Everything in the known universe operates by a principle of constant and dynamic change: grow or die. Humankind, as a microcosm of this larger universe, follows the same principle. Even if (as it is said) we are only using ten percent of our brains, we have incredible potential for adaptation to novel situations.
Our neural pathways expand and make new connections with each mental challenge, whether it’s something as complex as learning to speak Italian (or pilot an airplane, or cook a gourmet meal) or as simple as brushing one’s teeth with the non-dominant hand. Likewise, our inner lives must be fed by new challenges-parenting an infant, resolving a crisis of faith, or leaving a secure job to chase a dream. A drastic change in personality can be brought about by these experiences. Whether the impetus is internal or external, human beings constantly prove themselves capable of change.
Outside forces can cause radical changes in identity or personality. If someone in your life that you respect expresses a negative opinion of some aspect of your behavior, your desire for respect from that person may be reason enough for you to change the behavior. If you are having trouble arriving on time every day at your dream job, one warning about tardiness from your supervisor will probably lead you to take extreme measures to ensure promptness.
Another form of external impetus may be the physical situation you find yourself in. A powerful example of outside forces leading to change is the epidemic of prison converts-the profession of abiding faith by inmates who were previously unreligious. Prison conversion is an example of an external impetus that leads to an internal one. Forced introspection, borne of being locked up for years in a hostile environment, leads to a radical change of perspective in which the inmate questions previously held beliefs.
An internal impetus for change is often triggered by some kind of insight, a turning point, when the individual gains sudden clarity about the path he or she has been following. A new awareness of the current reality leads to a desire for change, and any obstacle will be overcome by the force of that desire. As they say in the old joke about psychologists and light bulbs, it only takes one psychologist to do it but the light bulb has to really want to change!
Emotional changes lead individuals to make physical changes in their life situations-to leave an abusive spouse, change careers, or incorporate spiritual rituals into their lives. In turn, these physical changes lead to even more psychological changes, bringing a new sense of self.
Things change constantly. To move along with the river as it happens, rather than clinging in vain to pebbles on the riverbed, is the only way to know happiness.