Can a Leopard Change Its Spots?

Can we change ourselves? Does a leopard change its spots…? I was challenged with this train of thought by my Dad when I was younger as he was a firm believer that we can’t change elements of our personality traits. I believe the root/soul of who we are remains the same (but that could be a religious/spiritual topic) but the behaviour, actions and beliefs can be changed which in turn, changes our life around us. 

Do you want to change?

But do we want to change? That is a whole different question. A lot of people are resistant to change of any sort, and I ask myself whether their ‘fixed’ mindset is because they fear the effort it may take to make it happen or that perhaps they may fail in the process. Or maybe they are genuinely happy and set in their ways because their life is perfect for them just how it is, and they see no reason to change. Highly unlikely I think, but I would so love to meet that person who has the perfect life where there isn’t a single thing they haven’t managed to not ‘crack’ yet. 

For those of us who do seek to change something in our life… be it personal or business success, financial, physical, mental, spiritual or just how to stop that annoying person really getting to you, then it will involve changing ourselves on some level.  

I used to be addicted to self-development books (you would never have guessed, huh?), and I experienced huge change/growth in my early forties that was very much needed. I had moved to Norfolk because my life was at a crisis point and I was looking for a fresh start, but it took the harsh words of some people that I met in my early days here to set me off on making this necessary change. They said ‘get out of your pity party Nikki’ … I blubbed my eyes out and drank a bottle of wine before realising they were right. Moving to Norfolk wasn’t going to magically change my life… I had to change my life by changing me, and I did. (I will give more detail on this in another post.)

 But then having learnt how I could ‘change’…I started to use this skill and practice it in other areas of my life. I learnt to tackle my social phobia, becoming confident and a ‘people person’. I stepped out to become a ‘businesswoman’ something I would have laughed at if you had told me as a ‘stay at home’ mum 10 years earlier. I started to learn that I could have success in various areas that I wanted in my life.

Now I didn’t change magically overnight, it was a gradual process that snowballed, and despite never meeting that couple again, I grew to thank them for pointing out my ‘victim mentality’ because it was true back then. I was lost and lonely and struggling to be a single mum on my own here in Norfolk but I was also carrying the pain and stress of what I had left behind.  My mental health was very poor and my life around me matched it. The first step was to ask “what did I really want?” I had to get really clear on the picture of what I wanted and that was a peaceful life with no more dramas; I wanted calm in my life. I wanted love and happiness and to become a better version of myself.  They say life begins at 40, and this was certainly what happened for me.

It begins with embedded belief systems…

We all change naturally; I’m reminded of this every morning with my 54th birthday looming and a new wrinkle staring at me in the mirror, or another ash highlight being added to my now 3-dimensional hair colour! But that’s not the kind of change I’m talking about here. Mentally we get a little wiser with age through our experiences (hopefully).But that’s not what I’m referring to either. I believe we can speed that wisdom up in areas that we want results in by changing certain limiting beliefs and habits. Most of us have certain limiting beliefs that hold us back and these are formed from a young age. 

As children we are ‘directed’ all through our childhood and moulded into society with the thoughts and beliefs instilled in us by our parents/teachers and other influencers in our early years. For some, this may set us off on a negative path with a lack of self-belief and others perhaps a more positive path. But our thoughts and beliefs remain ‘fixed’ on the ones embedded from our younger years, even if we don’t know it. This is why psychologists and therapists so often go back to talking about childhood when unravelling peoples mental health issues or problems.

Where in our education and experiences as a child did someone teach us how to expand our minds? How to reprogram any self-limiting beliefs or develop our individuality?  Why aren’t there lessons on self-belief and how to achieve the success we want for ourselves, to fulfil our true potential or at least choose a career path we want and not one we felt was expected of us? Why weren’t there any lessons that better prepared us with our mental health and how to overcome challenges in life? It would probably have saved a lot of money being spent on therapists as adults if we had received that kind of training.

 It took me until 40 to realise that by tuning my thoughts into what I truly wanted in life instead of what was ‘wrong’ with me, it would make all the difference. That by practising self-development I would start to make life work for me rather than to me.  

Our inner world matches our outer world I soon learnt. This was a bit of a magical revelation to me!

Types of mindset…

So, there are two types of mindset … fixed mindset and growth mindset. Do you know which you are? (Probably any with ‘fixed’ have left this post by now!) I have a growth mindset and believe that our minds need exercising in just the same way that our body does. I know that if I don’t try new things, learn new things, then I become like a stagnant pond.

We update our mobile phones and computer software, don’t we?  Hopefully, you aren’t still using one of those old IBM computers or using Windows 4. Likewise, I believe the software in our brains (our thoughts) need updating too. Nevermore so than when it comes to understanding things like mental health conditions and other areas of life where there is still much prejudice and stigma. We need to educate and learn to find compassion and kindness where there is often ‘judgement’.  But I’m going off on a tangent here.

Signs of change…

So how do we know when we have truly changed? Well, there were definite nuances in my personality; all good things.  I started to laugh, (my husband and I laugh every day), and other people noticed things such as my ability not to sweat the small stuff and becoming generally not so ‘reactive’. I became kinder and more tolerant not just towards myself but others. The biggest thing that people noticed though was my confidence. I remember my own mum’s words to me one day in my late forties saying “I hardly recognise you as my daughter these days.” (She meant it in a positive way).

No amount of change in the world can prevent adversity from coming along in life and of course for me, the summer of 2019 is the most obvious with my accident. However, having already learnt in my forties to respond to difficulties in a calm manner rather than drama or feeling like the ‘victim’, it thankfully meant that I embraced this huge adversity much more readily; I found acceptance and tolerance and did not ‘resist’. I decided that if I were going to be in a wheelchair, then I would be the happiest person you could possibly meet in a wheelchair.  

I am blessed to have an abundance of love and laughter in my life these days, and best of all I feel gratitude EVERY day. I won’t stop learning though…not until the day I die. As Einstein said, “Once you stop learning, you start dying.”

I would love to hear about positive changes that you have brought about in your life…. 

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