‘You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.’

‘A leopard can’t change his spots.’

‘People don’t change’.

You’ve heard them right? The endless sayings we trot out when we are either trying to excuse the bad behaviour of someone we love, as though it being out of their control somehow makes it better, or when we are trying to make someone understand why we can’t try something new.

They are handy fall backs that help us feel more confident in the knowledge that it isn’t something lacking in ourselves that is holding us back, it is because that is who and what we are. And everybody knows you can’t change who you are.

Do you know what?

I call bullshit.

And actually, to suggest that people cannot choose a different path is insulting and defeatist to anyone who HAS or WANTS to do so.

We spend a lot of time gently nudging and supporting people in our Learn to Run course, because we know that the hard decision has already been made. Many of our participants have a lifetime of telling themselves that they cannot change that they have chosen to face up to and prove wrong. That first step, the one that involved looking at themselves so closely that it made them squirm and then deciding to be better has already need taken. From there, they deserve nurturing and friendship and motivation, not someone telling them they still are not enough. They are enough, they have always BEEN enough. But they deserve kudos for their decision to become more.

We have a pretty spectacular success rate I think. All but a few people who have undertaken our course have made it through and gotten to the stage of running regularly each week. More importantly, they have reached a point in themselves where they have looked in the mirror and seen something different to what was there before… they have recognised themselves as runners. It is an AMAZING moment to be witness to and one of the greatest gifts to me in in the work I do.

There have been a few who have taken it more slowly. Who have been ill, injured or had life throw something completely unexpected at them. Most have picked it back up when they were able and benefitted from the friendships and coaching within their private groups to help get them back on track.

I guess the thing I find hardest is that there are also a very few people who kind of disappear a few weeks in. I try to help them find their way back, but for whatever reason they choose not to continue being active within the group or (as far as I know) in terms of the training program. That always feels like a little failure to me, and I can sometimes take it really personally which is ridiculous because if I was running a gym I suspect that kind of behaviour would make up a huge proportion of my customer base (and I say that as someone who has paid gym memberships then given up a few weeks in more than once).

This is where I realise that those sayings above may have a grain of truth to them.


They have to want it. They have to want it bad enough to actually do things that are outside their comfort zones. They have to recognise and accept the work it will take to get from here/now to there/then and then DO IT. Most of all, they need to see through their long held excuses and that can be incredibly confronting… the point that you realise the only person holding you back is YOU is not a very happy one. I know, I’ve been there too. I still go there regularly. It kind of sucks.

I can spend my life wishing that the people I love most would do things that support health and happiness, but it won’t change anything because I CANNOT do it for them no matter how much I might wish to.

I know that some see where I am now and assume it has always been like this. I need to show them where it started for me, and that it wasn’t with a 36km run… it was with half an hour on the treadmill with some one minute running intervals that felt incredibly hard but somehow rewarding all at once.

When I have those moments of feeling like a failure because someone seems to have fallen away, or because someone I love finds it easier to degrade what I am doing and find fault rather than recognise that they are commenting on their own feelings about themselves rather than on me, I am trying to remind myself of this:

We can give people the tools. We can erect the most secure of scaffolding and we can give them such detailed instructions that they cannot possibly go wrong. But we can’t build it for them. They have to want to build it, and sometimes that will require demolishing old, rotten, mouldy footings that have been there a long time and that I am not even aware of.

But when that work of the soul is done, the plan is still solid. The tools still work and the scaffolding will last as long as it needs to. So long as we still have the blueprint, we are still serving the very best that we can.

People can change, but we cannot change them. And that is okay.



If you are ready to take the first step towards a happier, healthier life our Learn to Run course is now open for registrations. 


Zoey Dowling

Written by: operationmove

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  1. And now I"m crying because I realise that no matter how many excuses I makes for whatever reason - the old people, the little house , cr*ppy builder, child in America - at the end of the day, IT IS up to me to make the right decision for me. I want to be healthy and only I can do that for me. I have some long hard thinking to do about what I can do to change my mindset, my attitude and my victim status because it is ALL UP TO ME. Thank you xox