Can you actually ‘teach an old dog new tricks’?
by Maria Katsarou, Managing Partner, Our World Group
And allow me to start with the question addressed to you. Before you continue reading… do you really believe that people change? Does that stop at a certain age? And what would you define as change in the first place? And under what circumstances do people change? And allow me to also say that WHATEVER you choose to believe will be true for you. From a biological perspective our brains are not ‘hardwired’ like machines as it used to be argued, instead, the field of neuroscience is able to show that the brain CAN change its very structure to suit the activities it performs and that if certain parts fail, other parts can actually take over. The ability of the brain to keep adapting throughout the course of a person’s life is referred to as neural plasticity.
For a person to change their behavior they need to become AWARE of that behavior (what they do, what they don’t do, what they say, what they don’t say). Once awareness has been established, they
need to have the SKILL to change, i.e. know the way to do the change. And finally, they need the WILL to do so. If any of those elements are missing then change is not possible. Other theories make a clear distinction between one’s BEING (our core essence) and DOING (behaviors. A change that takes place at the level of DOING only would imply a mere increase in one’s repertoire of behaviors and strategies, while being the same individual as before in our core essence I am sure that either through our own personal experience or through our friends and acquaintances we have encountered cases where even though at one level WE believe they should change things in our or their lives, we / they never do. The reason for this is that with every seemingly negative behavior there is always something positive that we gain from that behavior consciously or unconsciously. If you ask smokers why they don’t quit they will provide you with a series of positive reasons of why they don’t do so (it helps them focus, it relaxes them, and so on). Likewise, we stay in toxic relationships because at a very deep level there is something that we are gaining knowingly or unknowingly. The process of change is an iterative process of thinking and feeling and vice versa and mental complexity reaches a peak when there are persistent feelings of frustration, or we personally feel the limits of our current ways and we are eventually overwhelmed by what is happening inside our hearts and heads. It’s the feeling of being uncomfortable or being in ‘disequilibrium’ where enough heat is generated to engage in a changing process.