Meet Tom. He’s cheery, happy-go-lucky, and sharp with a joke. But when he goes home, he’s brooding, angry, and on the verge of snapping.
When he talks to me, he spills out all his life’s problems. He’s in his late 30s, single, and has no prospects for the future. He lives a life that’s a notch above a college bachelor, except without the parties and opportunities to meet girls.
I listen to Tom intently and try my best to help him. But after every suggestion, he brushes them off with, “It’s useless. I can’t change.”
How many times have you heard that? “I can’t change” or “I don’t want to change”. There’s nothing wrong with not wanting to change, but what if the person you hate the most is you?
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that the older you get, the more ‘you’ you become, which means I’m basically wasting my time with Tom. He’s already locked into his personality, and he can never change.
But what if I told you that the idea of our personalities being locked after a certain age was a lie? What if I told you that it is absolutely possible? I want to share some truths about change with you.
The 3 Truths About Change
Truth #1: If you believe it, it will happen.
I know this sounds like a stupid idea from a saccharinely-sweet, cavity-inducing Disney movie, but it’s absolutely true. Have you heard of neuroplasticity? It’s a relatively new concept in psychology and is pretty hot stuff.
You see, before this idea, it was common belief that your personality gets cemented in your early 20s. Who you are at 24 is who you will be at 60, with the exception of having fewer teeth and a part of your monthly budget allotted to Depends.
But neuroplasticity shows that your brain continues to grow and reform, even as you get into the later years of your life. That means if there’s a part of you that you don’t like, you can change it at any time.
You’re no longer a slave to who you are because “I’m too old to change”. You can change, but you have to want it. If you want to lose weight, learn a foreign language, pick up a musical instrument, or change your entire outlook on life for the better, there’s nothing stopping you, except for you.
Do you want to change? How badly do you want it? Because if you don’t want it bad enough, then you better get cozy with the 'you' you are now; it’s going to be a long ride.
Truth #2: Sacrifice is necessary.
When I moved from the U.S. to Japan, I wanted to bring everything with me. I packed two suitcases to the brim with clothes and shoes. Then I shipped a 27-inch iMac and a ton of camera gear to Japan. I told myself, “It’s better to be safe than sorry” as I stuffed a couple of rolls of toilet paper into my bag.
I ended up not using much of all I brought. Over half the clothes that I thought I needed ended up getting thrown away. The camera equipment I brought has a permanent home in my closet. And that 27-inch iMac is now being used as an oversized Facebook machine by my mother-in-law.
Those two suitcases? That’s the time and energy we have in our lives. The stuff? Those are things that we spend our time and energy on. Work, hobbies, social life all fill up your suitcase. As does watching Netflix, playing a turn or 60 on Civilization 6, or mindlessly surfing Reddit.
Now you could try to shift some of those things around in order to fit more into your day, but that will only get you so far. Eventually you’ll be all out of time and energy to do anything else. Plus, you’re going to be exhausted from carrying that heavy load.
I think it’s safe to say that we want to bring everything in life with us, but the reality is that we can’t. This is where you have to make the hard decision of what comes and what goes. What are the most important things in your life? What are you willing to give up to become better?
Truth #3: You’re a mindless robot (and that’s a good thing).
When I’m getting ready for work, I wake up at 7:00, hop in the shower, brush my teeth, get dressed, and leave. I walk 20 minutes to the station, catch a train, get off at the 4th stop and transfer to another train. I ride that train for one stop, get off, and pay my fare. I walk 10 minutes to the office, sit at my desk, and log in to my computer.
Here’s the thing: I didn’t think about any of that. I didn’t tell myself, “Okay, you smell, take a shower.” I just did. I didn’t set a reminder on my phone to tell me, “Get off at the 4th stop and transfer to another train”. I just did. I, being the mindless automaton that I am, just did it.
I’m sure many of you out there are the exact same way. You wake up, do your morning routine, drive to your workplace, and begin working. All the while you were thinking of what you were going to have for lunch, that cool thing you’re going to do on the weekend, that funny gif of the cat that freezes when a flower gets put on it’s head, and the list goes on.
This is called habit. I’m sure you’ve heard of it. It’s the program that hijacks our bodies in the background while we can spend our time thinking and planning out other things. It’s a beautiful thing when it’s programmed properly. Like when it makes us go out for a run every day, floss our teeth, or practice a hobby.
But it can be a terrible thing when programmed badly. Like when we light up our 3rd cigarette, stop by that one McDonald’s on the way home from work, or constantly tell ourselves that we’re not good enough and that we don’t deserve happiness.
So, habits control us, but we can control those habits. If we change the habit, we can change who we are. But it won’t happen overnight, nor should you try to change overnight. You have to accept that it’s slow and works in small bits, but it all adds up to monumental change.
Okay, enough with the preachy preachy. How do I actually put this stuff into practice?
Before we go further, crank this song to PUMP YOURSELF UP, then keep reading.
How To Change Yourself Into Something Amazing
• Say these words to yourself out loud:
“Today is the day that the old me dies. In his/her place will be the me that I want to be. It will take my time, energy, and sacrifice. But it’s not impossible. I can change and I will change.”
• Grab your phone and download a habit tracker app like 7 Weeks (iPhone) or Loop (Android). Do it now. I’ll be here when you get back.
• Choose a habit for yourself that you will do every day for 7 weeks. Why 7 weeks? Because that’s how long it takes to reprogram ourselves. Make sure that it’s not too hard. If you want to give up sugar, you can say, “I’m going to give up soda, but other sweets are still okay” or “I’m going to do some exercise for 5 minutes a day”. Remember, you can always crank it up a bit as it gets easier (“Okay, now I’m going to give up all sweets except for desserts after dinner”, “I’m going to try doing some exercise for 10 minutes a day now”). The key here is consistency and repetition.
• On your app, create your habit, and track the habit every day. Not every other day, not every three days. Every. Day.
• Now go out and do whatever it is you want to change. Meditate, exercise, practice the guitar; whatever it is, go do it now.
• In your app, give yourself a nice juicy check mark for the day. You’re going to continue every day until you have 50 check marks.
• After 50 checks, congratulations, you’ve hacked your brain and have a new habit. That little script is going to be nagging you all day until you complete that task. And when you finish it, you’re going to feel awesome.
• Take a screenshot of your achievement, upload it to Facebook, Twitter, or link to it right on this post, and show it off. Brag about how hard you worked and how PUMPED you are to have transformed a part of yourself. Seriously, wave that achievement boner around like no tomorrow.
• Now, make a new habit for yourself and repeat the process.
• Continue until you are the golden god that you were meant to be.
Oh crap, I messed up. Now what?
• Give yourself one of those ugly Xs for the day. It’s going to sit there, like a fat, puss-filled zit that you’ll never be able to get rid of, but hopefully it will be the last one you get.
• Open the notes app on your phone and write the date of your failure, why you failed, how you felt, and actionable steps to prevent it from happening again.
”3/5: I bought a Coke at the vending machine at work instead water because I was thirsty and seeing that red can took over my mind and I just bought it. I just remembered how good it tasted and couldn’t resist. When I took the first sip, it was delicious, but I felt so guilty. I didn’t even want to look at my habit tracker app afterwards. To make sure this doesn’t happen again, I will keep a few bottles of water in my desk so I don’t have to go to the vending machine and be tempted by that sticky poison again.”
• Finish your whining, get up, dust yourself off, and make damn sure that you get a check mark tomorrow.
So, if you’ve read up to this point, then pat yourself on the back. You have done more to improve yourself than many others. But lasting change will only happen when you take consistent action.
Remember, change is possible. It takes time, energy, and sacrifice. And if you can change the habit, you can change yourself forever.
Now go out there, change yourself, and brag incessantly about how awesome you are.
- Man with chalkboard arms: https://pixabay.com/en/man-board-drawing-muscles-strong-2037255/
- Believe: https://pixabay.com/en/paper-document-business-composition-3111146/
- Suitcases: https://pixabay.com/en/luggage-stack-old-antique-2708829/
- Robot: https://pixabay.com/en/robot-cyborg-tech-technology-1105560/
- Cat with flower on head: https://www.instagram.com/p/4EosORHLwM/