Someone recently told me that they believe we, as human beings, love change.
You probably could have heard me laughing from several rooms away at that idea.
People love change? Are you kidding?! Change is hard! Change is scary! I definitely do not love change and this person must be crazy!
Or were they...?
As with most things, it's important to check yourself when you have a strong reaction to something. Where is that emotion and knee-jerk denial coming from? Play the "devil's advocate" – could they actually be right?
So I thought more about this observation – people love change – and, slowly, started to have some additional observations of my own.
First, change is a form of variety and growth – two things we know, from the 6 Basic Human Needs, we're wired to crave. Too much stagnation and complacency is a bad thing. We need to shake things up (i.e., change).
Second, change is scary because we don't know what the outcome will be. How will people react? Will I actually feel better? Will it be worth it? When we're on a mission to have more clarity and certainty in life, change can feel very unclear and uncertain at times. On one hand, there's probably room for us to create more clarity and certainty by painting a picture of what we want and sharpening our knowledge, skills and experience so we can actually create that picture. On the other hand, sometimes the lack of clarity is what makes change fun and exciting – I don't know what's going to happen, but let's try something and find out.
And third, change is hard because we don't always know the path to go from Point A to Point B. Maybe I need to change my habits to improve my health, but I'm not quite sure what that will take. Or maybe I need to change the relationship with my boss, but I'm not sure how. When I know the path, though, change feels much less hard than it would otherwise.
Now, all of that said, I'm not sure that I'm convinced I love change (I'm working on shifting that story still!) but I can get on board with the fact that we're wired to seek out change as a form of growth and that there are things we can do to make change less hard.
So then I ask myself: what gets in the way of that?
3 Things That Keep Us Stuck
If you've been through a training+coaching program with us, you've heard the idea that there are three things that keep us stuck in old beliefs, habits, and mindsets:
Pain. Fear. Opportunity.
But what does that mean? Let's take them one at a time.
I'm going to start with Opportunity first. When we're stuck, one reason can be that the Opportunity (or, as I've been phrasing it with my clients lately, the incentive) isn't big enough to drive action. The carrot, so to speak, isn't quite tempting enough to get you to move from your current state of being. Therefore, we don't make change.
The next reason we stay stuck is that changing will (or, at least, we think it will) cause Pain. Now, that can be literal pain – if I haven't worked out in a decade and I head to the gym, chances are I'm going to be sore tomorrow. It can also be emotional or relational pain – if I have a long overdue hard conversation with someone, there's a chance someone's feelings could get hurt or we might end the relationship for any number of reasons (e.g., breaking up with someone). There's no sugar-coating it: change can hurt. And so we avoid it.
The final variable that keeps us stuck is the one I mentioned earlier: we have Fear of change. The unknown is scary (and if there's one thing that's true about making change, it's that the outcome is never 100% known). We're afraid our efforts won't be worth it. That we'll lose or hurt someone. That someone will judge us. I dig into Fear last because I think it is a) the biggest reason we avoid change, and b) the underlying factor driving Pain and Opportunity. I'm afraid there will be pain. I'm afraid I'll put in all this effort and the opportunity won't have been worth it.
Remember: the primary job of your brain is to keep you safe and alive. Fear is an incredibly powerful tool that the brain uses to execute on this mission. If you're scared, you won't do something risky that could kill you. Unfortunately, we're not running from sabertooth tigers anymore and the brain's "safe and alive" trigger is a little over-sensitive for modern living. That means we're often scared of things that a) we don't need to be scared of, and b) could actually help us grow into better versions of ourselves.
Identifying the Tipping Point
So what do we do about it? If Pain, Fear, and (lack of) Opportunity are keeping us stuck, how do we get unstuck?
We find the tipping point.
Here's the irony: Pain, Fear and (lack of) Opportunity will keep us from making change. They're also the exact same elements that can propel us forward.
Starting again with Opportunity, we can all imagine scenarios where the incentive to change is so big we can't avoid it anymore. Now, on one hand, this is why certain people (who never normally play the lottery) will get that Powerball ticket – look at the opportunity that's out there! But on a much more day-to-day basis, this is why people will put their name in the hat for a promotion or they'll put in a few extra hours calling on new prospects. The opportunity to gain notoriety or a bonus or commission is enticing enough that they can't ignore it any longer. They've found the tipping point where making change is worth it.
As we look at Pain, the tipping point becomes when the current situation is more painful than the potential future situation. Have you ever known someone who really needed a hip or knee replacement, but they put it off because they didn't want to deal with the pain of physical therapy or being off their feet for an unknown period of time? Finally, they probably had to come to terms with the fact that the current pain of a bad joint was more painful than the surgery and recovery – so they finally make change. This goes for all of us. Maybe the pain of constantly being out of breath becomes worse than the pain of going to the doctor for an inhaler. Or maybe the pain of being bored in your job is worse than the pain of applying for a promotion or a new job. Or maybe the pain of not connecting with your spouse is worse than the pain of going to couples' counseling. Whatever it is, you may need to find your tipping point where the pain of now is worse than the pain of the future.
And finally, Fear. When I think about the tipping point of being afraid, I often frame it up this way: Am I more afraid of what will happen if I do change? Or am I more afraid of what will happen if I don't change? In a recent article that John Sanow wrote, he talked about how, if he didn't change his health, he was afraid that he wouldn't get to see his children graduate from college or walk his daughter down the aisle. That's a tipping point. Maybe you realize that, if you don't see a counselor or a doctor, you'll continue to live life with depression you don't know how to handle or conflict in your marriage that you don't know how to work through – and you realize that's worse than asking for help. Maybe you decide that having that hard conversation is scary, but it's a better alternative to not knowing where the other person stands. All tipping points.
Speeding Up the Timeline
So what if you haven't reached your tipping point? What if you're in the "stuck" phase of Pain, Fear and Opportunity and haven't quite reached the point where those become motivating factors? Here's a few thoughts:
First things first, I think it's important to recognize that we're all on our own journeys. Some of us will reach that tipping point faster than others. One person's tipping point may be something that another person is willing to suffer through. This is especially important to remember when we see another person suffering and we just want them to get on with making a change already – they're living their story while we're living ours. As someone once said, "Don't rob someone of their rock bottom." Each of us needs to find our own tipping point in due time for it to be meaningful enough to change.
That being said, we also have the choice to speed up that timeline for ourselves if we want to. We don't have to run headlong into the brick wall before realizing we need to slow down. If we're feeling the sense that something needs to shift, we can initiate the process faster. How?
We opt in to the appropriate effort, make change, do hard work – whatever you want to call it – even when we don't feel ready.
Not sure if it's worth it to go to the gym, apply for the promotion, take your spouse out on a date (i.e., the Opportunity doesn't feel quite worth it)? Do it anyways.
Not sure if you can handle the pain of ending a bad relationship, moving your body in ways you haven't in years, or putting yourself in a new experience that could be uncomfortable? Do it anyways.
Not sure if the future will be less scary than the present? Make the change anyways.
Settling for a ho-hum life because change doesn't seem worth it or will be painful or might be scary is no way to live. If you want more out of life, opt in to making the important changes faster. Don't just survive. Don't just get by.
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