Wednesday, October 17, 2007

How To Change Yourself

People come to psychologists to make changes in their lives. Sometimes, those changes are to build upon strengths. Other times, the changes are to solve problems.

We have a “real” self—the person we think we are—and an “ideal” self: the person we would like to be.

The psychologist’s job is to bring us a bit closer to that ideal self, either by changing our real selves, redefining our ideals, or both.

But how do people change? How do we move closer to our ideals?

A most important psychological principle is that everything we do and everyone we interact with is a kind of mirror. We experience ourselves through our activities and contacts and, over time, those experiences are internalized and become part of our self –concepts.

A work task mirrors for us whether or not we’re capable, creative, and reliable. An interaction with a valued person mirrors for us whether or not we’re liked, loved, and valued.

People do not change in a vacuum. They change because they enter into situations that mirror new experiences of themselves. Being in a loving relationship after having been in bad relationships or being in a fulfilling job after having been mired in low-level work can be profound change experiences.

This is why counseling and therapy works: it provides a significant relationship as a medium for fresh, positive mirroring experiences. A depressed or abused person who feels worthless finds in therapy a validating experience that gradually becomes part of the self.

This is a key principle: We are the sum of our mirroring experiences. If we are in unfulfilling, frustrating situations in work and love, we will experience ourselves negatively. If we are in situations that bring out the best in us, we will develop positive views of ourselves.

The psychologist George Kelly realized the power of mirroring and developed an approach to change that he called “fixed-role therapy”. In a nutshell, he asked his clients to invent a person who represented their ideal self in some fashion. This fictional character was given a name and described (in writing) in great detail.

Once this ideal character was defined, the challenge was to play-act that character in a variety of life situations. In other words, Kelly had people role-play their ideals, making sure they stayed strictly in character.

What Kelly found was that, over time, people received positive feedback about these enactments that made them easier to sustain over time. Eventually, the ideal behaviors didn’t feel like an act at all. They became part of the person’s repertoire.

If you want to make a change, you won’t do it by talking yourself into it or through motivation. Rather, find a social context in which you can be the change you want to make. The resulting feedback will be the mirror by which you’ll experience yourself as your ideal and make that ideal a genuine part of you.

A big part of being happy and successful is finding the right set of life mirrors. And *that* is why finding your trading niche is so important.


The Devon Principle