Change Your Thoughts And Your Life Will Change


Change your character—change your destiny.

The way you do one thing is the way you do everything has been rattling around in my head since January, the day I heard it twice in one single day. When something strikes me as interesting, and then it comes up again, I figure it might be important. I also apply this strategy when listening as a therapist or coach, evidence that the adage applies for me.

People come to me seeking change. They want to change their mood, their habits, their careers, their relationships, or their parenting style, among other things. It's wonderful to decide you want to make important changes in your life.

The problem is that the way you do one thing does seem to be the way you do most things. Notice I got rid of everything. There's Perfect Pete, rarely coloring outside the lines, desperately following the rules, despite the misery it brings. Then there's Lonely Lucy, forgoing social contact, instead spending days on end, with little sleep or food, on projects that capture her attention. Changing these deeply ingrained patterns is very challenging.

It's called personality, or character, and it's what we love or despise about ourselves and others. Animals have it. The story of a male coyote, recounted in a Psychology Today article about animal personality, intrigued me. He was a risk-taker, always leaving familiar territory. His faithful mate was more cautious, never leaving their home turf. Their personalities were mirror images. Spoiler alert: the male might have lived longer with a less adventurous personality. Happily, the female survived him and took another, more prudent, mate.

The coyote might have recognized that he was taking some dangerous and unnecessary risks. He could have decided to be more cautious. Being a coyote, I suspect that option wasn't available to him. You have the option of deciding on the change you desire, then using your character strengths, or cultivating new ones to create that change.

When people come to me for change, they often expect me to reveal the secret of how to change other people, like their mother, boss, partner or children. I am still waiting for that secret to be revealed. The good news is that it's far easier to change yourself than to change someone else.

You must ask yourself if the way you do one thing is the way you want to do everything. Consider this caution from Frank Outlaw—I'm paraphrasing here—to "watch your thoughts because they become your words, then behaviors, later your habits and eventually, your destiny." You can see how this plays out in a wonderful short video about character strengths, which is where I'm going with this.

For example, if you want to feel happier on a daily basis, consider cultivating more of a character strength like gratitude by saying thank you more often. If you'd like to feel you're contributing more to your community, work on your altruism by offering your time to help friends. If you think your career would get a boost from more friendliness, ask co-workers about their families.

Remember to practice self-compassion, because it takes time to change. And be persistent, because it takes a lot of effort to change your destiny. What would you like your self-improvement plan to look like?

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