My friend Adam recently told the tale of “That Time I Discovered Coffee” over on his blog. You should go check it out in full. To summarize, he first tried coffee at age nine, and like most nine year olds he found it to be disgusting. Because, if you were unaware, coffee is inherently bitter and acidic.
His story concludes with his realization that adding an unreasonable amount of sugar made the drink almost bearable, and his love (slash addiction) was born.
When I commented on the story’s brilliant display of human adaptability, Adam disagreed. This perspective is the one I’m often met with when I talk about human adaptability. It seems to me we often sell ourselves very, very short when it comes to our own abilities.
It is a common belief that we have no power over our own opinions, and that what we like and dislike is entirely out of our control. The majority of people subscribe to a “It’s just who I am” mentality on this subject. While I’m not going to tell you what to believe, I’ve seen how untrue this idea is too many times to endorse it. I have seen proof time and again that we absolutely have the potential to change our own likes and dislikes, if we so desire.
Changing your opinion is a lot like training for a marathon. If you want to run a marathon you do not show up on Marathon Morning, pin your number to your shirt, and launch into a sprint at the sound of the starting gun. If you do, they will find you hours after the race has ended passed out somewhere around mile marker 2.
If you want to run a marathon, you have to train. If you know anyone who has ever run a marathon (especially their first) they can tell you that marathon training is unabashedly grueling.
In the same way, changing your likes and dislikes – willingly – takes huge effort and work.
When I was younger, I disliked onions. Dislike is actually too tame a word. I hated onions. The taste of onions made me feel physically ill. They were spicy and sharp and altogether disgusting to me. In the same way some people hate broccoli or tomatoes or Insert-Politician-Here, I hated onions of every kind.
A funny thing about onions: They are freaking everywhere.
When I began cooking in earnest, I realized that a huge, huge number of recipes called for onions. No matter what cuisine of the world you are crafting, onions are a staple. On top of that, when you order a Whopper from Burger King it automatically comes with onions. Saying “no onions” to a fast food employee is like playing Russian Roulette with a gun only missing one bullet. It usually doesn’t end well.
I decided that my hatred of onions was holding me back. From cooking, from life, and from easy-ordering at restaurants. (That last one was the real clincher.)
So I decided to change my opinion.
If, as so many people claim, this is not something a human being can do, I would stand before you a broken, onion-hating man. I would still hold back nausea when a scrap of the vegetable hit my tongue. Coffee-loving Adam would not consume his favorite beverage by the gallon, either.
It took many months of hard training to change my mind about onions. It did not happen overnight by any stretch of the imagination. I had to first change from “this makes me sick” to “I don’t like this.” That alone was extremely difficult.
From “I don’t like this” things could only progress to “this bothers me.” I could not jump from “I don’t like this” to “I do like this.” I think that fact is the reason so many people disbelieve change is possible. They try to go too fast through the steps, jumping from one extreme to the other. It doesn’t work, or if it does, it only works temporarily. That’s one reason crash diets rarely, if ever, have lasting results.
“This bothers me” transitions to “Whatever” and “Whatever” to “This isn’t so bad.”
“Not so bad” eventually melds into “I can see the positives here” and then at some point you wake up and the day has arrived of “Hey, I like onions!”
You can keep going to “I love onions” if you want to (I did, in this opinion-changing instance), or just be content to no longer hate them. Heck, you could stop at “whatever” if you so desired, but in my experience that middle-of-the-road “meh” is kind of a depressing way to live. That’s just my personal opinion. Which I could change, if I wanted to, I’m sure.
I won’t ask you to make the leap from “You’re crazy, it’s impossible to change your own likes and dislikes” all the way to “We can do anything!” It’s too far a leap to make. What I will say to you is that you might possibly give “There may be something to this idea” a try. Come one step over with me, and entertain the idea that maybe, just maybe, your likes and dislikes are not forced on you by mysterious forces impossible to resist. Maybe with effort and focus you can change these things, if you want to.
Maybe you can do a lot more than you give yourself credit for.