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Can Thinking About Change Help You Actually Change?

New research examines how beliefs about change affect psychological growth.

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.
How Change Beliefs Actually Change
Using a sample of 510 adults (equally divided between male and female, average age 40 years), Furnham and Sherman first asked participants to rate their degree of religious beliefs, extent of political conservatism, and tendencies to be optimists. These simple questions were followed by a more extensive set of items concerning their beliefs about whether change is possible (on a 0–10 scale) in such attributes as personality, appearance, health, ambitiousness, IQ, education, hobbies, posture, height, and body shape (BMI). You might put yourself in the place of the participants here and see what your views would be.
For the next part of the study, participants rated themselves on the changes they’ve perceived in themselves over the past 10 years. Again, think about where you would come out on 0-to-10 rating in such qualities as habits, beliefs, personality, health, appearance, self-confidence, and the overall quality of “emotional intelligence” (people skills).
Adding to the mix, the research team also asked participants to rate what’s called a “mindset,” another way of approaching beliefs about personal change, In the fixed mindset, you are convinced that you’ll be the way you are now forever, but in the growth mindset, improvement is forever possible.
The final set of questions simply asked whether the respondent believes that counseling or therapy can work, whether it’s possible to change from an introvert to an extravert, and whether people become nicer/kinder as they get older. Based on some of Furman’s own musings, you might agree that these are certainly interesting questions to ponder.
Turning to the findings, participants gave the highest ratings for change beliefs in the areas of physical health, wealth, and emotional intelligence and the lowest ratings to height, religious beliefs, and punctuality. How do these compare with your own views? When it came to thinking about past changes, participants generally saw themselves as changing almost across the board, except in the area of beliefs. Almost three-quarters thought they would grow in emotional intelligence. In those general questions about change, two-thirds thought that therapy can work, but few believed that an introvert could become an extravert.
Taking on the “Changophilic” Mentality
As expected, Furnham and Sherman observed a positive correlation between the optimism item and the majority of the change belief items. However, self-esteem also factored into the equation such that it was the optimistic people who already thought more highly of themselves who were most convinced that they were capable of changing.
Altogether, as noted by the research team, a group of people in the study fit the category of what they somewhat humorously labeled “changophiles,” based on the high intercorrelation among all of their change beliefs. Potentially a new mindset factor, it would be this approach to life that could help people look at their future glass as being half-, or maybe three-quarters, full rather than steadily emptying.
In terms of the favorable attitudes participants showed toward the possibility of change through psychotherapy, there actually is a potential downside that the authors note. Being “naively optimistic” (p. 5) about what therapy can and cannot do could ironically predict failure. These high hopes could lead you to expect some kind of magical transformation instead of being prepared for the work that therapy can entail.
Left unanswered in this study, as Furnham and Sherman note, is the question of where people get the ideas that bolster their change beliefs. In part, this may be accounted for by religiosity, which was predictive of change beliefs, but, other than that, the present research couldn’t go much farther. Similarly, the question remains of whether people see changes as potentially long-lasting. You could perhaps imagine yourself reducing your weight to restore what’s considered a healthy BMI, but “often there is a clear return to the original BMI” (p. 6).
To sum up, being able to identify your own change beliefs can be a worthwhile exercise in and of itself. Reflecting on how you’ve changed so far can inform this process, but so can taking a page from the high self-esteem/high optimism group. Thinking about yourself as getting better in the future could potentially lead to the types of changes that can make these thoughts a reality.

psychology today

11 replies
  1. Alireza noche
    Alireza noche says:

    The greatest discovery of history is that man can change his future by changing his attitude.

  2. Monir Vakili
    Monir Vakili says:

    In my opinion, thinking about change is only half the battle and doing it is the main part of the job. Thank you for this helpful and thought provoking article

  3. Mobina Mohammadinia
    Mobina Mohammadinia says:

    Hello, if a person can make a change in her life, it is a big positive change because it improves the course of the person’s life.

  4. Mona mollakazemi
    Mona mollakazemi says:

    In my opinion, changing our world requires changing our thoughts by focusing on our desires and paying attention to them. We get what we want by dreaming and letting go of the past and not being afraid to experience.

  5. zahra moradi
    zahra moradi says:

    What is the way of thinking or mentality? The dictionary definition of mentality is as follows: a mental attitude that predetermines a person’s responses to situations and their interpretation. In fact, the mentality of our thoughts and emotions is what we use to understand the world around us.

  6. Omid Takook
    Omid Takook says:

    Omid Takook

    As the student of the Feeling and Perception Course on Fridays at 12:30, my opinion and comment about this essay is:

    Beliefs about change can have a significant impact on psychological growth. If an individual believes that change is possible and necessary for personal growth, they are more likely to engage in behaviors and activities that promote growth and development. This can include seeking out new experiences, learning new skills, and taking risks.
    Beliefs about change can also affect how individuals respond to setbacks or challenges. Those who believe in the possibility of change may be more resilient and better able to bounce back from adversity. They may view setbacks as opportunities for learning and growth, rather than as evidence of their own limitations.
    Beliefs about change can shape an individual’s mindset and approach to personal growth and development. By cultivating a belief in the possibility of change, individuals can foster greater resilience, openness to new experiences, and a willingness to take risks that can lead to psychological growth.

  7. Marzieh
    Marzieh says:

    The author brings up a great point about the importance of mindset when it comes to making change. It’s true that our thoughts and attitudes can have a big impact on achieving our goals.

  8. sara.samani
    sara.samani says:

    People’s beliefs and attitudes are always changing according to the data and information they receive from the environment and others. This article has explained this issue well.

    • Fateme Alijanpoor
      Fateme Alijanpoor says:

      Hello professor, don’t get tired of this excellent and valuable article. Definitely, by reading these articles, new information will be added to people’s knowledge

  9. محدثه خانمیرزائی
    محدثه خانمیرزائی says:

    In my opinion, people’s beliefs are always changing. It was a good article

  10. Atiyeh.soleymanian. meymandi
    Atiyeh.soleymanian. meymandi says:

    I agree with this
    Thinking about yourself as getting better in the future could potentially lead to the types of changes that can make these thoughts a reality.
    Thanks a lot


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