“If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are going.” Lao Tzu
“Everybody wants it to be different but nobody wants to change.” The pastor referenced the tension in the congregation. Few were happy; most could name someone or something that needed to change. Status quo held tight. Many years later I recall his words as I think about the changes I would like in my life. Do I really want it to be different? How much am I willing to invest to make it so?
I like to take stock of my life as the new year begins. It is an opportunity to inventory the past year–what went well and what didn’t? What were my joys and sorrows? What were my opportunities and challenges? How did I respond? Where am I and where am I going? What did change? And what didn’t?
Recently, I listened to a futurist on the radio who said that when we project into the future, we project what we already know rather than bold or creative ideas of what might be. In other words, we project the past into the future. Who of us would have predicted ten years ago we would walk around with a computer in our pocket that could access the world with a few taps, call anywhere, store photos on a cloud and steer us to a location in the heart of the city, block by block?
I adapt to most of these changes, but do they bring me closer to where I want to be? I am going to change but who is holding the reins of change? The market place? My employer? My aging body? Or me?
If I am in the same place next year, how will I feel? Is there something in my life I really want to change? If there is, I probably know exactly what it is. I want to be healthier–get more exercise, better sleep, lose weight. I want a different job or career. I want to get out of an unhealthy relationship. I need to quit smoking, drinking, relying on sleep aids. When the answer pops right up, we know what the issue is.
What keeps us from making the change? James Belasco and Ralph Stayer say, “Change is hard because people overestimate the value of what they have—and underestimate the value of what they may gain by giving that up.” We know what we are losing but we don’t know what we are gaining. I remember when I decided to meditate for 20 minutes daily. I wondered how I would ever find the time to do it. It seemed every minute of my day was already booked. How could I spare another 20 minutes? I could not sense, in my body, how the relaxed self that re-entered my day could feel so free. Or that my kids would soon take it in stride that I took 20 uninterrupted minutes when I got home. Or that my schedule did allow for this new practice.
Our lives may not be what we want them to be but they are comfortable, normal, routine. It is so much easier to pick up fast food or sit in front of the TV or rummage through Facebook than it is to call a friend for a walk, cook a healthy meal or tackle the closet that overflows with too much stuff. Neale Donald Walsch says, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” Just because it’s comfortable, doesn’t mean it’s working.
My parents lived with many inconveniences because they were familiar, even when the inconveniences were not at all comfortable! They built their house right after World War II, just outside of a small Minnesota town. They always thought they would do that again, build another house, especially as the town encroached on the surrounding farm fields. Through the years there were many things that needed attention in the house. The retaining walls leading to the tuck-under garage bowed. The front steps pulled away from the house. Cold penetrated the thin insulation. The answer was always the same, “We aren’t going to be here that long. We can live with it.” They lived there the rest of their lives. Small fixes kept the house livable, while the big things were never addressed. How many of us live our lives like that? We tweak around the edges, but never address the real issue. Starting therapy. Saving for retirement. Getting out of a dysfunctional relationship. Leaving the security of our unsatisfying job for something we love.
Denial and defensiveness keep us stuck, too. It isn’t that bad. It could be worse. Who has it better anyway? Marshall Goldsmith says, ”After living with their dysfunctional behavior for so many years (a sunk cost if ever there was one), people become invested in defending their dysfunctions rather than changing them.”
Our beliefs can get in the way. I am not smart enough, disciplined enough, patient enough. I’m not strong enough, old enough, young enough. We inherit beliefs from our family, adopt them from our culture, or are bullied into them by someone else. Time to let go of false belief systems.
A good place to start a change plan is to ask, what are my values? What is important to me? Do I really want to end up where no change is taking me? The new year is a great time for a checkup. Find one thing you really want to change. Write it down. Tell a friend what it is and schedule a weekly time to check in. Ask her to help you keep on track. If it’s a new habit, do it everyday for 30 days. Have a slip? Begin again. Incorporate it into your daily life. Fake it till you make it. Celebrate success.
It is never too late to begin. Imagine that place you want to be next year at this time. Decide what you can do today to get there. Change the direction you are going today and you just might get someplace very interesting tomorrow!
Mary Lou Logsdon is a Spiritual Director and Retreat Leader in the Twin Cities. She is a member of Sacred Ground’s Education Formation Team. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 651/583- 1802.