Why Personal Change Is So Difficult

There is a phrase that has been around and in common use, possibly for centuries. I had read that it is an old African proverb, but what we read these days on the Internet carries with it more than a seed of doubt.

“A leopard never changes its spots.”

I guess the underlying message in that so-called proverb is that because the spots on a leopard are part of who it is as a creature, it is preposterous to suggest that the same leopard could ever make those spots go away. In translation, a creature of habit (talking about humans now) is not likely to ever change their ways because that is just who they are.

Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic. If there’s one thing you can trust a politician to do is to lie every time they open their mouth. You can take the boy out of the Army, but you can’t take the Army out of the boy.

You get the idea. As humans, we do not change easily. More often, we keep doing the things we seem predisposed to do.

And if we are simply talking about neutral personality traits such as a person being talkative or another person being a person of few words, we don’t think too much about whether that person can change their ways.

But when we’re talking about destructive habits and behaviours, we need to believe that change is possible. And clearly it is, because we hear many stories or people who “broke the habit” (whatever that habit happened to be) and are now living their lives quite differently. If they can do it, we can do it. That’s a common hope among most people, in my opinion.

Of course, it’s not news to anyone that for every “break the habit” success story, there are countless more of people who never seem able to rise above their patterns and change their spots. One of the most written about topics on the non-fiction bookshelves these days focuses on habit change.

One currently on the bestseller list is called Atomic Habits by James Clear. A very brief synopsis of the book includes the premise that habits are broke and made not with behaviour modification but with identity change. A person trying to quit smoking who employs stringent measures of cutting back week after week is less likely to kick the habit of smoking than the person who rewires their mind to believe that they are first and foremost a non-smoking person. Once they come to believe something different about who they are, behaviour change becomes more of a natural by-product of that new belief.

Still, easier said than done. Changing belief about who you are not a simple endeavour. We are fed constantly from the myriad of voices and messages around us about who they all think we are. We respond to our mistakes in ways that give us false identity. “I watch porn and can’t stop so I’m a porn addict.” “Everything I put my hand to fails, so I am a failure by nature.” These agents of false identity rage against our heart and mind all day long and make it very difficult to believe the real truth about who we are as Christians.

• We are the workmanship of Christ.

• We are fearfully and wonderfully made.

• We are co-heirs of Jesus.

• We are new creations.

• We are children of God.

• We are the light of the world.

• We are His beloved.

Some of you would choose to believe this with all your heart if it weren’t for the evidence of your present life. “Nothing I do looks like what you just described,” you say.

But here’s where I want to end this; you are not defined by what you do. You are defined by who Your Creator says you are. Who He made you to be. That means if the behaviour doesn’t match the identity, it absolutely is possible to leave that behaviour behind. This leopard really can change its spots because those spots aren't part of who it really is.

However, it comes more to being aggressive with changing our beliefs about who we are, and less about changing our behaviours themselves.

So, I ask you today to shift your thinking. Begin the aggressive process of rewiring your mind in regard to your true identity. Take God at His word when He tells you that you are His beloved.

Pastor Scott