You’ve heard it said, “People don’t change.” Then, again, you’ve heard, “No, no, no! People are capable of change.” How can any of us have hope for a better life if we didn’t believe we are capable of change? Which is it? Are people capable of change or not?
If people aren’t capable of change, no one would be able to turn their life around. Yet, we know that many people have changed their lives. Then, again, many more folks also stay stuck in a rut, because they don’t think they can change, or they’ve tried for a while, but ended up going back to their old destructive ways. The answer is perhaps a little bit of both. Maybe people don’t change, so much as evolve.
To evolve is to adapt over time to your environment as a result of natural selection. Natural selection is the process by which those qualities that enhance survival continue, while those qualities that don’t help with survival die off. Can the same thing apply to your personality, your talents, your skills, your perspective on Life? Are the negative things you do merely futile attempts to adapt to what is for you a hostile environment? If so, doesn’t it follow that being in an environment that promotes your best qualities will help what is great about you to thrive, and alternatively lead to the negative behaviors to die off?
Scientists have long held that people are a complex combination of nature and nurture. Our nature is driven by the biological DNA toolbox that gives us our shape, size, intelligence level, and talents. The part of us that comes from nurture is the way everything around us influenced how we developed those natural tools. How and where we were raised, what schooling we’ve had, what financial resources and social experiences have influenced us as we age. Were you loved and safe as a child? Were you bullied or neglected? What was your school experience like? Did you have friends? In a sense, your nature is the raw material, the “clay” of who you are, and your nurture is how those raw materials have been shaped over time by the forces outside you.
The key to the question of change is the degree to which we are pliable, capable of re-shaping, re-influencing the raw materials that make up who we are. The magic of being human is that we are not made of stone, and we are not trapped by instinct into a pre-determined set of behaviors, the way lesser animals are. We have choice, and with choice comes the option of changing what is to what might be. A billion-dollar motivational industry says we can do this. Religious dogma has faith that we can. Do you think you can?
If your life is not what you want it to be, if your habits, the things you eat, the things you do or don’t do, are not what make you happy, yet you find yourself not able to change your ways, perhaps it’s because the course you’re traveling requires you to be the way you are–even if you think it’s against your will. You have “evolved” into living the life you have. Do you know how you got that way? We make the choices we make, because on some level those choices work for us in adapting to our environment. The problem is, those adaptations can be self-destructive reactions to compensate for not being in the type of environment that allows the natural you to thrive.
Say you think you want to lose weight and get fit, yet there is some greater force influencing you against making this change. For some reason, not losing weight, not exercising, not eating right is working for you. What is it that underlies your “failure” to evolve? Say you want to change careers, and you keep meaning to look for another job or return to school to get the right credentials for a new career, yet you allow obstacles to get in the way. You want a loving relationship, but always fall for aloof, selfish people who use you. You think you want to make a change, yet you don’t–and fill your head with all sorts of excuses for why you can’t get past the obstacles. Ultimately, you may give up, thinking you just can’t change.
Yet, while evolution occurs from within, it doesn’t start from within. It’s a reaction, a process of adapting to the changes that occur around us. To evolve, you need to be in an environment where the “changes” you want to see in yourself are actually driven by your environment. Say you live in a crowded city and are miserable with the fast pace, the noise, the strangers everywhere, so you become sullen, turn to comfort food, stay to yourself and are lonely and depressed. City life doesn’t match up with your “nature.” The qualities that make you who you are don’t match up with the environment you’re in, so in your efforts to adapt, you actually become self-destructive. For example, if you don’t like crowds, you become a recluse to adapt. You don’t like your job, so you don’t perform well or have any enthusiasm, which keeps you from getting promoted in your career.
Now, if you change your environment to one that actually promotes your natural qualities, you won’t need to change. You will “evolve” as those natural qualities you have actually begin to work to your advantage. If you hate the city and move to the country, suddenly the qualities that make up who you are become a natural fit for your environment. Your spirit rises, your stress level drops, you no longer “adapt” by turning to self-destructive habits to compensate for how out-of-place you used to feel. You can “evolve” into the best of who you are, because the qualities that make you who you are work to your advantage in this environment.
There is so much pressure on us today to have the willpower to change from within, but we can’t re-write our DNA. The old adage “a fish out of water” is an undeniable truth. If you’re seeking a new direction in your life, perhaps your focus should not be on changing yourself so much as changing your environment, the path you are on, so that who you are can thrive. If you are unhappy, there’s a good chance it’s because there are wonderful qualities and strengths within you that have not had the chance to evolve.
You’re not cursed if you’re unhappy with your life. You just may be on the wrong path, in the wrong environment. Take the time to appreciate how the environment of your life is killing off those qualities you most want to develop. Once you find the right environment that actually allows the natural aspects of who you are to thrive, you won’t change. You won’t have to. You will evolve into the genuine you.