The Elements of Change
‘Without accepting the fact that everything changes, we cannot find perfect composure. But unfortunately, although it is true, it is difficult for us to accept it. Because we cannot accept the truth of transience, we suffer.’ - Shunryu Suzuki
Change can be a difficult thing. Most people want to change their lives in some way, but find it difficult to either get started or to sustain the change for very long.
I’m happy to report that after years of studying it, I’m becoming better at it, though happily failing all the time. Nowadays, I actually relish change, not because I feel I need to improve my life, but because in change, I learn new things. Constantly.
What have I learned from my changes?
I could probably write a book on this, but the essence can be found in the space between the inevitable fact of change, and in the incredible resistance to change inside ourselves and in the people around us. We want to change, and yet we don’t. How do we resolve this tension?
It can be incredibly difficult, or it can be wonderfully joyous. I’m here to show you the elements of the joyous path to change. The difficult path … I think we can each easily find that on our own.
So, what’s the joyous path to making these changes and others?
I’ve broken it down into six elements, many of which overlap and have very blurred lines. They’re useful, though, in considering how to make potential changes in your life.
1. Beating inertia. We all have inertia — that resistance to change, especially major change that disrupts our living patterns or way of thinking. Sometimes it’s not difficult to overcome — we can get excited to make a big change and want to overhaul a certain part of our lives. The joyous path though, is in the middle ground between no change and drastic change. It’s in small changes — as small as possible. Small changes mean it’s not hard to get started, but also that the change is sustainable. If you make a drastic change, there is a great likelihood that it won’t stick very long.
If you’re feeling that inertia, set out to make as tiny a change as you can — just get out and walk for 5 minutes, or start writing or painting or playing your guitar for 5 minutes. You can do anything for 5 minutes — it should seem ridiculously easy, but that’s the point.
2. Beating the resistance of others. This resistance can be even tougher to beat than your own inertia — very often people in our lives do not want change. They’ll be negative, or even actively try to stop us from changing. There are various strategies for beating this: ask for their help and get them on your side, or negotiate a way for you to make change without disrupting their lives too much, or if necessary, cut them out of your life for a little bit.
3. Finding the joy. Here is the key to it all. Forget the rest of these steps if you need to, but never forget this one. Doing something you hate is possible, for a little while, but you’ll never sustain it. If you hate running, you’ll never keep up the habit for long. You need to find the joy in doing the activity and when you do, you’re golden. So, either choose an activity that you love, or find something to love in the activity, and grab on to that.
4. Keeping the joy alive. Joy can be fleeting, and to keep it going, you need to nurture it. This is an art form, and I can’t give you step-by-step instructions here. If I could, I’d be a billionaire, as it would change the world. But here's some advice: be grateful for your joy, every day. Be in the moment with that activity instead of having your mind drift elsewhere. Refresh your joy often, by starting over or approaching things from a new angle or doing something a bit differently. Find new people to share this joy with, people who love it as much as you.
5. Celebrating the little victories. We often get discouraged because we’re not as far along as we’d like; we don’t have those six-pack abs yet (after a month of exercise!) or we’re not a full-time blogger yet (after three months of blogging!). But we forget how far we’ve come. Every step along the path is a victory, not because we’ve accomplished a goal but simply because we made the step. Celebrate those steps — jump up and down in joy, scream 'Halelujah', brag about it on Facebook, post a victorious message in bold marker on your fridge. You rock.
6. Making it a part of your life. Whether a change stays with you forever or not, making a change has value, in the momentary joy you get from doing it and in what you learn from it. But making a change stick can be a great thing. To integrate change into your life, it must become a part of your daily routine. If you want to meditate, you need to do it at a regular time: right after having your coffee and before showering for work, for example. Having the coffee becomes your trigger for this new habit, and as the coffee is already integrated into your life, it becomes an anchor upon which this new habit will be grounded. The more times you do the new habit after this trigger, and the more regularly you do it, the more firmly it will stick.
One last note, to anyone making changes: you will fail. I don’t say that to discourage you, but to release you from the fear of failure … because if you already know it will happen, then there’s no pressure to avoid it. Failure is an inevitable part of change, and in fact it should be celebrated — without failure, we’d learn nothing. Fail, fail often, and learn. Then you’ll be better equipped for the next attempt. Find joy in every attempt, in every victory, in every failure, and the change will be a reward in itself.
‘Try again. Fail again. Fail better.’ - Samuel Beckett