Can We Change Who We Truly Are?

“The snake which cannot cast its skin has to die. As well the minds which are prevented from changing their opinions; they cease to be mind.” ― Friedrich Nietzsche

“I don’t think we can change who we truly are, only what we do,” she said.

Of course, we can change, I wanted to scream. However, the rules of our gathering were that I had to hear her out till she finished or at least for three minutes, whichever came first.

Every last Thursday of the month, a group of us from differing backgrounds meet at the Mint Club, Accra, where we exchange philosophical perspectives based on our experiences, using the Socratic Method developed by founder Christopher Phillips. The meeting is known as the ‘Socrates Cafe’ and is modelled on the book that Phillips wrote in 1996. Today, there are thousands of such gatherings all over the world.

That week’s question was “Can People Change?”

As the moderator, it’s my job to make sure everyone gets a chance to contribute and that the conversations don’t get out of control so we miss the point of answering the chosen question. This is no mean feat.

Ideas flowed and opinions were exchanged. Tempers flared but at the end we all kind of agreed that people can change. That is, until she said those words that perhaps we don’t change who we truly are. I didn’t have a chance to respond as immediately someone else jumped on her point and others followed.

Yes, We Can Change

There are many stories in the world that show us how people have changed their lives inside out. Change is possible on every level — physical, mental and emotional. What we think, we become has become an open secret — a maxim espoused by many self-help teachers — that has heralded much change and impacted the world positively.

We are a collection of our habits and thus creating and cultivating habits is at the core of manifesting change.

Our minds have two parts; the conscious mind, which is the creative one and the one we have little access to, which is completely controlled by the other part–the sub-conscious mind. This sub-conscious mind is like a recording machine which takes in all the information from our conditioning, the environment, and our behaviour, and it then adds it all up to direct our final actions.

The only way we can affect any change in our lives is to address the sub-conscious mind, and the best way to do this is by repetition and by creating habits. Just think of how we brush our teeth every morning without even thinking, as this has been repeated so much that it has become part of the information that we embed in the mind.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”–Aristotle

Over the last 50 years, science and numerous psychological experiments have proved that there is a real power in creating and practicing habits. They confirm that a habit takes anything from 21 days to 60 days to be formed. And if we stick with them, then it will contribute to creating discipline and patience, two attributes that can lead to an accomplished life.

Habits help guide us to that best quality of all — Persistence. As we dive into our practice, we increase our mental stamina, and we tend to finish whatever we started. Finishing a book, or a designated run sends a signal to our brain that we finish everything we start as well as accomplish what we set out to do.

Habits are the highway to change. We can lose weight to become healthier. We can understand and so correct our behaviour by regular introspection. We can improve our relationships by making it a point to schedule tough conversations. We can even become more compassionate if we push ourselves to serve our community regularly. Our emotions much like our muscles need practice.

Anne Lamott, renowned author of Bird by Bird said; “we can change. People say we can’t, but we do when the stakes or the pain is high enough. And when we do, life can change…Nothing keeps us from changing more than our tendency — our willingness — to remain locked into versions of ourselves, into personae and identities barred in by heavy leaden rods of self-righteousness.”

Perhaps, We Don’t Change Who We Are

Driving back home I thought hard about what the woman at the Socrates Cafe said. I wondered if there could be some truth to us not changing who we truly are.

What if our essence remains the same? That essence that is so apparent when we are 7-year olds and say things like “I want to be a singer,” I want to go to the moon,” or “I want to rid the world of all plastic waste.”

What if all the change we do is only about removing the obstacles that have stopped us being who we truly are? We are all different and unique beings each having their own path. However, without reflection on our inner core, we get swept into the duplicity of life and live a life of imitation rather than one of authenticity.

Perhaps, we don’t change our essence, we just change ourselves — our capacity, to be able to accept and remember who we are and why we came here. A musician at heart who remembers that fact will finally leave his corporate job of 20 years and go back to his music.

At the age 40, when asked at a dinner what could’ve been an alternative career for me, I blurted writing without ever understanding why. At the age 45, I inexplicably started writing and plunged myself deep into the literary world.

True, I’ve changed many things in me, both externally and internally, but I like to think that in finding my writing voice, I’ve returned home to my essence.

What do you think of change? Can we change ourselves completely or is it an illusion that the self-help world is trying to thrust upon us?



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Mo Issa

Mo Issa


I rise daily at 5 am, meditate, read and journal on my Self-awareness journey. Some of my reflections make it to my blog; others don’t. (