How to Create Helpful Change
Only by letting go of the old forms can you make space for something new to be born. - Eric KleinI’ve been thinking about the word “change” recently. It has mixed connotations for me: I think change can be positive, helpful, even necessary in some situations (ever been through a break-up?), but I think we can also put too much pressure on ourselves to change, to be something different, and ultimately sacrifice enjoying what we can about who we are right now.This week, I updated the “About” page of the website. I’m still not 100% sure of BYWA's focus - somehow, it feels too broad at the moment, and trying to get a handle on it is like trying to get a hold on a water bed matress.So I left the old about page up, way after it was overdue, even when I couldn’t stand looking at it anymore.I didn’t let go. I didn't change it.The old page was done. It felt safe, familiar, and complete, even though I wasn’t at all happy with it. Re-writing the page nagged at the back of my mind and every time I visited the site, I would avoid it. Slightly irrational, as the “About” page is one of the first places I look when I arrive at other people’s websites!Finally letting go - sitting down and working on a new page - was difficult. But I feel a lot happier now. The nagging is gone. I don’t feel guilty for having abandoned one of the most crucial parts of the website anymore.This led me to think about change. Every day, we hear so much about change: changing our attitudes, changing our style, changing our lives, changing the world. People get so caught up in change, sometimes it's difficult to accept the way things are now, let alone appreciate them.But what if we want change? Not in a wanting-to-be-gold-medal-winning-superstars kind of way: desiring that change will only lead to heartache.I’m talking about real, tangible change. A change we can define, be specific about, measure, and reasonably achieve (if you’re saying you don’t know what you can reasonable achieve - you do, just ask yourself). A change that will improve our lives.For example, instead of “I want to exercise more”, choose “I want to go running at least two times a week” or “I want to be able to run 5K by this summer”; instead of “I want to change career”, choose “I want to retrain as a carpenter and start my own bespoke carpentry business within 10 years of finishing”. Each of those changes might have its own set of sub-changes underneath, and these can all be defined, specific, measurable and achievable.Why defined, specific, measurable and achievable? To stop the perils of vagueness.
The Perils of Vagueness
How many times have you heard someone say “I really want to lose weight” or “I really need to get fit” but not do anything about it? For some people, actually doing those things is too scary - as much as they want to do it, where they are is a familiar place, and leaving it would put them out of their comfort zone. Sometimes, looking towards a future when a certain thing is different can also be a way of avoiding acceptance of the way that thing is right now. So the desire for change stays broad and generalised, and nothing happens.But if you’re ready to step outside your comfort zone, you define your goal (i.e. “I want to lose weight”, “I want to get fit”), then you make it specific (“I want to lose five pounds” or “I want to be able to run 5K”), it's measurable (“How will I know when I have lost five pounds/hit my 5K goal?”) and it is reasonably achievable (“I want to do this over the next six months”, not “I want to do this over the next two weeks”).When changes are specific, measurable and achievable, we know exactly what we’re aiming for, exactly how we’re going to know when we’ve got there, and we’re not going to defeat ourselves by setting unrealistic expectations. If we’ve had unrealistic expectations or desires for change in the past, it can be hard to let go of them. We might never win the lottery, make People’s 100 Most Beautiful list, or have perfect relationships.And that’s fine, because those things don't matter. We can’t control them. Real change comes from things we can control.Those kinds of changes, if we really commit to them, can be empowering, uplifting, and incredible to achieve.
I recently listened to a webinar by Ishita Gupta, who runs fear.less magazine. She talked about fun over fear, and how we can make a conscious effort to introduce more fun into our lives. “How much fun can I have with this right now?”This question really struck me. The context in which the question was posed was boring or dull tasks that we have to get through as part of life, but the phrase applies to hard changes as well.So start the week with a bang: think about one change you want to make - maybe you've wanted to make it for a while. Define it in specific terms, decide how to measure it, and think about ways you can have fun while doing it.