"Dying is easy; Change is hard" -- that was the title of a book review in the New York Times for the lukewarm reception of How We Are (by health psychologist Vincent Deary). I haven't read the book, but I understand Deary's premises -- that it's really hard for people to change, even when they have the best of intentions!
One medical study showed that even when confronted with a life threatening condition and told by doctors that they had to make changes in their personal lifestyles (e.g., quit smoking, exercise, etc.), it was found that, one year later, only one out of seven had been able make the necessary lifestyle changes. (From Kagen/Lahey, 2009.) If it is that hard to make personal changes, even when faced with a life threatening condition, consider the challenge it is for us to change everyday behaviors to reduce hardships and suffering or to create new habits and behaviors that bring about positive changes in our lives.
We sometimes knock ourselves for things we haven't done or can't seem to do, and then perhaps knock ourselves a second time for feeling badly that we feel bad, as if we weren't good enough or were lacking as individuals. Or we might feel that we are just fine the way we are, or we're too old to change!
We all have something -- (perhaps we eat too much, or not exercise enough, or procrastinate too much, or engage in self=limiting behaviors in a myriad of other ways) -- and no amount of goal setting, motivational encouragement, or information seems to help.
If this isn't you, you're so lucky! -- But it could be that the changes you need are in your blind spots - and others can see it, but you can't.
Harvard researchers Robert Kagen and Lisa Lahey suggest something new altogether -- that by the time we have lived a while, we come to develop a certain immunity to change, Just as we accumulate antigens and antibodies to offset outside invasions to our bodies, Kagen and Lahey suggest we develop an immunity to change to maintain a dynamic equilibrium of "who we are." The fascinating thing is that they have developed a method for helping to uncover our immunity to change that is proving itself to be quite effective, and it is quickly becoming part of organizational change and leadership training, as well as being used for individual growth and transition work. Kagen and Lahey's work was even recently featured in Oprah!
I've been interested in Kagen's work since 1987, and I see also that change comes more easily and in step increases when we integrate our consciously expressed goals and intentions with an understanding of our subconscious influences. That's when change seems to happen more effortlessly! I'm attending the Immunity to Change Facilitator's training in March. I can't wait.
We’re often pulled in different directions, stretched for time with too much to do. At least that seems the case for many of us who have work and/or family obligations, who must be productive and efficient at work, tend to others, and make time for our own self care. On the other hand, we might feel oppressed by the opposite feeling of having too much time, lacking sufficient direction and motivation or friendships and activities to fill time.
Recently, I ran into people I haven’t connected with in some time, and I was amazed at what we, ordinary people, can accomplish in a short time. For example, I ran into a woman who participated in one of my “Clarity Circle” workshops about 7 months ago. When we last met, she was in a job she disliked and where she felt underutilized. She dreamed of one day starting her own consulting firm in a topic about which she was passionate. When she saw me in the street the other day, her face was glowing as she told me she’d since launched her consulting firm -- her new business registered, business plan made, and she’s writing a manuscript of content to be used by her new firm. And she adds, all this the while working full-time in her new job, which she loves. It’s amazing to see that kind of transformation in such a short time. Kudos to her for her motivation, energy, and work to get this going - and there are people who are venturing off to do the same every day.
I’ve come to see the pattern: at a certain point, people on a personal quest start having that sense of leaving a place of fear and uncertainty (of leaving what is familiar) and start being pulled by the potential and excitement of the next thing. And in creating that next thing, even the hard work is exhilarating.
Another person, again a participant of a past Clarity Circle, officially retired from her work recently and is happily transitioning to the next stage of her life with curiosity and open-minded wonderment.
Another person, who was in a group I ran a couple of years ago, sent me a photo of a lovely home, like something out of Sunset magazine. The house sits peacefully in a quiet field in the dim evening light, with the porch lights lit and the warm glow from inside the house framed by uncovered windows. It's an image of serenity. Back then, things were most difficult and challenging for her -- an ailing parent who suddenly needed greater care and attention, a medical emergency of her child, demanding issues at her workplace, and countless other things that needed attention. Sometimes, we juggle so much that it feels like we lose or could lose our balance.
Often I talk about the “life pie” - the various areas of our lives. When things are not going well or positively in one area, we can still focus on the other areas. It’s the balance of things that make life better in the long run. It helps to know not only how, but even that, we can make our lives better by the actions we take every day. In midst of everything during that difficult time, she had one idea, a dream really, to transform her ailing mothers’ small house to make it a place where they could spend more time together, away from the city. So now, a couple of years later, she’s still at the same job, but the house is finished. She’s accomplished something she can be proud of and that which brings value to her, her mother, and her family. (If your internal critic is saying, “yes, but…” you can set that aside because it doesn’t help your life.)
There are countless stories about people who are making positive personal changes, trying new things, and doing things that are important to themselves and for their families, communities, and/or to society.
The longer I spend on this planet, I realize that our time here is precious, that our lives matter, and our being awake to our own lives and our conscious intentions matter. And most of all, our actions matter, our everyday hard work and our kindness to and for others matter.
No one ever said it is easy, but it’s doable - and when we live consciously and intentionally, the outcomes can be quite rewarding. We don’t set out to be extraordinary, but when you infuse personal meaning to your actions, you might just find you are - extraordinary - simply by being uniquely you.
In his new book, The Code of the Extraordinary, Vishen Lakhiani, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, shares his worldview on how to create extraordinary lives, those fueled by personal interest and purpose. He introduces some catchy new words, like “Brules” (“bulls**t rules passed on from generation to generation) and “Culturescape” (how we are shaped by the world around us).
These are great words, new handles for discussions on what keep us back from doing what makes us different and “extraordinary.” Join me at my North Seattle College course if you want to look at life and start taking action, even small steps, toward creating change.
Thoughts for creating success in the second half of life.