Saturday is Personal Change Day: How to Change When You’re Over 30

During the month of May, I am participating in the 2012 WordCount Blogathon. I will be posting every day (I hope!) this month. However, in the future I plan on Saturdays being Personal Change Day. In addition to my work with organizations, I am very interested in personal development and personal change management.  Once a week I will post an article or links about the fine art of making changes in our personal lives. Have a topic you’d like me to cover? Leave a comment on this post.

According to some top scientists, human beings over the age of 30 hardly ever change their lives successfully. In fact, they go on to argue, that it is almost biologically impossible for us to change after we pass our 20′s.

Do you agree with that? Are you willing to accept it – especially if you’ve passed the Big 3-0?

I passed 30 quite some time ago. I say they’re wrong, and I’m going to use their own arguments to explain why, and show you how you can successfully make major changes in your life.

Why is it So Hard to Change?

A recent article in Scientific American (Set in Our Ways: Why Change is So Hard) made the argument that very few people over the age of 30 successfully make changes in their lives. In the research that this article reports on, scientists found that all people become less interested in change as we age. This happens in all cultures, so they believe that there is a biological reason for at least part of this behavior. They also include a few other reasons:

  • Life gets complicated as you get older. Most people over the age of 30 have some large barriers to change such as a spouse, children, a mortgage, a career. Change can threaten some or all of these commitments.
  • Novelty becomes less attractive over time. People get pretty comfortable in their ruts. You know how it is. You come home after a long day at work, flip on the TV like always, eat the same dinner you ate last Tuesday, and go to bed at the same time every night. Even if a behavior isn’t making us happy, we often continue it out of sheer inertia. It takes a lot of energy to change habits, and not many people are willing to put in the effort.
  • Unrealistic expectations for the ripple effects of change. In the article, the author uses the example of a woman wanting to lose 20 pounds so she can meet the perfect partner and live happily ever after. That may be a bit much to expect from a diet!

These are some pretty large barriers to change, but we know that many people make successful changes – no matter how old they are. How do they do it?

What is the Secret to Making Lasting Changes?

This article has a very negative tone to it, but it does sneak in a few helpful suggestions that can help you plan a successful change.

  • Figure out your tolerance for change. Everyone has a different set point for openness to change. If you’re naturally change resistant, you will need to start very small and gradually build up your tolerance. It’s a bit like exercise. Pick the tiniest change you can make, just like you’d pick the lightest dumbbell on the rack.
  • Take it 1 change at a time. In the example above, the woman who wanted to loose weight actually wanted 3 or 4 other things as well – and none of them were related! If you’re just getting started with change, pick one thing to work on. Our example woman could be successful if she decided to loose weight OR started dating to find a partner OR worked on her own internal happiness. She probably won’t succeed if she tries to do all 3 at once.
  • Figure out the real cause and effect relationship. Again picking on our weight loss woman, she is seeing a cause and effect relationship that doesn’t really exist. There is no rule that says you can’t get a partner if you’re 20 pounds overweight. There is also no rule that says you’ll be happy if you find a partner. Unpack your issues and think about why you want to make a particular change. If you don’t have a real desire to do it, or you’re only doing it because you think it will get you what you really want, rethink your strategies and work on the core issue.
  • Start sooner, because later never comes. If it’s inevitable that we become more resistant to change with time, it’s always better to start a change quickly. This gives you more time, and helps you take advantage of all the mental flexibility you have right now, no matter what your age.

I hope this article gives you some idea for starting to improve your life in small, manageable ways. If you have other suggestions, or further questions, leave a comment after this post.

Photo by Nate Brelsford.