Changing Ourselves

Changing Ourselves

When I wrote, back in January, about my New Hope, I had little idea that it might prompt a blogging hiatus. But I find myself in the midst of a confusion of thoughts about just how my own perspective, assumptions and beliefs have changed, and continue to change, over time.

I’ve have been thinking about it though, more or less often, since that post. And not wanting to remain silent on the subject, and not wanting to have something fully-formed before sharing it, I’ve chosen to write this post as some kind of peg on which to hang some random musings. Maybe sharing something this tentative might encourage others to join a dialogue of mutual exploration – in a way that sharing of full-formed ideas may tend to dissuade.

Learning vs Changing

One theme upon which I’ve been reflecting has been the nature of learning vs changing oneself. When we learn things, the thing(s) we learn tend to change our actions, our behaviours. But although I love learning, and many things I have learned over the years have cause me to change my behaviour, I have difficulty in seeing this as a change in who I am – in my essential perspective, assumptions and beliefs. In my identity.

The latter kind of change, what we might call transformative change, seems much less common, at least in my own life’s experience. (Neuroscientists have a term, self-directed neuroplasticitywhich may have some bearing on this).


I see a range of qualitatively different things open to change:

  • New information, adopted and then influencing our decisions.
  • New strategies for living (e.g. for getting our needs met).
  • The way our brains are wired (I’m guessing the training of Kahneman’s System 1 is of interest, here).
  • Behavioural “dysfunctions” (e.g. OCD, phobias, etc.).
  • Aspects of our “personality” (example, from avaricious to generous, or from jackal to giraffe).
  • “Who we are” – e.g. our own self-image, a.k.a. identity.

I guess these various things overlap, to some extent. And I wonder if there’s any mileage to be had in making distinctions between them?

So, there we have it. That’s where my musings have taken me, so far. I don’t know where it’s going, how long it might take, or the sights we may see along the way, but would you be interested in joining me in this journey of discovery?

– Bob

Further Reading

The Neuroscience of Leadership ~ David Rock and Jeffrey Schwartz
Can We Change Who We Are? ~ Dr George Simon



  1. Paul Beckford said:

    Hi Bob,

    This is a great discussion to have….

    I have a similar list of partial thoughts… few conclusions, yet valuable all the same.

    Your musings brought one or two of them to mind that are perhaps worth sharing:

    1. Control – In my role as a change agent, I often found myself in a tussle for control. It dawned on me that there was a paradox here… My goal was to convince senior leaders to “let go” and devolve control to their subordinates, yet in an attempt to do so, I myself became yet another wanting to have a firm grip on the yoke, to take control, telling people what to do… Sure I wasn’t that obvious… I had read all the consulting literature, and used all the tricks of the trade to make it look like their idea,.. pretending that they we were co-discovering together… But no one was fooled. I had become a player in a game I was essentially trying to dissolve.

    2. Looking inward – Becoming part of the problem, and being a player in a game that I could not win (by definition), forced me to look inside. What was driving me? Things I identified with for sure… deeply held beliefs and values, and a desire to make the world a better place, but these weren’t the only things. Along with these were also the usual demons: ego, ambition, status. I was no less human and fallible then the people I was trying to fix. No less prone to violence. If I was going to accept myself as I am now, I would also need to accept them too. Also, if I wanted to fix something, a good place to start would be with myself.

    3. Acceptance – We spend a lot of energy talking and remonstrating about what “should be”, and very little *understanding* what is. I’ve made a conscious effort to focus on the latter, and it has been very revealing indeed. The big revelation for me, is the world that is, has come about as a consequence of many factors over a long period of time. The world is a complex place with many forces in play. Is it any wonder that influencing and changing such a world is so difficult? To have any chance at all we must first strive to *understand*, and to understand we must first *accept* .

    The insights gained from accepting things, and not wanting to control what isn’t in my dominion has lead me to a similar place as yourself. The one person I have full control over, is myself, and whilst I accept my human failings, I can also strive to overcome them and be the best I can be.

    Now this sounds very altruistic, but my motivation is purely selfish. By practicing what I preach and “letting go”, I have found an inner peace that was missing. Also paradoxically, as I’ve sought out less control myself, by accepting and letting go, my influence over others (by example) has actually increased in ways I had never dreamt of.


  2. I’m quite sure that we do change, but mostly through growth and adaption. The more different situations that we find ourselves in and the more we understand about ‘life, the universe and everything’, the more neural pathways become available for us to call on.

    I’m sure that I’m fundamentally the same person I was when I first started working 35 years ago, but some of what’s important to me has shifted in priority, and that in turn has caused me to focus on different things. That certainly makes other people’s perception of us different over time – I’d like to think for the better. We don’t notice the changes day by day, probably not even year by year, but over the course of a lifetime we appear to be different to outsiders in many ways.

    I wonder if the only time we make profound transformational changes to ourselves, rather than tiny adaptational changes is when we are faced with a life challenging situation.

  3. Simon said:

    Hi Bob

    For me the question is not learning vs changing but learning and changing – they are two sides of the same coin.

    So for example in our work related to Holonomics, and introducing programmes of profound change in organisations, we have four main pillars. The first three relate to learning – mental models, systems models and business models. The fourth though is the foundation of the first three – universal human values (peace, truth, love, right action and non-violence). Without human values, the change does not have meaning and will not be sustainable.

    So this is the message we continually communicate to executives. In addition, an organisation where human values are fully present becomes more agile, since there is less need to rely on rules and bureaucracy.



    • Paul Beckford said:

      Hi Simon,

      Yes, I agree universal human values is the foundation. I think we all have an inherent ability to sense behaviours and attitudes that are conducive to successful community. It is almost primeval I think.

      Influence comes more from what you do, then what you say. I’m not sure what this means for the role of consulting though, because as a consultant you *do* relatively little.

      Recently I’ve taken a straight development role. Whilst the leadership are aware of my coaching and consulting experience, I’ve made a point of not wanting to be seen as a coach or a leader. Even so, I believe I have influenced several people in positive ways. By living those universal human values, and calling out where behaviour falls short, I believe I have caused others to stop and question themselves and the status quo.

      It took awhile for some to work out that I wasn’t simply “on the make”, but once they did, I have notice them questioning too and altering their own behaviour. It has been a real interesting thing to watch, and it raises a number of interesting questions about how change actually works.


  4. Dear Bob,

    I accept your invitation into a dialogue of mutual exploration – and reciprocate.

    I have read numerous posts now and am drawn to engage with you over and over. I can’t quantify this attraction. It’s the quality of your way of expressing. In that I value your expression effortlessly. That’s not some abstractly rationalised notion of what it means to value all expression but a felt value, as in ‘I feel it in my gut’. So, without anticipating any outcome at all, I offer you what flows and forms, here:

    You wrote, ‘But I find myself in the midst of a confusion of thoughts about just how my own perspective, assumptions and beliefs have changed, and continue to change, over time.’

    I wonder how your felt experience might contrast to this rationalised experience of being in the midst of a confusion?

    I try to deliberately dwell in the midst, to perceive from the so often excluded middle of opposing tensions, from whence I become; I try to make sense of being here.

    What might that mean for you? How would you know if you met another who shares in your essence of awareness?

    Whatever the impact this has, thank you for coming by my twitter page. I would never have know of you otherwise.


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