"Change is a door that can only be opened from the inside"

Question: “How many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb?” Answer: “Only one but the light bulb has to want to change.” Sure it’s not that funny, in fact it’s a serious point. We often hold the metaphoric mirror up to people, show them their flaws; but can we change, and why would we want to?

OK first things first: We can’t really change our personalities. Personality is a result of the interaction between genetic conditions (what’s in our biological data) and environmental conditions (what is fed into us during those first crucial 7-8 years and can be represented this way: P=(GxE). So from quite an early age our personalities are roughly set.

But we can modify our behaviour. Behaviour is a result of the interaction between personality and situation and can be represented in this way: B=(PxS). So change the situation we are all capable of modifying our behaviour. When I teach psychology everyone loves these descriptions until they realise the implications: you really can change if you want to. 

But of course we can’t leave it there. I have worked in organisations across the world, confronted some very senior people with some difficult truths and they sometimes say: “why would I want to change?” So there is another dimension, which is the motivation to change. People are motivated by a variety of reasons and so it’s useful to help them find a reason to do so. Some reasons could be:

  • - Altruism (appeal to it being the right thing to do)
  • - Improve your stock (you’ll be better thought of)
  • - Odd one out (everyone else is progressing and you’re not)
  • - Look at her/him (example of tangible benefits in someone else)
  • - Cementing (you’ll keep getting the same old results)
  • - It will make life easier (appeal to laziness)
  • - These are career-limiting behaviours (you won’t progress if you don’t change)


Posted 7 months ago