So, the theme for this month seems to be change. The theme for every month, in fact, seems to be change. It’s the one constant, and the times when I don’t think there’s something turning out different than expected, are the times when I’m not really paying close attention.
Over 20 years ago, I had a dream about necessary change that didn’t stick — a married couple were forced to make dramatic changes to their way of life, and they managed to keep up with their new habits for a while. But eventually they slipped back into old habits, and they reaped some serious consequences as a result.
The dream was epic, dramatic … like watching a movie while I slept. And while the story was a bit over the top, the lessons were still clear:
- Sometimes you have to make hard choices and make difficult changes in your life.
- If you make those changes, but you don’t make the effort to reinforce them over time, you run the risk of going back to your old ways.
- And going back to your old ways can turn out worse than if you’d never changed your habits at all.
Parables, fables and all sorts of cautionary tales abound on this subject, and it’s nothing new. World literature is filled with stories about people who were told not to hang onto the past, but did it anyway, and they got hammered for it. Lot’s wife comes to mind, off the bat.
So here’s my question: How come we don’t get it?
Why do we set out to make a change in our lives, and then find ourselves back-pedaling before long? Why do we make our much-needed New Year’s resolutions with the best of intentions in January, only to abandon them in February (or even before the month of January is out)? Why is it that so many of us know we need to get more exercise, join a gym, and then find ourselves doing little more than gazing guilt-filled at the membership tag dangling from our key ring?
I mean, it’s not like we end up being any less in need of a change, four weeks into the year. And it’s not like we’re any less aware of what we need to do to make our lives better.
But for some reason, the choices and changes we make don’t stick.
And we spend the balance of the year feeling vaguely guilty about having given up so soon and so easily … but not that guilty… not enough to force us to change again. Unless, of course, we’re diagnosed with some serious illness or have our safety otherwise threatened at a fundamental level.
We people can be so odd…
As we close in on the end of the year, I (along with many others) ponder the changes I need to make in my life. For some time, it has seemed as though everything was changing rapidly around me, with no recourse on my part as to how to effectively meet and master the situation(s). A lot of shifts and switches have taken place over the past couple of years — for all of us — and the way forward has rarely looked clear or logical. Much has been said and done in the environments where I work and live, without a whole lot of explanation. Between the federal health care legislation debacle and organizational changes at work… who the hell knows what’s going on?
And who knows where it’s going to lead?
Here’s the thing, though. In times of dramatic and unavoidable change which seems beyond my immediate control, the one thing I can control is my own attitude and the way I approach the morphing world around me. And in that respect, I’m free to make choices that make my own little corner of the world very different from how it was before. These choices have to do with attitude, with gratitude, and with the path that I map out for myself in terms of my career, my relationships, and where I see myself developing as a human being.
Those are things I can affect, no matter what. Those are changes I can make regardless of the environment and atmosphere around me.
The trick is, to get the changes to stick. Because no matter how great my intentions, if I can’t keep following through on the work that’s required, well, why make those changes at all?
The whole deal takes planning. It takes support, both internal and external. It takes resolve. And it takes a fair amount of self-reflection and the willingness to learn from the lessons that come my way. It takes inspiration… and the ability to move forward, when there’s no inspiration to be found.
In order to sustain change over the long term and turn ideas into habitual reality… and into way of life, a certain “infrastructure” needs to be in place, and that’s what I’m working towards at this point in time. I have a new reading list, starting now — and it’s all about change, leadership, and effectiveness in life and work. I’m following writers and thinkers and leaders on their blogs and in social media, to keep a steady stream of ideas coming my way. I’ve “liked” a bunch of motivational pages on Facebook, and I build in time, each day, to reflect and absorb the experiences I’m having. I’m investing a fair amount of time in mulling over all these ideas, while I’m driving to and from the office.
I’m also staying serious about my diet, keeping to what works for me, and not going hog-wild over holiday cookie madness. I’m exercising regularly — hiking a lot on some demanding trails that seem to be practically vertical at times. And I’m keeping to a sensible sleep schedule that has me up and at ’em at about the same time each day, including weekends.
All these things contribute to the infrastructure of my life. And with that support system built around the changes I’m making, over time, I do expect the ideas to turn to habits and then to a new way of life. And when New Year’s comes around in another six weeks or so, I hope to be well on my way to not only having a list of sensible resolutions identified, but actually have the foundation laid for cementing those changes throughout 2014 – and beyond.
That’s my plan, and that’s my direction. And time will tell how it all shakes out. But whatever comes of this, it won’t result from lack of trying.