What’s your excuse?

Can we really change who we are and how we think and behave? Can a leopard change its spots? I recently had this conversation with someone who wondered whether a therapist is merely painting over the “leopard’s spots” and that underneath we all stay the same. Well, the fact is that I don’t see many leopards in my consulting room but I do see humans that change all the time. A healthy attitude to change is essential for mental toughness and resilience. Read on and I’ll discuss this issue further.

The essential difference between a leopard, cat, tree (or any other living thing) and a human is that other living things have their life path and purpose mapped out already. A leopard will become a leopard and do what a leopard does; a tree will do what a tree does. The instruction manual is built in.

As for us humans, it is our responsibility of who and what we become in each moment. We are self-aware and possess self-determination. We are thrown into the world like actors on to a stage without any script or stage directions. We have no instruction manual. Therefore who we are and what we become is our responsibility. Of course there are factors that influence who we are today and I have listed some of these below, but the essential point that I’m trying to make here, is that we cannot overuse these factors as excuses for our future.

Parents and culture
We could say that who we are is a result of our upbringing or culture. We may have accepted messages and information about ourselves other people and the world. For example that we are “lazy”, “no good”, “won’t amount to anything” or “not meant to succeed”. We may have accepted ideas regarding other people and cultures that they have low intelligence or are barbarous, mean, and controlling. It could be that we believe the world is generally unsafe, uncaring or unfriendly. The fact is that we may have kept these ideas alive and continued to accept them uncritically and not re-evaluated them. If we have done so, then that is our decision and we are responsible for continuing to believe them.

DNA and genetics
With regard to our DNA and genetics then it is a fact that we will have little choice; we inherit 50% from our parents and 25% from each pair of grandparents. This will affect our physiology and physical health; we may be more predisposed to some sports or activities although we will only succeed in these if we have the right tuition and mentoring. We may also inherit predispositions to physical and mental illness. Our genetics may have an effect but we are not pedigree show dogs or racehorses, rather we are self aware, freethinking humans and still decide what our destiny is at each point in time.

Pushed by the environment
It is sometimes suggested that we are only a product of our environment and if you change the environment you will change the person. Consider these examples, if you stop poverty, then you will stop crime because people commit crime when they are poor. If you punish a thief and reward him for constructive actions then he will be rehabilitated. The oppressed have “no choice” but to become terrorists. Teach a youth to play table tennis and he’ll give up selling drugs and knifing his rivals. I think you’ll agree that life isn’t that simple and people still have choices within their environment.

Pulled by internal drives
Are we only at the mercy of our internal drives such as the drives for pleasure, power and finding meaning? We are not always rational conscious human beings. Our unconscious drives and instincts for pleasure, warmth, comfort, physical contact and sex will influence our thoughts and actions. The new field of evolutionary psychology, which looks at our current behaviour from the benefits that they served our cavemen ancestors, concludes that many of our unconscious drives are about achieving an evolutionary benefit and passing on our genes. So we are also driven by evolution. We are also pulled by our need for power and striving to be superior. We may compensate for our weaknesses in one area by mastering another and be driven by unconscious goals. For example, we may excel at art if we are unsuited to sports. We may also strive to find meaning in conscious goals and activities in life, such as work and family. By being aware of these drives and instincts we still have control and responsibility for our lives.

So given all of the above, do we have free will and can we change?
I think you know my answer. If we believe that we are only the product of our upbringing, culture, biological, environmental, psychological and evolutionary drives then we are just victims of outside influences and internal conditions. As humans we have freedom to rise above our environment and circumstances; we are free to take a stand and change at any time.

A leopard can’t change its spots because it’s a leopard, but you can squeeze yours and change your problems into goals. Give up the notion that the past is all-important; we all have a past but we don’t have to be the past.

If you need my help then feel free to get in touch without any obligations. Below is a simple exercise to get you started.

Adapt and evolve


Phil Pearl

What are your excuses?

Often we change the facts (or what we think are the facts) about our lives into excuses for not doing the things we can do or want to do. Have a look at the example below then make your own list. When you’re done, make the decision that you will no longer use these facts as excuses for not changing and doing what you can and want to do. We can’t change the past, but we can live better in the present and future.

Family history
My father died when I was young
I was the youngest child
I lacked support
I was over-protected
I have lost contact with my siblings
I wasn’t close to my stepmother

Social background, class and environment
I come from a poor background
I come from a rich background
I was surrounded by people who had low aspirations
I got in with the wrong crowd
My community lacked resources and support
My community was very strict and too morally righteous

I hated school and got poor results
My school and teachers were appalling
I was excluded
I never went to university
I studied the wrong subjects
I studied the subjects that my parents wanted me to

I’m too young/old
I’m not physically healthy
I’m too short/tall/fat/thin
I’m not good looking enough
I’m bald
I have diabetes/high blood pressure/dyslexic

I have no steady income
I share a flat
I’m no good at money
I haven’t a car
I can’t use a computer
I work as a waitress in a cocktail bar

Author's Bio: 

Phil Pearl DCH DHP MCH GHR Reg

Phil Pearl, clinical hypnotherapist and coach specialising in mental toughness and resilience - helping people to improve their confidence, self-esteem and overcome anxiety and stress. Hypnotherapy in London

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