All of us at one point have had to consider an important change and all the difficulty, risk, and at times fear, that it conveys: a job, a relationship, a habit, a place, a positive opportunity or a negative struggle. And the very reason it was so challenging is precisely because change represents work, uncertainty, and some – even perhaps great – level of struggle or discomfort.
A great man I once worked for said that the only way to succeed, in both life and work, was to “learn to eat change for breakfast”. Which is to say, to strengthen these muscles of transition, prepare the self in the appropriate ways, and go through the right processes to regularly be able to change with the best possible peace of mind and the best possible chances of success.
But that is easier said that done. For all of us.
So here are some things to keep in mind about change that can help you do this effectively:
1) Change is an equation of cost.
What this means is that at any one moment, change presents two possibilities: to change or to stay the same. And the equation is simple, even if the circumstance are complex: we only take on the change if the cost of doing so – time, effort, risk, stress, etc. – is less than the cost of staying the same. So as much as you might want that change, or at least know that you need it, you will not do it if it feels more difficult than staying in your current reality. At times this feels terribly cold and unfair, and at times with myself, loved ones, or clients, I’ve had to say “I guess you haven’t suffered enough to convince you that this change is really worthwhile”. That is hard to hear, but that is pretty much the way it works.
2) The opportunity to change is not a one time thing.
Sometimes we feel the pressure to make a change, for whatever reason. Obviously if dire circumstances have come to pass that really have given you a strict deadline, then that is what needs to be confronted. But in most cases, we put the pressure on ourselves: we have an opportunity or a fear and decide that we MUST right now decide to transition. But it may not yet be the time. While the idea here is not to keep postponing a change you know you want and need, it is also ok to understand that in many cases, there is not just one chance to do this. Maybe right now feels like a necessary moment, but if you truly feel incapable of doing it right now, that doesn’t mean you have lost future chances to do so. And sometimes – not always – but sometimes taking a bit more time to really come to terms with it and prepare to take the right steps, can ensure a better outcome than would have happened otherwise.
3) Let yourself play with the idea of change without having to commit to it.
So many of my clients have been afraid to even play with the idea of a change that deep down they know they want. As if to open yourself up to the possibility of it, to acknowledge it, obligates you to doing it. But that is simply not true. If there is something that is continuously, over a period of time, bothering you, trying to come to the surface, it is absolutely ok and healthy to acknowledge it. Even to ask yourself, “Well if I did this, what would it look like?” “What would I have to do to make it happen?” “What is the worst that can happen?” “And if that worst thing happened, how would I deal with it?”. What this allows you to do is to really work through the feeling, idea, scenario and come to better understand what making this change would truly mean for you. There is power in reflection, information, discovery, and strategy. We don’t want to do this in an obsessive way, but the odd thing is that when we truly confront what this change might mean for us and our lives, we can come to a more realistic consideration of what it would entail. Even talking about it with trusted others can help in this process, as long as they truly understand you and what you want, and want you to succeed in your form of success.
4) Connect deeply with what it means to NOT make this change.
The change always represents the unknown, at least to some degree, and yet even if we are struggling continuously with a situation, the feelings, thoughts and circumstances of that struggle are familiar. This can block us from understanding just how much damage the current situation is doing to us, and perhaps others, but also from connecting to the improvement – the JOY! – that change can bring. Ask yourself “What difficulties am I experiencing right now because things continue to be the same?” “How would I feel and live if this current situation was resolved?” “What other things am I not doing that I want to because of this current situation?” The idea is not to guilt or force yourself into this change but to really connect with what you want to move towards that would bring you greater peace, happiness or success.
5) Put a deadline for your change decision.
If the change you have been considering has been taking a long time, has become a constant thought or is meaningfully doing damage to you or others, even if there is no looming deadline, you can choose to put one. Again, it’s not about pushing yourself before you are ready, which can be a hard thing to gauge. But if you cannot put a deadline to make the decision, at least put a major one to deeply reflect on why you still will not go ahead with it. What this does is help us be conscious of the fact that life and time is not unlimited. It creates an honest recognition that this need for change continues to be present and perhaps even causes some sort of suffering or damage. And it allows you to reflect on what might be the appropriate way for you to move forward. Again, it’s ok if you are not ready, but having the courage to look it directly in the face, and follow some of the previous steps mentioned, means that you can retrieve some sense of power and peace that you are taking charge of your life, even if you are not yet making the change you want to do. And you will surprise yourself. Years of coaching has taught me that when people put a deadline of their own, they almost always follow through with it.
6) Have faith in yourself and connect with that faith.
What so often blocks us in these moments is the question if we are truly capable of making this transition and dealing with the consequences. And that is something important to consider. But there are some curious realities about life. That no matter how you feel right this moment, you will likely feel differently down the line. Even if you don’t want to. That how you imagine things will be is almost never the way they turn out to be. That you are stronger than you believe and that there are circumstances and resources beyond your knowledge and control that will help you, if you choose to seek them out. And sometimes, they come by their own. That the ability to create success, regardless of challenging external circumstances, is actually a choice to work on yourself, go through the necessary steps to find help and learn, and continue working towards what you want. That no matter how much you worry and fear about this change, it may not be a difficult as you think. And once you are in it, you WILL find answers.
What change are you dealing with? What worries you?
What has helped you initiate and manage change in the past?