The prevailing cultural belief about change is that it comes when people are “ready” or it comes only to those who are “worthy” or “special.”
That’s bullshit, and it’s time to let it go.
You can be better tomorrow, even though you’re weak, imperfect and only partially (if at all) “ready.” The only thing special about people who change is that they are willing to change.
You can be special like that, too.
Change is hard, that’s a given. It’s categorically, biologically true. We are hard-wired for sameness and monotony- for safety (I’ve seen this thing before! It doesn’t kill me! Let’s keep it around.).
But in the same way we learn that our biological tendencies can be overcome through vaccines, 12-step programs and habit stacking, we can overcome our biological preference for sameness and craft a life that supports transformation.
It won’t be easy, but what’s the point of easy, anyway?
People often start thinking about personal improvement around this time of year. This practice of making resolutions for change in January goes back to ancient times. The month of January is named of the god Janus, who is two faced. He looks back in time with one face and forward in time with the other face. You can gain favor with Janus by reflecting on your prior year and resolving to be better in the future. The tradition stuck, and almost half of American make a resolutions each year.
It’s trendy to cite the statistic that “only 8% of resolutions succeed.” It’s less trendy, but no less true that “people who make an explicit resolution are 10x more likely to change than those who don’t.” So… people who actually give it a shot are more likely to succeed than those who sit on the sidelines citing statistics?
Time to get busy.
Any time you are resolving to change, it’s helpful to get clear on these three things:
- Why are you doing this?
- What do you think you can do in 90 days?
- What do you plan to do THIS WEEK?
For illustration, I’ll share one of my own New Year Resolution: I resolve to read more in 2017!
Why are you doing this?
It really, really helps to reflect on exactly why you would like to make this change. It isn’t enough to assume that the virtues of a change are foregone or obvious. Sometimes you don’t share the conventional reasons and it’s helpful to be clear about that.
For example, lot’s of people want to read more because they want to be seen by others as knowledgeable, and “up to speed.” They want to join in conversations about the New York Times Bestseller list and declare books as “over-rated” or “derivative.”
Some people resolve to read because they feel like they missed out on the classics. They want to get the jokes about King Lear and understand who this “romantic” Heathcliff fellow is.
I don’t care about those things.
I want to read more because it used to be a cornerstone of my identity to read a LOT of books. I had to stop when I was getting my PhD (because I had to read a lifetime supply of journal articles) and then I had kids, which is time consuming to say the least. But the kids are starting to become more independent and I feel like I could begin to read again!
I don’t need to be reading classics or even worthwhile books (though I’m not against it). I just want to read again! It’s a change that’s seeded in giving myself space to ponder and dream; I want that time with my thoughts back.
It doesn’t matter what your reasons are, what matters is that YOU know what your reasons are. This kind of clarity gives you two critical gifts:
- It allows you to feel the tension of the change you want to make. You feel the difference between where you are and where you want to be more fully. This tension creates motivation and no change is happening without motivation.
- It helps you prioritize. If your change remains vague then you don’t quite know how to make choices. Should I read King Lear or 50 Shades of Grey? If wanted to be “in the know” so I can declare things over-rated maybe I’d read 50 Shades. If I’d missed out on the classics, I’d read King Lear. Since I just want to enjoy reading, I’d read Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? instead. See how that works?
What do you think you can do in 90 days?
As we know, big change comes by way of small changes accumulating over time. But how much time? At first it seems like a great idea to set a goal for an entire year but it turns out that humans are really bad at anticipating what they can do in a year. This is one of the root causes (in my opinion) of why New Year’s Resolutions are hard to keep.
On the other hand, we are pretty good at anticipating what is possible in 90 days. We have a decent sense of what life will be like for the next 90 days and we have a realistic understanding of the rate of change that is possible given those realities. That is why I always suggest people focus on what goal they want to accomplish in the next 90 days.
As I look at the next 90 days of my life I see a WHOLE LOT OF WRITING. I am writing a budget handbook and I’ve committed to writing twice a month for Quartz.
Given that, I want to ease into my reading goal. I’ve decided to read 2 books a month for the next three months. One non-fiction book and one book for fun. I know this is doable because I did it in December without too much trouble (Nonfiction: Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us; Fiction: Shopaholic to the Rescue: A Novel).
What can you do this week?
It wasn’t until I got involved professionally in change management that I truly came to to understand the Lao Tzu quote:
True transformational change begins anew all the time- each day, each week. What you do today and tomorrow accumulates over time into the life you love. What can you do today? What is possible given the realities of tomorrow? When, THIS WEEK, can you take your dreams seriously?
For my own resolution, I have to pick and get the books I’m going to read this month.
- I’ve been pondering it and I plan to re-read The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization, which is one of the books that really changed the way I think about change. It’s super dense and academic and it wold benefit me to read it again. I already have it on my nook, so I’m good there. Check!
- I’m not at all sure what to read for fun… Do you have any suggestions? In the next 90 days I’m hoping to read across genres- I could go for a mystery or science fiction? Nothing depressing but otherwise, I’m pretty open. If there’s a book you love, shoot me an email or leave a comment- I would really appreciate it!!
If you feel overwhelmed by all three steps, you can skip the 90 day goal and maybe even the vision exercise at the beginning (she says, grudgingly). You cannot succeed if you don’t get started, though. What are you going to do this week?