Personal Change

Psychologists at the University of London, wanted to find out if it’s possible to dramatically change our lives just by changing the way we think (together with any resulting behavioural change) and, if so, what would be the best way to achieve this? A traditional research project would be to carry out controlled experiments on different approaches and measure the results. But that would be time consuming and costly, so instead they decided to identify people who’d achieved this and find out how they did it.

They publicised the research widely through national press, radio, employer newsletters, etc, asking people who’d achieved such a change, in line with the study’s criteria, to write describing what they’d achieved and how they’d done it. The criteria were …. substantial life change, impacting the person’s whole life, achieved solely by changing the way they think (together with any resulting behavioural change) rather than through an event or change in circumstances, and sustained for at least two years. The researchers then interviewed those who clearly met the criteria.

A substantial number were identified and interviewed. The results were revealing. The approaches taken were divided into four groups. Around 5% had achieved their change through discovering a religious faith. Given the criteria, the researchers had expected that group would be much larger. They called this the ‘Faith Group’. The other three groups were as follows:

The largest group, around 45% of the total, had achieved greater success in life by learning to become more confident and more powerful. Techniques included (with often a combination of) motivational development trainings, therapy, coaching, reading books (mainly biographies) and joining a public speaking organisation such as Toastmasters. One example was a lady who’d received help to give up smoking and then realised she could apply the same approach to other aspects of her life.

The second largest group, around 30% of the total, was very different. They’d achieved greater satisfaction and resilience in life by becoming more accepting. Techniques used included meditation and learning about Eastern philosophies such as Buddhism. Narratives included expressions such as ‘going with the flow’ and ‘acceptance’.
In comparing these two groups, the researchers concluded, perhaps unsurprisingly, that the first group, which they called the ‘Power Group’, tended to be more successful and achieving, while the second group, which they called the ‘Acceptance Group’, tended to be happier.

But the group the researchers were most impressed with was the third largest group, around 20% of the total. Their life changes appeared to be more significant, broader (in terms of the influence on their whole lives) and more sustained. The participants appeared to be more rounded, confident and self-assured. (The researchers also made these same observations about the much smaller Faith Group).

What had this third group done? They’d simply done both of what the two larger groups had done. They’d learned to become more confident, achieving and powerful, using the same techniques as the ‘Power Group’. But they’d also learned to become more accepting. The researchers called this group the ‘Acceptance-Action Group’.

The researchers pointed out they would have assumed these two approaches were somehow conflicting; that people who met their research criteria were likely to be either powerful, proactive and interventionist, or accepting, but not both. They realised through the research that this wasn’t the case. They also realised that this dual approach had nothing to do with the ‘serenity principle’ of accepting things we cannot change (in the future) and changing things we can change (in the future), used by organisations such as Alcoholics Anonymous. It instead had everything to do with a concept that became known as ‘Positive Acceptance’ (later abbreviated to ‘Pacceptance’), which involves accepting the past, the present and the future, at the same time as taking action to improve the future where we can.

The researchers pointed out that people in the Acceptance-Action Group didn’t necessarily have the above understanding of what they were doing. Most had simply developed the dual approach naturally. Furthermore they pointed out that there were probably many who had mastered this dual approach in their lives without having necessarily experienced a major change that would qualify them to participate in the research.

Following the research a ‘life skills’ training was developed, initially called ‘Acceptance-Action Training’, subsequently changed to ‘Positive Mind Training’. I personally took a lead in that development. Today this training is webinar-based and attracts a world-wide audience. It commences with an introductory webinar called ‘Pacceptance Training’ (currently free) that teaches the skills of ‘Positive Acceptance’. The full ‘Positive Mind Training’ (four further webinars) teaches broader skills of resilience, power and relationships. It is now sponsored by a wealthy philanthropist, who has set a challenging goal of training one billion people in the next five years.

Graham W Price