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Should you work to change yourself, or just be who you are?

Friday January 7, 2022

One of the earliest questions that comes up during times of growth, change, and challenge, is “should you change yourself, or just be yourself?”

The biggest problem with this question is the question itself!

It’s really a bad question. It’s also a false dichotomy. You can be yourself, while also changing yourself.

And here are three questions that I think are much more helpful:

  • Everyone can learn to change in order to become more effective. How will you manage that change while continuing to reconnect with the aspects of yourself, and your past, that you really like?
  • What will you do when you change key aspects of your life, and then seem to lose friends as a result?
  • How can you learn to take better care of yourself while also discarding aspects of your life that you don’t like?

But really quick, let’s go back to one huge question:

Should you change yourself?

Given the choice, you should always work to change yourself, and by extension, your psychology. Why? Here are some very good reasons:

  • You’ll be able to solve more problems. For every new annoyance in life, it will become more obvious that a variety of solutions exist. This alone is a huge, huge reason why you should always work toward growth-oriented change.
  • You’ll enjoy life more because you’ll be able to interpret experiences through a wider variety of lenses. For every new annoyance in life, it will become more obvious that fun workarounds and solutions exist.
  • If you don’t gradually work on yourself in this way, you will probably be forced to change later. And this may come at an inopportune time.
  • You may already love to help other people change. However, if you want to be really good at this (coaching, training, or other fields), it’s important to understand how hard it is to really “fix” yourself. It takes patience, a nurturing mindset, and a focus on observable accomplishment.
  • If you keep helping others, without changing yourself, eventually they will probably notice and they may call you out on this inequity. It can cost you important relationships.
  • You may not like this aspect, but a lot of others around you are changing themselves, too. Self-change is an enormously popular topic. Those other people out there want to have access to the best tools and perspectives. (Try not to compare yourself to them at a shallow level, but do keep this fact in mind in case you feel lonely during times of self-change)
  • Finally, your past is really stale and boring in a lot of ways, and this will gradually become more of a problem as you run lower and lower on energy. That stale, boring aspect can be completely turned around by growth and change.

Still, there’s a cost to all of these changes. One of them I frequently hear about is loneliness.

Why is it that when you change yourself, you feel lonely?

Some possible answers:

  • First, you are playing to your weaknesses when you change yourself. Focusing on change will always highlight your weakest areas. You will sometimes feel like a tragically weak person surrounded by superheroes.
  • You may meet with people who themselves decided not to change, reinforcing your idea of giving up and going back to “who you were”.
  • Those people, or others, will tell you “just be yourself, you don’t need to do all of this extra work.” (They don’t usually realize that people who say this are actually criticizing your decisions—I think it’s important to reflect on that fact.)

What can you do about it?

All of this will result in a feeling of isolation. So, what is needed? What can help?

Here are some suggestions. Write down the answers to the questions below, and keep them where you can find them later.

First, Know Your Motivations. You need to be able to re-orient your current self to your past self, and remember the why while receiving this kind of feedback and criticism.

  • Why did you start this change in the first place?
  • Why did you decide to change instead of not changing?
  • Why do you think that a changed you will be better off?

Second, Know Your Plan. You need to be able to specify the what so you can re-orient yourself if you get off track.

  • What specific changes do you want in your life?
  • What measuring tools will you use to verify that you are getting what you want? A journal, a spreadsheet, check-ins with a partner, or something else?
  • If you are changing your relations:
    • What kind of friends people ARE you looking for?
    • How will you know when you meet them?
    • Where will you meet them?
    • How can you keep others from annoying you or getting in the way, in the meantime?

Third, Support Yourself. You need to be able to keep helping yourself so you have the energy to keep changing yourself.

  • Know your existing gifts. What gifts do you already have that help you get through this? Learn to look at your own gifts as if they are superpowers.
  • Learn how to take rest periods. Keep track of the best methods you have for recuperating.
    • Do you reward yourself with a vacation?
    • Or do you have favorite interests you stay on top of all the time, no matter what?
    • Do you take a nice nap every day, without fail, and eat a favorite snack after?
    • Do you wear only comfortable clothes from now on?
    • Do you have favorite music, TV, or movies you watch to help you step out of your troubles and recuperate for a moment?
  • Practice setting boundaries with yourself and others. Stop giving away all of your energy. Know your limits and practice giving without over-giving.
    • A huge part of this is asking people in relationships what they want, and helping them get exactly that, instead of getting them what you think they want.
    • A huge part of this with yourself is knowing what you want, and getting it. This takes practice—sometimes it’s easy to get too much of what you thought was a good thing, for example.

Finally, Enjoy Watching Yourself Change. You should be able to see and enjoy the benefits of your life changes.

  • You should be learning to solve problems that used to be in the domain of others’ strengths.
  • You should be learning to find and get the energy you personally need, in any case. You should have plenty of energy, and it should be energy that you didn’t have before.
  • You should be learning to rely on yourself even more—not in a bitter way, but in a recharging, fulfilling, exciting way. I wasn’t kidding when I used the word “superpowers” above.
  • In relationships, you should be more resilient. You should be able to bounce back from troubling problems.
  • In general, you should be learning how to decide who to help, and who to pass over for now.
  • And last of all—you should in many ways be MORE of who you were before. This also fulfills the troubling part of the question—shouldn’t you just be yourself? Yes! You should bring the best parts of your past forward. And you should be even MORE of yourself, a better, improved, happier self.

Conclusion

It’s always worth it to work to change yourself. I hope you can see that it must be a thoughtful, planned, and self-considerate process.

And, in order to be most effective, self-change must bring you proof of results that can put that old, terrible question—“change yourself or be yourself?”—in the past, with a lot of other poorly-phrased self-help questions. Where it belongs!

Filed in: Interests /101/ | Coaching /27/ | Goals /50/ | Therapeutic Practice /140/ | Relationships /73/ | Essays /47/

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