Can Thinking About Change Help You Actually Change?
written by Susan Krauss Whitbourne PhD, ABPP
When you think about yourself over the course of your life, which features stand out as having changed the most? Projecting into the future, what aspects of yourself would you like most to change? Perhaps you’ve struggled your entire life with feelings of low self-confidence. You’d like to think, though, that as you get older and pack more experiences under your belt, you could become better able to appreciate your strengths. Like the “Little Engine That Could,” do you “think you can”?
Personality and Beliefs About Change
Norwegian Business School’s Adrian Furnham and Hogan Assessment Systems’ Ryne Sherman (2023) ask the question, “We all want to believe that we can change (for the better), but are we deluded?” (p. 1). This drive for self-improvement can lead people to turn to unreliable sources, according to Furnham and Sherman, but it may also underlie the desire to seek help through psychotherapy or other change-focused treatments.
However, as you might imagine, the belief in upward growth throughout life doesn’t reside equally in everyone. That “little engine” is definitely an optimist. Indeed, the research team maintains that optimism in its many forms (religious, political, and personality) would be the main driver of an eternally sunny view of one’s own future.
Another factor that can influence your beliefs about future change is the perception that you have already changed. For example, if you see yourself as growing over time in self-confidence, however minimal, this could be enough to give you a basis for believing that trajectory will only grow over time.
As Furnham and Sherman point out, however, there can be a difference in your thoughts about future change based on the inventory you take of your various attributes. If you’ve always been punctual, you might not expect much to change in this quality, a belief that corresponds to previous research on changes in the trait of conscientiousness over adulthood. In the area of health, though, you may be convinced that change will occur, and the odds are that it will, given increases in chronic diseases over the adult years. If you’re an optimist, though, you may decide that your health doesn’t have to change if you are able to commit yourself to a regimen of better daily habits.