People Do Change

One popular saying that’s always struck me as particularly stupid and harmful is, “People don’t change.” Although everyone has ingrained personality traits, we aren’t held captive by them. Believing that we can’t change encourages us to accept our weaknesses. How many people with substance problems claim they aren’t capable of stopping? It’s much easier to continue a harmful behavior when responsibility is placed on an outside force like genetics or an “addictive personality”.

Saying people can’t change is the same as saying people can’t learn. When you learn something new that knowledge fundamentally changes you. Each piece of information adds to your personal database, creating additional resources to draw on when interacting with the outside world. We face the same temptations to engage in negative behavior, but we also build a body of experience that tells us the reward isn’t worth the penalty.

In a sense we’re always changing and always staying the same. When I compare my self of today with my self from a few years ago, I observe that I’m the same but more. I’m the same in how I think and process information but experience has changed the way I interpret everything. Every day adds a new layer of character. We should anticipate aging with optimism rather than dread. As we grow old the beauty steals inward (Emerson).

The saying “people don’t change” is harmful because it denies the possibility of redemption. There is something profound about the redeemed. The man who’s experienced the lowest rung of existence and conquered his personal demons has an empathy that’s lacking in more saintly people. In a society supposedly built on the Christian doctrine of forgiveness it’s remarkable how eager we are to label people as permanent degenerates. Circumstance and hardship lead many good people to do foolish things. To say those mistakes are irredeemable is hypocritical. If the world considered only your most depraved moments, how would you be judged?

People do change. We make every decision for the first time with no obligation to the past. If we control anything, we control our own thoughts and behavior. If can improve anything, it should be ourselves.

57 Responses to People Do Change

  1. Chris says:

    The close cousin to “People don’t change” is “People don’t change until they really, really have to”

    Of course, the idea behind that phrase is that people tend to keep self-destructive, but comfortable and manageable, traits until their backs are up against the wall and they have no choice but to change themselves.

    That one doesn’t carry the most optimistic message either, though it’s probably true for some people.

  2. John Wesley says:

    I agree completely that change can be very difficult and that people do tend to maintain the same behavior patterns, but it’s far from impossible. We make improvement even harder by believing that it isn’t possible.

  3. Alex Goad says:

    On the other hand, people waste away in bad relationships, be they personal, commercial or anything in between.

    Change is possible, even likely over time. If you’re holding your breath, you probably won’t make it…

  4. Gil says:

    There is a big difference between “people don’t change” and “you can’t change other people”. From my experience, the latter is impossible.

  5. John Wesley says:

    That’s an important distinction. I agree.

  6. Barney says:

    People can and do change. But they don’t always either want to change or, if they do want to, believe that they can change

    I used to run an alcoholism counselling centre. My clients came from a wide range of social, economic and educational backgrounds. Some were hopelessly mired in their addiction to alcohol and weren’t really sure they wanted to change. Others wanted to change, but needed some practical and psychological help to make needful changes in their lives.

    Motivation for change can come from outside or inside. Some clients came to the centre because their spouse or their employer had made them come. Others came because they knew inside themselves they had to change. Actually, either motivation could be effective in getting someone into counselling, but only internal motivation would sustain change in the long term.

    I once read some research that suggested that one of the most effective ways of helping people out of their addictions was religious conversion. I guess this would give people a powerful reason to change.

  7. ZHereford says:

    I like where you say “We should anticipate aging with optimism rather than dread.” I’m working on that one!

    I think most people feel they can’t change their fundamental nature, but I believe even that’s possible. We can train ourselves to act, and be, whatever we want. How depressing it would be if we couldn’t.

  8. Wilson says:

    I’m not sure if I believe “anyone” can change. I’ve known people who have grown up in troubled households, flunked out of school or just didn’t try at an early age. These people seem to not have the ability to learn. For some reason, their brain does not retain information and they can’t put 2 and 2 together to form cohesive opinions or thoughts. I don’t believe it’s a lack of effort, some people are just unable to perform.

  9. Sara says:

    “Saying people can’t change is the same as saying people can’t learn.” Great post, John. Gil, I think you bring up a really great point – people have to want to change themselves (I sorta think that if you’re a person who wants to learn and grow, just about anything you stumble onto has the power to help you change).
    I wonder, though: should we make a distinction between genuine change borne of insight/learning, and the change that, in popular context, is more about modifying/”fixing” the self? The latter may not “work” because the analysis/action is based on the problem, rather than the solution (and also based on the notion of a static self). Often, “fixing” the self deepens the focus on the perceived problem, rather than being an outcome-based effort. (Nietzsche: stare long enough into the abyss, and it stares into you).

  10. Chris says:

    Interesting post. I think you need to make a distinction between “People don’t change.” and People CAN’T change.” The popular saying is that people don’t change. Because they don’t. They CAN, but they choose not to do it. Society makes it easier to blame other things (the government, race, sex, religion, fate) for our problems instead of taking responsibility for our own lives. If people would take responsibility for their own lives, they COULD change. But they don’t. Most are just too lazy in my experience. Just my two cents.

  11. Dan says:

    Definitely from a Buddhist perspective it’s stupid and many more I’m sure, there are many things about people that always change but most people refuse to acknowledge them. It is part of the facade “I”.

  12. I agree that knowledge can make profound changes in people and that each new thing learned adds a new layer. Often, the excitement of that new layer is enough to, at very least, chip away at self-destructive behavior. As Sara suggested, people tend to rebel at the idea of being ‘fixed’; on the other hand, we love improvement.

  13. DweezelJazz says:

    I agree that striving to think and learn can totally change a person’s outlook and habits. I value it as essential for a satisfying life.

    But I wonder if sometimes there are cases where individuals are driven to a repetitive behaviour pattern by something beyond their control, such as, for example, brain chemistry.

    Within the past year, I read an article in News Scientist that described a situation in which a man was in an accident that severely damaged his head. He survived and retained his cognitive and physical abilities. After the accident, however, his outward ‘character’ changed completely for the worse.

    The same article also drew links to other examples. A paedophile was arrested and was found to have a brain tumour; once it was removed, his behaviour showed no sign of peadophilia. Later he started displaying these tendencies again and was arrested again, and it was discovered that the tumour had re-grown.

    That article gave me food for thought.

  14. John Wesley says:


    There is definitely truth to what you say. It’s possible that everything about us is controlled by genetics. In a way, we chose to believe that have control or that we don’t. Personally, I’d rather believe that I do have the power to improve myself. Even if it’s partly a delusion, I think its a much better outlook on life.

  15. DweezelJazz says:

    I’m with you, in that I also like to think that I have the power to improve myself! :)

  16. karenlim says:

    Awesome post.

    I think people don’t like changes in general. It is always easier to stay within the comfort zone. Whilst some people change for the better earlier, some people will wait till they feel it is really too painful to stay where they are currently.

    Changes can be made easier if we redefine our goals into baby steps. If we understand we just need to take 1 baby step at one time to bring about the big change in our life, then we will have the belief that we do have the ability to change and improve our life

    Here is where my hubby James share how anyone can set a achievable and exciting goal:-


  17. Jared says:

    I agree John, when my friends are in destructive relationships I usually remind them that unless they, themselves, truly want to, the only time in the life of a person when you can change them is when they are in diapers .

  18. Wilson says:

    DweezelJazz –

    Is may be possible for brain chemistry to be changed by talk or cognitive-behavior therapy instead of some sort of psycho-active drug therapy.

    This leads to the question, Could you talk yourself into modifying your behaviors, ergo changing your own brain chemistry?

  19. DweezelJazz says:

    Hi Wilson,

    Thanks for the very interesting article link. If I understood the article correctly, it is suggesting that re-working thought patterns can change moods in a structurally sound brain. There is one paragraph that refers to schizophrenia and the fact that psychotherapy alone has been largely ineffective for resolving it. The article seems to suggest that if there is structural damage in the brain then changing thought patterns alone may not be sufficiently effective.

    It’s an interesting topic. I think a great many things can be accomplished by changing thought patterns, either for the worse or better. Most likely everyone can benefit from improving their thought patterns. But it’s also very important to give everyone room for physical disabilities that may impair or slow their progress.

  20. Travis says:

    Excellent post! Thanks for that.

  21. FIAR says:


    Great post and discussion! I’m new here. I came via the meditation link from lifehack and just kept reading.

    I’m starting to really believe that what you believe is the key factor. I know that it’s logical to say that if you think something will fail, it will. Rather than finding creative ways to overcome roadblocks and hurdles, you will point to them and say, “See. I told you it won’t work.”

    The same way, if you believe people can’t change, you will ignore the changes they make and notice only the similarities. If that person is a close relationship, you may even undermine their ability to change, just to prove that you are right. If you believe that they can change, you will probably try to encourage it.

    It will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

  22. I think that I understand a bit more now. Education changes a person whether they know it or not. But why do we have generations of hate? Religions that are so completely different and believers that sware they are all correct. The answer I believe I found from this blog is education. Sometimes it takes a long time to undo the life time of wrong learning. We seem to lean more when we are young. If someone spent their entier life learning something, and might be a slower learner, it may take another life time for the new information to get through to them. Sometimes people can learn faster, but can’t lean or won’t learn because of an emotion blocking them from excepting new information. And some people have just given up and don’t want to learn because it is too mentally exhausting. Easier to just go on what they were tought. More than half the world is brain washed in to beliving something they wouldn’t if they were let to learn on thier own whether it is hate, love, religion, ect. People can change, it takes time, and sometimes there isn’t enough time. I believe anyone can learn to change given enough time and a change of enviroment. Sometimes it like learning a new language. Some people can’t do it until they move where no one speaks their own language. They need to get away from the confusion to focus. Not sure how this applies but I thought I’d share it. And for people that can’t learn I believe they can not change.

  23. Sophia says:

    so i googled, “can people change”

    google might just be the answer to people changing.

    Anyway, I just got out of a relationship. In which I ruined. He says I pushed him away, I did. But, he also hand picked me out of his life the moment I left him. Which I could understand, but a month later and he’s with someone else. Eight months later (now) he’s still with her. Ironic, I left to “change my ways” actually to “find my way” searching for some tao wisdom. And I know this is terrible to say, but I almost feel like the people in my family have formed me into this wreck of who I am. This anxiousness, my grandma goes around saying, “I’m so scared of everything, I was cursed to be in fear of everything, I worry over everything” she’s been saying this since I was born, and she’s basically the one who raised me. My mom tells me, no matter what it is I do, that I have an addictive personality and I’m this or that. But, I’m not. She’s starting to believe me finally, after 8 years. But, she grew up with an alcoholic abusive father… and the grandma I spoke of, is her mother. I can’t stand it. I feel like they passed on their feelings into my head, and the rest of my siblings are out of the house. When I lived with my ex for the past three years, I felt way different than now, but before I went there and was here, I feel like I am now again. If you can even understand what I’m saying. It’s like I feel like a kid all over again. I am trying to change in the way that I want to stand on my own two feet and stop having everyone around me talk about their disorders and shitty situations, because in the end, that’s all I do. And I just want to be calm, collected still and gently swaying into my life that looks so beautiful for once. I’m being brought down, I’m trying to get the hell out. Really I am 100% sane, I haven’t been this aware in all my life. I left the love of my life to be independent but this is the only place I had to go. I won’t let myself listen to them, but I feel guilty about this ya know. Anyway, the changes I need to make are compulsive lies that need to stop, which I think are rooted from this anxiousness… a higher respect for myself, which has somehow improved greatly, I want to finish my degree and accomplish THAT one crazy dream that has helped me to find my way thus far.

    sorry this is so long. I really enjoyed this article. I want to change, and I’ve always felt this way… once it started to get bad… and I wasn’t ready for the relationship I just got out of, however, I want to be ready for another, and even if that one could ever come back to me. It’s one thing to notice it, another to actually take the steps. I have gained so much so far, and am so happy, unfortunately I’m still in so much debt and jobless… so of course, I’m just dwelling over everything

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  27. Claire Butler says:

    Thank you, this is a great post and discussion.
    This really helped me with my debate. I am the third speaker and our topic was people can change.

  28. John says:

    People don’t change, they can’t. It’s a fact. People can adapt to society, to other cultures. It doesn’t mean they changed. What you are inside is what you will always be. If you are an addict, you will be, it doesn’t mean have to take it. You can control your actions, not your feelings. You can adapt to what you want to be, but you can’t change who you are.

  29. Teena Shetty says:

    I’ve always pondered the topic deeply. I stated people won’t change unless situations are set up so people can change once . Oh what I find very facetious (definition: humorous) is the commments people make when other people puruse what they say.I puruse (read ) this website and descried(discovered) that people I know should actually read theses comments posted on the website. It would be really great if they did. I have had my name come up a lot when searching for myself online.

  30. Amanda Pennington says:

    I love this :) It is so true. I’m reposting it!

  31. Karen says:

    I agree they will never change they can only adapt.

  32. david snider says:

    interesting that the study mentioned earlier stated religous conversion was the most effective.I believe God can change people.take the song amazing grace , a song written by a man who was a violent slave trader , who turned from it and faught against its existance.there are endless testamonies of people crying out to Jesus and lives changing forever.If a car breaks down would you tell it to fix itself , would you tell another car to fix it? no you would take it to a mechanic.why? because he understands how it works because the cars creator has instructed him.can people change themselves , can other people change people? i dont believe true changes can be made this way. however i do believe God our creator can change us.

  33. TB says:

    People dont change, not because they cant. Peoples actions and thoughts may change but learning is adapting from experience. people are who they are. dont take a fact “people dont change” and misrepresent what suits you best in the arguement “people cant learn”

  34. molly says:

    Do people change don’t think so! As i have seen in the past that once a guy cheats or has several girlfriends, they will always do that! Everything can be hunky dorey but that won’t stop thier selfish streak!Apparently its due to the relationship they had with their mothers and lack of self confidence that gives them the urge to go left, right and centre.Maybe the one they marry they will change but i’d doubt it, it usually doesn’t make a difference.
    Thats my opinion but the traits of character will always be there and will eventually show up again even if they try.

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  39. Sarah says:

    my husband has always told me that people don’t change, that they just look for ways to make you look dumber. And it’s true in some reasonable and statistical way, but PEOPLE DO CHANGE, but only if they have the will to change and the power to believe in themselves that they can change! You can’t expect yourself to change if you sit there denying yourself, or by procrastinating. Someone who cheats on his or her significant other, and doesn’t see the sense in how wrong it is because they lack the basic logic to see it that way, is someone who wont change. Someone can’t change if they can’t see themselves doing anything wrong. It takes a lot to change a person, but it doesn’t neccesarily mean that they change, because once you lie, you can either do it again because it’s better to go the easy way, or you can grow up and learn the hard way and take the first step to admitting your fault and telling the truth.
    I lied to my husband more than 5 times, and it took me the 6th time to realize that i was going no where, and if i wanted to be with him and show him that I really did love him, I had to change. Even if he didn’t believe me because I lost his trust as a wife and friend, I did everything i could to change because I loved him and knew that I needed to change. It takes courage and self will to change yourself.
    People change, only if they have the will to though. It can take a lifetime to discover that themselves because of how corrupt our society is, or it can take one simple down fall to get them to open their eyes. But change is only there when change is being permitted and allowed and given the chance…

  40. Panos says:

    People can change. But it needs a huge slap on the face in order to turn your face and look the other way. Once someone has everything and feels satisfied, is almost impossible to change because he/she thinks that there is no need to change. Even if misfortunes hits you, it is easier to look outside for the blame than inside. Habits and patterns keep coming and coming, it needs great will to first look inside and see the truth and second great power to change the habits. I am 35 years old. All my life, in relationship level, I was very selfish and I used to cheat on my girlfriends. Even when eventually we split I accused them inside me for that. 2 years ago my ex-girlfriend left me. I got so devastated, depressed and miserable. However it was the first time in my life that instead of outside I looked inside for the trouble. I didn’t accuse her for anything and I even told to everyone that was accusing her, that they shouldn’t. I looked deep inside me, and what I saw scared me the most. I saw a person full with fears, insecurities, full with ego. I couldn’t believe that all these years that person was me. Since then I have changed many things in my life. The most important is that I had become aware of my thoughts and of how those affect my emotions. I realized that giving, gives far more pleasure than receiving. I realized that most of my fears were generated from the constant thought of I want. The moment I realized that actually I don’t want anything but to give my self to others fully and engage my self on every situation, change came naturally. And believe me it only needs a moment to realize that. It is so beautiful to see life as a game, and that you are just a single symbiotic player in it. It is so funny looking at your thoughts and how some patterns are keep coming again and again, but eventually they disappear. Finally, I realized that change doesn’t come with struggle!!! Struggle gives existence to fear, which is the generator of all evil. Acceptance is the key. But to come to an end, in order to initiate all this procedure, one must be strong enough to look inside himself. And in our modern society with all these easy fixes around that is something very difficult to achieve.

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  42. ewe says:

    “people don’t change” is correct, people don’t change, they redirect. ex: a recovering alcoholic is still a alcoholic, they are just redirected.

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  44. Thoughtpaper says:

    thing is – it is very odd how we change our opinion on past
    decisions/events over a period of time… what seemed correct a few years
    back, changes to ‘obviously’ wrong as time passes by…..” Does that mean that our behavior changes according to the time? Do read about it more in this link:

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  46. Leah O. says:

    Great post. I also believe that once we learn something new that changes us. So of course people can change. It’s all a matter of choice and learning or knowing that you have different options.

  47. I think that this post is very true and honest.  I’ve seen noticeable change in myself, over the past few years, and especially within this past month.  I went to a Presbyterian school as a child, but my home life was quite lacking (in more than just the religious  aspect).  I walked away from God for a LONG time.  I’ve recently reintroduced myself to God, and have gotten baptized (which was a HUGE step for me). 

    I’ve owned up to all of my failures and have finally forgiven myself for those failures.  My Aunt really put things in perspective for me, as I never thought I would forgive myself for my mistakes.  She said, “I used to think I was a bad person.  I was having  hard time forgiving myself for the things that I had done.  Then I realized, if God can forgive me, but I cannot forgive myself, I’m saying that I’m better than God.”.  I am not better than God.  I am a human being with faults.  I’ve overcome my past.  Not many people try to overcome their problems, or some feel they don’t have the capability or strength to change.  I didn’t feel I had the strength to change, and yet, here I am.

  48. Tom Gelsthorpe says:

    I’ve never figured out what went wrong with certain people or myself after primary school finished and when secondary school started for me they were all different.  What happens to people in the transition bit?  Do they get possessed or something?  It seemed like it back then.  I had huge respect for certain people and got backstabbed rather royally in that they all turned against me.  For Me personally friendship is about loyalty.  I can’t imagine I ever will work out what’s gone wrong with certain people from my primary school.  I agree that people change, and wish wholeheartedly that they didn’t.

  49. jonny says:

    I once read some research that suggested that one of the most effective
    ways of helping people out of their addictions was religious conversion. i think you bring up a realy great point-  to believe God and ask him for help is the most and the most powerfull way to change. as matter of fact as we know it isn’t easy to change so we need help and the only thing that can help us is the one who created and designed us and everything inside the heaven and the earth. so when you ask God to guide you and help you to change. than for sure he will guide you. i have an experiece of this isue. i once been there and i needed change in my life so i asked God to help me and he did it. thank to god i am here today happy and gratefull to God. i am realy enjoying my self my life my family and everthing is going great. so i recomend everyone to ask God for help and you see what happened to you. search him and you will find him (God).

  50. Postivelife says:

    Failure thinker!!!!! People do change!!!!

  51. positive says:

    WHAT THE HACK?????? People DO CHange.. Circumstances or situations allow them to change.. I see so many cases…

  52. truth says:

    THIS is absolutely nonsense and out of topic!!! People DO change and it has got nothing got to do with What Stress, fear and anxiety.. Stress , fear.. etc are self created.. Most important thing is we should be contented in life.. Why strive so hard to be the top with this fast paced world. You are bringing unnecessary problems to yourself.. MEditation is a wrong way to do it.. We should cast our cares to God and His peace will reign in our heart..

  53. godstruth says:

    WHAT THE HACK?????? People DO CHange.. Circumstances or situations allow them to change.. I see so many cases…

  54. annoyed says:

    just because someone has a different opinion from you does not mean it is “nonsense”. check yourself

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