If you’re like most people, you’ve probably known someone who did something wrong – really wrong – and then said, “I know I messed up, but please give me another chance. I can change. I’ll change. I can do it.”

How did you respond? Did you give the person the benefit of the doubt? Or, did you think, “Oh, sure, he might change for a little while; but later on it’ll be the same old thing.”

Do you believe people can change? Ever? Or, do you believe “A leopard can’t change its spots. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. The older you are, the more you become set in your ways.”

This question – do people really change? –  can lead up to a tricky but useful conversation. In order for it to be useful, though, we need to know why the question is tricky. Here it is: the word “change”, in itself, contains a variety of meanings.

Change can mean one thing to Person A and another thing to Person B. So let’s start from square one. What is change, anyway? Does it mean changing your mind, your opinions, your tastes, your political or religious beliefs? … Your attitude in a relationship? … Changing a bad habit or some other behavior? … Is it a personality makeover? … Changing your appearance, the way you present yourself to the world, or the way your emotions operate?

Whether you’re in a troubled relationship, or a frustrating school or work situation, the first thing to do is to identify what specifically needs to change. If it’s something about you, you can determine whether you believe you can change it, if you’re willing to change, if the change will actually work and whether it’s worth it.

Even if you don’t believe you yourself can change, one thing is certain. History has proved that people are capable of astonishing transformations, whether they intend them or not.

As I got ready to attend my first-ever high school reunion, decades after graduation, I wondered who would be there. Would I recognize them? Would they remember me? Do I look okay? After running into one person after another, most of whom I didn’t know very well, I saw an old buddy I’d been wondering about. Call him “Jeff”. I’d especially wanted to see him, because he and I were two of the biggest cut-ups in the school. We couldn’t shut up during classes, we made fun of everything and everyone, and had a blast. I saw him across the room, walked up to him, saw his name badge, and gave him a big bear hug. “JEFF!!!!! How are  you? It’s great to see you, man!!!!!” I felt like we were back in high school. He stared at me as if I’d just stepped off an alien spaceship. Not a smile, hardly a word. In fact he looked annoyed. Later on someone had told me that he’d changed. No kidding! Apparently, at some point he felt that people didn’t take him seriously, and stopped being class clown.

People can and do change. Life changes us. But, then there’s the question about our ability to make personal changes deliberately, from within ourselves, regardless of outside pressures.

The answer to that question? Well, it depends on the answers to some other questions: Do you believe you can change? Do you really want to change? Will it work? Will it be worth the trouble, and can you overcome the fear of leaving your comfort zone? If you make some changes, are you admitting that there’s something wrong with you? Does it mean that the other person “wins” and you “lose”? Will you feel humiliated or embarrassed if you fail?

Some few people are open to change; but to the majority, change is like garlic to Dracula. In fact, based on my experience, people don’t change their behaviors, habits or attitudes until the anxiety of changing is outweighed by the cost of staying as they are.

Are you in a situation in which you’re feeling pressured to change something? Your job or school performance, or your attitude or behavior in a relationship? Have you ever told yourself things like, “This is who I am; deal with it. They should change, not me!” Or “It’s too late for me to change.” If that’s your rock-solid belief, it’s not likely you’ll make the change that would help you in the long run. On the other hand, if you can see things in a less rigid way, allow yourself some flexibility in your beliefs and views, you’ll find that changing a behavior or an attitude is not as hard as you thought.

If you’re in a tough spot, and you’re feeling confused or stuck and you don’t know what needs to change or how to get started, I firmly believe – if you are really motivated – that I can help. Please don’t hesitate to call for a free consult at 219-309-3928.