I can change


John Legend writes lyrics that make me blush. They are a delicious heady mix of naughty but desirable which make the quintessential bad boy persona so attractive.

Local Drummer with Thembe Khumalo

In the song I Can Change he tells his lover that he is willing to repent and mend his wicked ways. He offers to stop taking drugs, chasing women, staying out late, ignoring her, going clubbing and whatever else she may require of him. He even suggests going to church and getting baptized – if she wants him to. All in all, he is going to make some pretty revolutionary adjustments to his lifestyle for the sake of the woman he loves.

Much as I enjoy Legend’s talents, this song never fails to remind me of the words of popular TV therapist Dr Phil, who says: “The best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour.” Which makes me wonder – could the character Legend portrays in this song really change? Can human beings change? Can they really, really change in the long term?

How many times have we heard family members, friends and colleagues vow to change? They make declarations about losing weight, giving up smoking, studying harder, spending more time with the family, or brushing their teeth every day. On the bigger stage, we hear politicians, society leaders and captains of industry promising to deliver the changes that people want.

They guarantee us clean water, better education, higher profits, more jobs and health for all by whatever year is fashionable at the time. But how often do they succeed? We can acknowledge that change is possible. But observing the goings-on around us, we may be tempted to conclude that change is often shortlived.

When people adjust some fundamental aspect of their character or behaviour, they are rarely able to sustain that change for the rest of their lives. Hence the saying “A leopard never changes his spots.” In reality though, a leopard does change his spots, which become more distinct clusters as he grows from infancy to adulthood. (www.livescience.com)

If you are a Christian, you surely must believe that permanent change is possible; otherwise what is deliverance for? The thing to note about Christianity though is that while it teaches that that change is possible – it does not come through our own will or ability to effect that change and make it stick. According to Christian principles, you can only change trough the power of God “working” in you. So, is change possible for those who do not have a supernatural intervention to support them?

Going back into Dr Phil’s archives I found this: “It is very clear that we are creatures of habit. We get a life momentum flowing just like a river, and re-routing a river is a big job. If you are going to make changes in your life, it requires support from those around you and a commitment to do what you want until it comes to be. It isn’t a matter of doing it for a few days or a few weeks, it’s about doing it until you get what you want.

The key is to go from awareness and consciousness to putting what you want on project status. Make it a project. Think about it. If you were just aware that you wanted the garage to be painted, it wouldn’t get painted. But, if you make it a project with a deadline, it will get done. If you want change, make it project status.”

But is giving life changes project status enough? Leadership consultant and best-selling author Dr Henry Cloud says: “We change our behaviour when the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of changing. Consequences give us the pain that motivates us to change.” So perhaps change can be permanent if it is born of this kind of pain. But sometimes the consequence lesson comes too late – when the window of opportunity for change has closed.

I guess the most important thing is to move from recognition to action as fast as possible – though this too is difficult.

But surrounding oneself with like-minded people, affirming one’s goals and the ability to achieve them, and gently moving forward, should help you get started.

After all, the way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.

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