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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.

reference:
psychology today

link:
https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/fulfillment-at-any-age/202303/can-thinking-about-change-help-you-actually-change
1 reply
  1. iliyamojir
    iliyamojir says:

    In order to achieve the highest scores and achievements, you must control your thoughts by changing them. Your thoughts have a tremendous impact on your behavior, situations, opportunities, and other aspects of your life, because the first place you get what you want is in your mind. If you think positively, good and positive events will open their way to your life, and if you give negative thoughts to your brain, you will constantly face troubles and unpleasant events.

    Reply

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