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Can People Really Change Who They Are?

No need for debate. Yes, we can make lasting change. Here's how.

Key points

  • People have the capacity to change. However, they must choose to do the work needed to make change happen.
  • Exposure to new ideas, experiences, or information often inspires change.
  • Coaching can help people change by providing education, a safe space to practice, and accountability.

Recently, I was leading a coaching session with a client whom I respect and like. He is a leader on the rise at a Fortune 150 firm. He has what it takes to become an exceptional senior leader in any organization lucky enough to have him among their ranks.

Interestingly, he asked me a seemingly simple question:

Can people really change who they are inside?

As you might imagine, I was curious as to why he would have this question after nearly six months of working together on improving the ways in which he thought and behaved as a leader. I quickly prompted him to say more.

It seems he had reasoned that, when under stress, we inevitably fall back into our old habits — ones he believed were unalterably programmed into our psyche at an early age, never to be accessed or adjusted ever again.

Certainly, this added perspective gave me pause.

Unexpectedly, it hearkened me back to the series finale of the mighty fine Apple TV+ Show, Ted Lasso — one where we see the outwardly cranky, but, internally sensitive Roy Kent character (brilliantly played by Brett Goldstein) ask Ted and the gang:

“Can people change?”

to which the viewer is left with the unambiguous response of:


This recollection reminded me that any response to this question is open to debate. But, here’s how I responded.

Guitafotostudio / Adobe Stock
Guitafotostudio / Adobe Stock

Change Is Possible

Yes, I believe that we can change. Human beings have the capacity for growth, learning, and personal development throughout their entire lives — it doesn’t end at a certain age. In fact, most of us change our attitudes, behaviors, and perspectives over the course of our lifetimes.

Exposure to new ideas, experiences, or information often makes it so. Truly, we may reevaluate our values, challenge previously held assumptions, and adopt different perceptions based on what we experience throughout our lives. Clearly, factors such as education, personal experiences, relationships, and self-reflection all contribute to our evolution.

Moreover, most of us have seen others change their behaviors and habits. With inspiration, effort, and commitment, people can modify their actions, develop new skills, and break old patterns.

Of course, significant change will require self-awareness, goal-setting, and steady effort to overcome obstacles and make progress towards our desired outcomes.

It Will Take Time

I went on to explain that change is a gradual and individualized process. Some people may be more open to change and adapt more quickly, while others may take longer or require additional support. Additionally, the extent and pace of change can vary depending on the specific circumstances and the person's willingness to embrace it.

Here are some key elements that can help facilitate personal change:

  1. Self-reflection: Taking the time to reflect on ourselves, our desires, strengths, weaknesses, and values can provide valuable insights. Self-reflection allows us to gain clarity about what we want to change and why. I spend a lot of time on this with my coaching clients because I think change can only happen through self-awareness.
  2. Setting clear goals: Goals can help us stay focused and motivated. Clearly defining what we want to achieve provides direction and a sense of purpose.
  3. Creating a plan: Developing a well-structured plan of action is essential. Larger goals should be divided into smaller, manageable steps. The resources, skills, and support needed to accomplish each step must also be determined.
  4. Seeking support: Having a support system can significantly impact our ability to make changes. Friends, family, and coaches can all provide ideas, encouragement, and accountability. Unquestionably, professional support can also be had through therapy, if needed.
  5. Cultivating self-discipline and self-care: Developing self-discipline can help us stay committed to our goals. This includes creating healthy habits, managing time effectively, and practicing self-control. By prioritizing self-care, we can maintain physical, mental, and emotional well-being throughout the change process, too.
  6. Celebrating progress: Recognizing and rewarding your progress can provide motivation and reinforce positive changes. Remember to acknowledge and celebrate your achievements along the way.

The Juice Is Worth the Squeeze

Personal change offers all kinds of benefits, including:

  1. Personal growth: By making changes, we can acquire new skills, expand our knowledge, and enhance our capabilities. This process leads to a deeper understanding of who we are and our potential.
  2. Increased happiness and fulfillment: There’s no question that when we take steps towards living a more meaningful and purposeful life, we gain increased satisfaction and contentment.
  3. Improved well-being: Personal change often involves adopting healthier habits and behaviors. Whether it's improving physical fitness, managing stress, or cultivating better relationships, these changes contribute to overall well-being and a higher quality of life.
  4. Enhanced resilience and adaptability: As you navigate and overcome challenges, you develop the ability to bounce back from setbacks and adapt to new circumstances with greater ease.
  5. Expanded opportunities: Change may lead to career advancements, new relationships, or the pursuit of previously unexplored interests and passions. Embracing change can broaden our horizons and bring fresh experiences into our life.
  6. Improved relationships: Personal change can positively impact our relationships with others. By developing better communication skills, empathy, and self-awareness, we can foster healthier and more fulfilling connections with family, friends, and coworkers.
  7. Increased self-confidence: As you achieve goals, overcome obstacles, and see progress in your personal growth, you develop a stronger belief in your abilities and a more positive self-image, which boosts self-esteem and a stronger sense of worthiness.

To close, change is not easy. However, we do have the capacity to change and grow throughout our lives.

With that, the benefits achieved through change will vary for each of us, too. Our specific circumstances, goals and values will inform the process along the way. However, embracing personal growth always leads to positive transformations and an improved quality of life.

Just remember, change takes time and effort. Be patient with yourself, stay committed, and embrace the journey. When you do, you will change who you are inside.

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