In my last article, I described how difficult changing your life can be and the four obstacles that you must overcome to achieve meaningful and long-lasting change. Yes, change is difficult, despite the “quick and without any effort” claims of motivational speakers and self-help books.
The reality is that nothing of value in life, including life change, is easy or fast. In attempting to change, you are swimming against the tide of many years of those four obstacles: baggage, habits, emotions, and environment. But if you can dismantle those obstacles (no small task, admittedly) and commit yourself to a new direction in your life, amazing things can happen and positive change can actually occur.
But even before you can begin the process of change, there are five building blocks that you must put into place.
Because change is so difficult, it can’t be elicited from the outside (that’s why so-called inspirational talks don’t work), but rather it must come from a very deep and personal place inside of you. Change starts with a simple, yet powerful, epiphany: “I just can’t continue down this same road any longer.” When you experience this realization in the most visceral and overwhelming way, then you have taken the first step toward positive life change.
Just as emotions can act as obstacles against change, they can also provide a powerful force for change. Positive emotions that catalyze change can include hope, inspiration, and pride. Interestingly, so-called negative emotions, such as fear (e.g., of losing a job), frustration (e.g., at feeling stuck in life), anger (e.g., at being mistreated by a spouse), or sadness (e.g., at being estranged from family) can all be potent motivators for change in the short term; at the same time, because they are so unpleasant, they aren’t a long-term strategy for positive change. In either case, these strong emotions act as the impetus that drives you to initiate the process of change your life.
Courage may be the single most important characteristic for changing your life because change is frightening. Why, you ask? Because deep change means letting go of old ways of living that, though obviously not serving you well, are familiar, predictable, and, in an odd sort of way, comfortable. It involves heading down a road that you have never been down before, the destination of which isn’t clear.
Change also requires risk, and risk is scary because you may fail (of course, the other side of the coin is that only by taking risks can you truly succeed.). Courage to change doesn’t mean not being afraid of what might happen; fear is natural because change takes you out of your comfort zone. Change is about your ability to confront and push through your fear rather than being paralyzed by it.
Courage means the willingness to acknowledge aspects of yourself that you may not know about or may not like, and to experience “bad” emotions as you learn about yourself. It enables you to accept that you might fail in your attempts at change while, at the same time, realizing that not trying is a far worst form of failure.
Change is much like jumping into cold water. It will be a shock at first, and you will initially regret having taken the plunge. But, after you are in the water for a short while, you begin to adapt to the coldness. What was then intimidating is now approachable. What had been unknown is now familiar. What was then painful is now invigorating.
4. Leap of Faith
Unfortunately, there is no certainty in change. You don’t know if, when, or how you might change. And you don’t know how the changes you make will impact your life. That lack of certainty can be truly terrifying. Yet, you must be willing to accept that uncertainty if you want to change. The only way to overcome your fears is to take a leap of faith. A great philosopher once said, “You do or you do not. There is no try.” The great thinker was Yoda, the Jedi Master of Star Wars.
This leap of faith involves having a basic belief in yourself and a fundamental trust in the vision of who, what, and where you want to be in the future. The leap of faith involves your commitment to creating a new and healthy life and the belief that good things will happen if you stay committed to this new path.
The above building blocks of change result in a firm resolve to change. This determination expresses itself in an unwavering commitment to pursue change, resist the obstacles, and take active steps to change your life. This resolve will motivate you to engage in the moment-to-moment process of change even when you are discouraged, frustrated, and uncertain about whether you can achieve the positive change in your life.
To illustrate how these five building blocks can be laid as the foundation for positive change, let me introduce you to Susan, a vice president at a large financial services firm on Wall Street. Growing up poor, Susan dreamed of being financially well-off with all of its trappings. To that end, she worked hard in school, earning a scholarship to a prestigious college and an MBA from another top school. Through hard work and long hours, Susan steadily rose through the ranks at the investment bank at which she was employed until she owned a beautiful apartment, drove a fancy car, and owned a closet full of expensive clothes. Yet, after 15 years of “success,” she was miserable: constantly stressed, overweight and out of shape, and without a partner to share her life.
One day, Susan had an epiphany: “I simply can’t continue to live my life this way.” Just the thought of letting go of this life that she had pursued with such vigor, yet had ultimately brought her unhappiness, felt as if a weight had been lifted off her shoulders as the stress, frustration, and sadness that accompanied that life dissipated. Moreover, in place of those unpleasant feelings, Susan felt awash in a very different set of emotions, relief, hope, excitement, and even joy, for the first time in years.
As Susan pondered what would be a major life change, those feelings led to another emotion that further propelled her toward a new and happier life, namely, courage to face the many challenges that would present themselves as she navigated a change in her life for which she felt largely unprepared.
That courage enabled Susan to take a leap of faith into a new life that began with considerable uncertainty, doubt, and more than a little fear. This leap of faith became more palatable when a friend helped her see the many internal resources (e.g., motivation, confidence, resilience) she had available to her as she charted this new chapter in her life.
Marshaling these four building blocks enabled Susan to gain the resolve she needed to submit her resignation and direct her considerable determination toward building a life that would give her meaning, fulfillment, and joy.
In the next article , I will describe the Five Steps to Positive Life Change.
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