As he opened his mouth to speak, he felt a knot inside his throat. He tried to breathe but the words would not come out. He was choking from within as if someone was squeezing his throat with their powerful hands. The harder he tried, the more painful it became. As his ears turned red seeing the growing giggles and unabashed laughter of his listeners having fun at his misery, his eyes welled up. He wished that the earth would open up and swallow him whole. At least he would escape the embarrassment of his pitiable existence.
When Bruce Willis first opened up about the stuttering problem that he suffered from as a child with the description as mentioned above, the world was shocked. How could it be possible? The audience had never seen or heard Bruce Willis stutter. He was as fluent as all the characters that he had played on the silver screen. Was the iconic Hollywood superstar, widely regarded as one of the greatest action heroes of all time, fabricating a story to glorify his achievements? However, the truth was that he was telling his life’s painful truth. What was shocking to people was how a shy kid could overcome his debilitating handicap and become successful in life. What was shocking to people was how he had shed his victim mentality and become a victor at life, something that the majority of people fail to do during their time on Earth.
Why do the majority of people fail to change their victim mentality and become a victor at life? The keyword here is ‘change.’ Change is a process and like all processes, it takes time. Like all processes, it is difficult. Like all processes, it is driven from within the system, not outside. As the famous proverb says, ‘You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.’ Similarly, people can be motivated to bring about changes in their lives, but this feeling of wanting to change lasts only as long as the motivation itself. Once the feel good factor vanishes, people are quick to return to their comfort zone, the zone they are accustomed to, the zone they feel safest in, the zone they would not give up even if it meant greater glory in the future. Humans are driven by the present and cannot see beyond their immediate present circumstances. Since change is tedious, difficult, internally driven and involve a long-term investment, most people resist change even when they know that the change will benefit them in the long run. Most people would rather be a stagnant pond than a flowing river. Most people would rather enjoy the delicious taste of a jumbo cheeseburger than the bland taste of a plate of broccoli and lettuce, even though they are aware of the health benefits of both. Most people would like to sleep in until 8:00 A.M. rather than wake up at 5:00 A.M. for a round of jogging and physical exercises. Most people would rather blame the alignment of the stars during their birth, their parents, their family, their neighbourhood, their society, their country and even their government than accept that the fault lies within them.
However, it still does not answer the fundamental question: ‘Why do people resist change?’ The answer lies in the mental wiring of humans (1). It is science, not figuratively but literally. When a person encounters change, the external stimulus starts firing electrical signals within an area of the brain known as the Prefrontal Cortex, which is like the RAM of a computer. However, just like the RAM, the Prefrontal Cortex can store a limited amount of memory before it is overwhelmed and fatigue starts to creep in, followed by anger towards the change. Since the Prefrontal Cortex is closely linked to the emotional centre of the brain known as the Amygdala, which controls what is known as our ‘fight or flight response’, any change is greeted with anger and hostility when it causes momentary discomfort. Hence, most of the time, our brain would rather access its in-built hard drive, known as the Basal Ganglia, that contains all our stored memories and functions than try something new.
So now you know that change is not really in our hands but our brains, you would not like to change yourself. You may be thinking, “Yeah, change is so hard. What is the use? I will not be able to follow up on my resolution after a few days. I may as well remain the way I am. People know me the way I am. If I try to become someone new, someone I am not, people will not accept me.” Is this the way you are thinking? I hope not. The very fact that you are reading this piece with your complete, undivided attention tells me that you are different from many others in this world. I do not know you, nor do I know your life story. I do not know what is going on in your head right now, or how you are feeling. However, what I do know is that if you desire a major change in your life and if you are thinking that change is impossible, you are thinking incorrectly. Change is difficult, yes, but impossible, absolutely not. If it were impossible, Bruce Willis would have remained another unknown stutterer, still bullied by the society around him, still wishing death over life.
The history of humanity is replete with examples of courageous men and women who have overcome incredible difficulties in their lives, who have not let their shortcomings define their legacy. These stalwarts have changed themselves to become someone else they were not in the beginning and in the process, they have changed the history of the world. Helen Keller would have remained another deaf and blind person if she had not made up her mind to turn her disabilities into her gift. Mahatma Gandhi would have remained another unknown lawyer if he had not resolved to free India from the subjugation of the British rule. Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. would have remained just two among the millions of racially segregated citizens if they had not stood up against oppression and become symbols of the emancipation movement themselves. If Beethoven and John Milton had let their disabilities dictate their actions, the world would have remained culturally poorer than it already is. I can go on and on with such examples and still would not even skim the top of the list.
You will say that these people were exceptional and what applies to exceptional people does not apply to the general society. I will still say that you are wrong. Were these people born exceptional? I don’t think so. If the working middle class had not risen up to the oppression they faced at the hands of the bourgeoisie, the French and the Russian Revolutions would never have happened. The world would have still been using crude handheld tools for their daily work. The Industrial Revolution would never have happened and so many countries would still have been reeling under the twin throes of colonialism and imperialism.
Change, however difficult, is still necessary and what applies to the society in general applies to individuals as well. If so many people could change themselves, become someone else they were not in the beginning and literally change the world with their dazzling brilliance, you and I too can change for the better, for a better us and for a better world. It is better to be a flowing river that sustains millions of lives than a stagnant pond which bears algae, bacteria and mosquitoes and does not benefit anyone. Anyone can change their lives, their circumstances and their destiny. All it requires is a change in mindset, consistent efforts, persistence and a never-give-up attitude. Surely, change is difficult and tedious, but the result is several times more valuable than the effort put in. Even an immovable, ageless rock crumbles under the relentless pressure of flowing water. You and I are just stardust put on this Earth for a limited amount of time.
Michel Foucault was spot on when he had said, “I don’t feel that it is necessary to know exactly what I am. The main interest in life and work is to become someone else that you were not in the beginning.” Whether you choose to be an agent of change and inspire millions through your example or whether you choose to remain a lifelong sufferer is up to you. Whether you choose to be a victor or a victim in the game of life is also up to you. Literally, everything is up to you. So what are you waiting for?