Why do some people change and others don’t?

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I’ve been drawn to this subject for the last few weeks. Why do I change? What is it that gets me to change and can I manufacture that?

A few months ago I caught up with my sister who told me her initial thoughts about the book I wrote.

She said “I was just so amazed that so much change came from that one event.”

The event was my fathers sudden passing.

She’s right too. In my case, a lot has changed as a result. But many others, including my sister, didn’t change.

They carried on with their lives.

Sure, they suffered loss, had emotional days/weeks and live with a sense that they miss him dearly. But it didn’t result in dramatic change.

We all want to change something right?

People want to quit smoking, go on a diet, live somewhere else, get a new hairstyle, find a new boyfriend, have a holiday, get liposuction, tell their boss to shove it…

It’s in us to change. So why don’t we?

Jeffrey Kottler has spent the last 37 years writing books about change, interviewing people and researching what triggers are most associated with significant transformations.

His findings?

He doesn’t know. No one knows. It’s a mystery as to why people change.

The evolution of experiences

One thing is true for all of us, as we experience life, it affects us. As the saying goes, we’re a product of both nature and nurture. Our experiences as a young child shape us to who we are today.

A number of years ago three guests were at our house.

A grandmother, her daughter and her granddaughter.

They were discussing their hair styles and what they wanted to look like.

The grandmother wanted a perm, but not too tight. In her own words she said “I don’t want that nigger friz.”


Everyone’s ears pricked up as her granddaughter screamed, “Grandma you can’t say that!” which was also quickly followed up with her daughters chastisement.

The grandmother came from South Africa, where racism was a big part of her life growing up and well into early adulthood.

On the other hand, her granddaughter had spent most of her life in Australia, where living in a multicultural society is normal and racist comments like that are socially unacceptable, offensive and inappropriate.

Evolving over time through education played a big role in the different attitudes between the grandmother and granddaughter. The mother had also changed, as a result of a new environment. A new experience.

That experience resulted in a change of mind. The change of mind resulted in a change in actions.

It’s not just what you know

Knowledge is power.

But that isn’t really true is it.

The application of knowledge is power, because knowledge without action is meaningless.

Ask yourself, how many people know the dangers associated with smoking and yet still smoke?

It’s rare to find a smoker that says “I love smoking and I’ll do it even if it kills me.”

The majority of smokers I know sheepishly say “I want to give this up” or “It’s a bad habit that I want to kick.”

They know smoking isn’t good, and yet still smoke.

I know Tim Tams doesn’t do me any favours, but I still eat them.

So knowledge isn’t the only ingredient for change. Neither is experience.

The stronger the emotion, the greater the motivation

Emotions are interesting as they cause a chain reaction in our body. If you get punched in the nose as an example, your eyes water, your skin will get warmer, your mouth will go dry and your pulse becomes elevated – all because you’re angry.

According to scientists, the function of an emotion is to get our attention and demand a response.

This is why lasting change often occurs after a strong emotional experience.

In my case, losing my father caused the strongest emotional experience I’ve ever had. The resulting outcome was also a significant change.

It’s not uncommon to think like this and to even see how smaller, less significant emotions have affected our lives.

Rejection is often a stinging emotion. Those that have felt it and don’t like it will often do their best to never feel it again. They won’t ask that girl out on a date. They won’t ask for the sale. They won’t talk to strangers at a party. The experience of rejection has caused them to change what once would have been a natural response.

The power lies in the decisions we make

Ultimately, to make any worthwhile change, it takes a decision.

This is where we get caught up and hold ourselves back most of all.

Small decisions are easy.

Last Friday I chose to get dinner from a new restaurant. I changed my pattern of behaviour, but the outcome was rarely going to be disastrous. If it was a bad meal we’d just not eat there again. So what.

The larger decisions are the ones we deliberate on, because there’s cause for concern.

Should I change my job?

Will it be worse than it is in my current job?

What if the people there don’t like me?

I’m pretty comfortable here… I like the people I work with.

No matter what the choice is ahead of us, it can be made and it’s always going to be made the same way.

A decision.

One simple decision to change. To do something differently. To see the world differently. To experience something new. To open our minds to what was previously unknown. To throw off caution and familiarity and take a new adventure.

Adventure. Now there’s something that will trigger new emotions. Something that only comes as a result of change. New treasures and new discoveries are always found by way of an adventure.