Is Personal Growth And Change Possible?
Or . . . Does Our Past Determine Our Future?
Yes . . . and . . . No . . . to the above questions in that order. First a couple of examples.
Anyone who has been into personal development for any length of time has heard of the story of a massive elephant tethered to a stake in the ground with a thin rope and this secured the elephant from wandering off.
And we all wondered how such a large animal as this elephant could be secured by such a seemingly weak anchor.
The story is that when the elephant was young and hadn’t gained all of his adult strength yet, he had become conditioned. When he pulled on that same rope to get away, it remained secure. He couldn’t move away from that spot.
The rope couldn’t be broken then and thus he couldn’t pull away and be free.
Years later that same adult elephant could not pull away because he was conditioned in his youth that the rope held him in that spot no matter what he did.
Even now that he was much stronger and larger, he still believed he couldn’t free himself just as when he was younger and much smaller so he didn’t even try.
Learned Helplessness. Truly an example of habitual conditioning…
A huge German Shepherd dog is afraid of cats… How did this happen? Conditioning again, but this only took one incident, not several over a period of time.
The story goes that when the dog was a young pup, it tried the usual dog-hates-cats’ snarling and snapping technique on an older cat. Unfazed, the cat coolly let the pup have his merry way.
The cat probably got irritated after a while and without warning, a feline claw lashed the dog’s sensitive nose. The poor dog probably felt that it was the worst pain he’ll ever feel and he associated cats with it.
From then on, he gave cats a wide berth. Even when he grew the size of a small horse and the dog could probably swallow a whole cat without effort, they still lorded over him.
This huge beast, which can reduce grown men to quaking, is afraid of little cute cats.
We can laugh about the absurdity of this pair but come to think of it, don’t we all have our own “little cute cats” syndrome? We are all conditioned throughout life. Some positively, some not so much. 🙂
Don’t we all have those little fears that shaped us into what we are now? Wasn’t there a particularly painful experience that taught us to react to things in a particular way?
As little kids, we were constantly barraged with lessons on what to do and what not to do. It could be as instructional as ‘don’t play with matches’; ‘don’t talk to strangers’; ‘eat vegetables’ and so on. These got ingrained in our system that doing it became automatic.
That’s great but what if you were constantly told ‘you’re not good enough’; ‘your grades are lower than so-and-so’; ‘you’re not pretty’; ‘you’re fat’ etc.?
Unfortunately, yes, this negative outlook got into your psyche too. Like a dormant computer virus, it got embedded into your programming.
Conditioning can work for us or against us.
Let’s say you were always told that you’re ugly. You grew up thinking that and each time you try to improve your looks, this ‘virus’ creeps up and tells you ‘don’t bother, you’re ugly’.
As it has been in your subconscious for so long, you believe it and will just go on as you are. Substitute the word ‘ugly’ with ‘fat’ or ‘stupid’ or any of those degrading terms and you get the drift.
Would you like to go on like that all the time? Well, pretty much like a computer, you can also give your subconscious an anti-virus to counteract the negatives. You can change the thought that is in your mind at any time.
The simplest way is to constantly affirm a positive mantra to drown out the negative. Crowd them right out of there. Any positive affirmation constantly repeated with intense emotion will work for you.
You are, in fact, reprogramming yourself when you do this. Say ‘I am smart and I can ______ (replace with whatever you want to do)’ or whatever variation you can think of.
It might take a lot of willpower, practice, and time to get accustomed to this new program. And, it will feel uncomfortable at first because you have believed otherwise for so long.
Say the new affirmation repeatedly whenever you have a free moment, until it becomes real to you. Remember that all the negatives came about because you heard it all your life.
Hearing positives will work the same way, . . . as long as you persist. This is how new beliefs are born and internalized.
Unlike the “elephant” and the “dog”, we are intelligent enough to realize that what has happened in the past will not necessarily happen in the future unless we allow it to. It is called personal growth and we can overcome past conditioning as long as we persist.
Related post here – Do Your Goals Move You Or Are You Limited By Your Past?