting my nails, and looking beautiful.
This discovery really messed with my self-concept. Then I realized it shouldn’t matter because I can be who I want to be. Who I am is fluid. Angela can be a tom boy and curse like a sailor while wearing a full face of make-up and a floral dress.
Now that you know you have the power to change, go out there and experiment with who you want to be. Tweak different aspects of your personality, your habits, or your entire self-concept. It will take a little work and will power to get there but we all have the capacity to change.
If you know that you want to be different or are just curious to see what it would be like to act a little more outgoing or be a little more girly, go out there and experiment. Take a couple steps out of your comfort zone or even a leap into the deep end. Go out there and experiences different things. You are not who you think you are because you can be whoever you want to be.
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