I think the first time I heard the phrase “Make Yourself” was an Incubus album title. My response was, “Make yourself what? Make yourself do homework? Make yourself diet? Make yourself go to work each day?” Now, I get it. Make Your Self.
Do we have genetic and psychological characteristics that are innate from birth? Absolutely. Does that mean we don’t have the ability to change them? No way! Your genes, your brain, your life experience, they all play a role in determining who you are, but only to a certain extent. They put you into a range of possibilities, but choice is what determines where you fall on the spectrum.
People use “who they are” as justification for a lot of things as a way to avoid personal accountability. “I know that I yelled at you and hurt your feelings, but I can’t help that I have a bad temper.” “I would love to have more friends, but I’m too shy to start conversations with new people.” “I wish that I could go to the gym 5 days per week, but I just don’t have that kind of discipline.”
Those are all poor excuses! Yes, if you are naturally shy, meeting new people and striking up a conversation IS going to be harder than it would be for someone who is naturally outgoing. But that is all it means – you can still become more outgoing, it will just take more courage and effort on your part to be that way. And you know what? Once you start putting in the effort and practicing the things that make you nervous or uncomfortable, you realize two things:
- It isn’t nearly as scary/difficult as you thought it would be
- The more you do it, the easier it gets
We put limits on ourselves all of the time that just aren’t true. We tell ourselves stories about who we are – one of mine used to be, “I’m not a runner. I hate running and I’m bad at it.” Thoughts like that are self-fulfilling prophecies. If you don’t think you can do something, then you are setting yourself up to fail without even trying. Using the excuse of “being bad” at something is the worst, especially if you come to that conclusion after only making a couple of attempts or not even trying at all. It’s completely normal to bad at something new when you first try it, and how do you know you can’t do something if you’ve never even tried? When I first started training for the half marathon, I could barely run 2 miles without feeling like I was going to die. But, I stuck with it and continued to train, and I realized it wasn’t as difficult as I thought and it got easier over time. So pretty soon the girl who “hated” running and was “bad” at it was finishing mile 13 in the PF Chang’s Half Marathon!
There are limits to how much you can change about yourself. There are also limits to how much you should change about yourself. It’s important to stay true to your core self and not throw away the things that make you unique and special. Sometimes drawing that line is difficult. I like to use water as a metaphor – no matter what form it comes in, fundamentally it is still hydrogen and oxygen atoms – H20. However, you can change its form depending on what you do to it – you can freeze it to turn it into a solid; you can bring it to room temperature to turn it into a liquid; or you can heat it and turn it into a gas. Yes, you are changing its form – in fact, changing its form even endows it with different properties unique to that form – but ultimately, it is still H20, regardless of how it looks or what its properties are. I think that’s how we should look at changing ourselves – deciding what version of “me” is the best one, but not compromising or discarding who we are at a deep, fundamental level in the pursuit of change and improvement.
Examine the stories you have about yourself. Consider the things you think that you “can’t” do. Is your personal story accurate and up to date? Is it written in stone? Are you really incapable of doing the things on your “can’t” list, or is it just that you don’t want to do them or are looking for an excuse not to try?