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Malleable you

Illus: for EP_sreejith r.kumar

Illus: for EP_sreejith r.kumar

That people can change in fundamental ways is not readily accepted by many individuals, even when they are presented with evidence. We tend to think that our personalities are etched in stone, and there is little we can do to change ourselves. So, we expect the school-topper to continue winning laurels, the athletic kid to blaze a sporting trail and the timid, shy teenager to remain gawky and awkward. But fast forward 25 years and we learn that the first-ranker dropped out of a prestigious college to start a trekking company, the athlete has put on so much weight that we barely recognise our schoolmate, while the quiet one whom everybody wrote off is a leading tech entrepreneur.

In fact, a belief in our ability to change is linked to innumerable positive outcomes. An article in The New York Times by Jan Hoffman describes the work of psychologist David Yeager who found that a simple intervention can boost students’ ability to cope with stress. Asking students to perform reading and writing exercises that led them to believe that our personalities are malleable at the start of the academic year turned out to be beneficial to them. Relative to a control group, students who were asked to focus on the fact that people can change, exhibited lower levels of stress and were more confident.

New look

Psychologist Douglas LaBier suggests the following exercise if you want to alter some aspects of yourself. First, identify some qualities that you think you might possess but that have not blossomed for some reason. Then try to imagine what the new you would look like if you exhibited that quality more strongly. What would your daily life be like? How would your relationships change as a result? How would you feel about yourself? Will you view your work through a different lens?

Then, in order to make the new image more vivid, write a couple of paragraphs describing yourself. Finally, think about what you need to do on a daily basis to strengthen those dimensions of yourself. Just as you would build your body muscles with exercise over a period of time, you can try to make micro-changes to your personality that slowly add up over time.

For example, you may be frustrated that you are always late no matter how much you plan ahead. Well, don’t give up so easily. Think about small changes that you can inject into your life. In addition to using your phone alarm as a reminder for various appointments, you can set your watch a few minutes ahead. Also, add ten minutes more when you have to factor in commuting time. Make a to-do list the day before so that you have fewer last-minute surprises. Now, how will people around you react when you show up on time? Can you see the surprise on your boss’ face when you hand in reports before the deadline? Perhaps, your friends will start taking your word about time more seriously. As a result, you may feel more in control of your surroundings and yourself. No matter what aspect we want to change in ourselves, believing that we can is most important. And, when we exude this belief, it also influences people around us in positive ways.

The author is Director, PRAYATNA. arunasankara@gmail.com


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Printable version | May 17, 2022 1:57:12 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/education/malleable-you/article19193439.ece