I was talking to my friend and former student last weekend about the way that we notice things, and I told her that I have the regular experience of seeing things at exactly the right time; for example, if I know a student is doing research about a particular thing, I’ll see that thing all over the place – in the feed of my facebook page, on NPR, in the news or in magazines. I’ll be awash in information that is useful to me at exactly when I need it, and it happens often enough that I’m willing to be a little bit mystical about it; I KNOW that I’m seeing these things because there’s a part of my subconscious that’s looking for them, but it seems interesting to me, nonetheless, that there always proves to be so much for my subconscious to find.
That’s a long lead-in to the fact that, since New Year’s, I’ve been presented with a bunch of messages a day that are a variant on the “people don’t/can’t change” idea. Yesterday, for example, I was watching a Big Bang Theory in which Sheldon was trying to understand humor. The episode opened with him trying to tell a joke about Howard’s mother that involved diet and exercise, and he explained the “joke” by saying that the point is that “people don’t change” (Howard’s mother, for those unfamiliar with the show, is never seen on screen, but the running gag is that she is enormously, wildly obese).
I don’t believe that people can’t change. I believe that they often don’t, but I don’t concede for a second that they can’t.
I have managed to establish a couple of really good, healthy behaviors that I’ve been able to maintain over time. I’m not sure that I can call them “habits” yet, but I’m working on integrating these things into my everyday with a view to them becoming things I do without really even thinking much about it. Making the bed every morning. Flossing every night. Exercise. Until I can “fly solo” with these practices, I have reminders to help spur me to action (mostly to-do lists and a note on the mirror reminding me to floss), but I have no doubt that I can integrate these things into my life, nor do I doubt that their integration will make my life a little bit better.
I’ve already kicked the soda habit and have incorporated exercise to a sufficient degree that people have commented, for three days running, that they notice how much weight I’ve lost. My dentist told me, during my last check-up, that “whatever you’re doing, keep doing it.” I feel good to get the outside confirmation that what I’m doing is effective, but I’d be doing it even if I didn’t have that reinforcement; my reasons for adopting these habits are far more internal than external (though the external certainly helps, especially when the lead-in is, “DAMN, Girl…” I won’t lie and say that doesn’t bolster my resolve to keep at it).
These things are little changes, to be sure, but, over time, they do matter, so I get frustrated and angry when I hear people preaching that “nothing changes.” That’s a terrible message to give to people, especially to people who are deeply dissatisfied with their lives as they are right now. We CAN change, and even little changes can ripple out to make a BIG difference (as evidenced by my last blood panel work-up and the fact that all of my jeans are too big again). I want to encourage people to reject the idea that what you have is all you’re ever going to get, or that what you are is all you’re ever going to be. If you don’t like the way something’s going, change it.; even a minor course correction can take you to a whole different place.