What Smart People Know About Change
Yesterday I went to the supermarket to get our weekly produce and some basic needs, it was one of those gloomy days with non-stop drizzle, and I just couldn’t wait to get home, make myself a coffee and get under a comforter. As I was leaving the store on my way to the car, I ran into a woman; she must have been around 60 years old. She was sitting with her back to a concrete post, completely soaked – which tells me she had been there for a while to get soaked by light rain, with an equally wet cardboard sign spelling “Help, need money for food.” I wish that this story went this direction: so I stopped and asked her what she needed or if she knew where the closest shelter was, or gave her the two dollar coins I had in my pocket. Sadly it went like this: I turned my face down and left and kept walking to my car, hopped in, went home and thought about something else.
Does this make me a horrible human being? No. Am I the only one that walked out of that supermarket and looked the other way? No. Does this make it any better? No. Do most of the people that looked the other way, and I have at least one thing in common? Yes.
We’re all afraid of pain. Fear of pain is the reason we avoid looking at what we refuse to see; pain is the fuel that drives our face the other way. Clearly, I couldn’t forget about the lady and think about something else. I believe that my encounter with this lady was so impactful because it represented the sum of every time I’ve turned my face away from something I find painful in an attempt not to feel it.
For many of us, there comes the point in life when we meet our version of that lady, and at this point, it’s just too much to keep ignoring. This “lady” doesn’t have to be a person; it is a metaphor for everything in our life that hurts enough to be ignored.
It may not read like it yet, but this post is about making life change easier. And how does the story about me ignoring the lady in the supermarket relates to this? You may ask. Well, It’s through denial. We deny what we think we’re not strong enough to handle, what we fear we may not be able to control, change or make better – Think wizards denying the return of Voldemort or Donald Trump denying global warming. Denial is a coping mechanism that has been understood by psychology as the refusal to accept reality, acting as if a painful event, thought or feeling did not exist. The hard truth is that you cannot change anything in your life, anything at all, while you pretend that doesn’t exist.
One of the reasons we struggle to successfully break bad habits in our life is because we close our eyes to what we dislike about ourselves (yes, denial), and in running from potential discomfort, we disable our possibilities for change. This is the wife who refuses to accept to herself she’s having an affair, the man who overeats and pretends all is ok, the teenager who is failing school but feels cool, the employee who is miserable at his job but turns a blind eye to feel safe. All of these individuals are playing a losing game because in neglecting what they’re holding on to, they can’t see what to let go. They are unable to have closure, which is an essential ritual because it formalizes change.
I believe that at times we confuse accepting with conforming and that in fear of settling for who we are now, we miss the first step of the change ladder. Acceptance is the predecessor of change because it gives us clarity of what is true now and creates a state of mind where possibilities exist; at the very least (and most powerful) the possibility to change our perception. Running away from something without acceptance and closure keeps part of our energy permanently attached to what we’re running from because we need an inner compass to let us know we’re getting far enough from danger.
Saying goodbye with open eyes and shaking hands with what you want to transform always brings the most sustainable form of change. Of course, I’m referring to processes of change that happen willingly because at times changes come unannounced, and that's a different story. But for those who want to change something in their life and create positive habits, here are some smart steps that I find are a good start.
Honour the choices you’ve made until now, even your most terrible mistakes. They were, at least, your most viable survival actions.
Accept what is real in the present moment. Denying what is real is like becoming an ostrich whose head is buried into the ground hoping to keep out of danger.
Choose where you want to be. I heard a quote this weekend “If you don’t know where you’re going, you may not like where you end up.”
Start taking focused action. Be intentional with your time.
Leverage your brain power. Using effective tools for change like hypnosis and coaching can be a game changer.
Be consistent. One step repeated 55,374 times is a marathon.
Needless to say, I found the lady. My encounter with her shakes fibres in me that I've been avoiding for years because poverty and homelessness break my heart in pieces, and I’ll go through these steps myself to find ways in which I can contribute to change that reality.
Be brave and keep eyes open for your lady. She’s everywhere you don’t want to look at, waiting muted while getting soaked by a gentle rain.