Existential Psychology

Personal Evolution

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A comment I hear a lot from those who have grown cynical about their lives and relationships is ‘people don’t change’. This deterministic attitude is based in part on their own failure to evolve and in part on their subjective experience with family members, friends, and other important people.

There are a few things I usually ask them to consider that can alter perception and make change once again seem possible. The first is that the sample size for the life experiment proving their theory is really small and incredibly biased. It’s true that some people choose stagnation and if you surround yourself with these types stagnation will be your vision of the world. On an unconscious level like tends to seek like; those with similar worldviews gravitate towards one another. It is comforting to believe your subjective view of reality is objective reality, and having others confirm your view helps validate it in your mind.

The second is that personal evolution does not have to mean radical change. In other words, for most people changes are slight, continuous, and flow out of a fixed nature that builds upon itself as opposed to one entity that turns into a different entity entirely. To use an example from nature, the type of change that cynics envision is metamorphosis, or the caterpillar turning into the butterfly, where the type of change I am talking about is the tree that grows up and out as the years go by, becoming massive although it started from a single seed.

The third is that you can’t discount growth or change of any kind, no matter how small it might seem, and for the person it is happening to the experience might feel monumental even though observers don’t see any difference. I think of this as similar to increasing flexibility in yoga. Your body feels different to you every time you practice, and as the months go by you become acutely aware of minute improvements, making you feel really good and giving you incontrovertible evidence of progress. However, the observer from one day to the next would probably not note any difference in your level of flexibility. This doesn’t mean the difference isn’t there though, and without all of these small, hard to see daily changes the cumulative big change would never occur.

If you will only be swayed by proof of grand, sweeping personal evolution that happens all at once then your theory of no-change will probably hold true throughout your life. If you look for the smaller changes that seem insignificant but still exist, building upon themselves, you’ll start to see them everywhere and believe it’s possible for you too.