Some say life is a struggle. If it is, every problem we face leads us to one of two choices. Either we choose to be victorious or we choose to be a victim. Either we choose to be responsible for the life we create or we shirk our responsibility by blaming others for our failures and unhappiness.
Those who choose to be victorious don’t find life to be a struggle. They find it to be exhilarating. They don’t encounter problems; they merely face things they wish to change. When they find something blocking their way, they look for a way to get around it or to overcome it. In a word, they look for, and find, solutions. On the other hand, those who choose to be victims are experts at looking for excuses. They almost delight in finding others to blame for their self-inflicted misery. Let’s take a look at two real-life examples.
Carl is in his fifties and claims he wishes to recover from a long string of failures. To this end, he enrolled in a college course to update his skills. One day, when the instructor was writing on the blackboard, he shouted from the back of the room, “Write larger! I can’t read what you’re writing.”
Carl was miffed when the instructor ignored his pleas. A few weeks later, he complained to his classmates, “I’m afraid I’ll have to drop out of this course. I have bad eyes and our teacher writes too small. How can I take notes and learn the material? Our instructor doesn’t seem to care about my ‘disability’.”
“Why don’t you come to class early so you can get a seat in the front of the room?” suggested a classmate. “Because the bus in my area runs only once an hour. If I took the earlier bus, I would arrive much too early.” replied Carl. “Get a pair of glasses.” another classmate advised. “I have a pair,” said Carl, “but they are not very helpful.” Exasperated, another classmate asked, “Well then, why don’t you get a pair of opera glasses?” Carl had an answer to that too: “I can’t afford opera glasses. I can barely afford to pay the bus fare to get here.”
Carl had an answer for every question. Although he could never find solutions for whatever was troubling him, he was proficient in finding excuses for his inaction. He was convinced he had a certain ‘disability’ that warranted special treatment. The world should conform to his ‘special needs,’ he reasoned.
Kyle Maynard is an entirely different breed. Born with stumps in the place of arms and legs, he believed it was his responsibility to adapt to the world rather than demanding the world change for him. The challenges that Kyle has to face make Carl’s pleas for special treatment embarrassing at best and laughable at worse.
Despite the enormous obstacles facing Kyle, his lack of arms and legs did not prevent him from learning how to write and type. Neither did it prevent him from becoming a defensive lineman on a football team, a university student, and the top wrestler in the state of Georgia. Though still a university student, you can add to his list of accomplishments author, world traveler, and motivational speaker.
“No Excuses“ is the title of Kyle’s book, and it points out the difference between him and Carl. Kyle realizes that making excuses holds us back while assuming responsibility moves us forward. He understands that responsibility is empowering, and the more of it we take on, the more we will be, do, and have what we want.
Problems, difficulties, challenges, or whatever we choose to call them, shouldn’t stop our progress. Rather, they should cause us to ask the following four questions:
1. What do I want from life now?
2. What is preventing me from getting what I want?
3. What am I going to do about it?
4. When am I going to begin doing what needs to be done?
The answer to the first question introduces purpose, direction, and meaning to our lives, for when we know what we want to be, do, and have, we have goals to achieve, mountains to climb, and a reason for being.
The answer to the second question is the first step in finding a solution. After all, we cannot solve a problem until we admit that we have one.
The answer to the third question comes in the form of steps we can take to defeat our difficulty. It is a road map, an action plan that, as long as we follow it, will take us where we wish to go.
The answer to the fourth question awakens us to the fact that merely knowing how to get what we want is not enough, for unless we take action, the best laid plans describe what could be rather than what will be.
Those who choose to be victims can usually answer the first and second questions because most of the time even they know what they want and what’s stopping them. However, they blind themselves to the truth when it comes to the third question. For instead of looking for solutions, they doggedly search for excuses. They blame anything or anyone else for their problems. They refuse to get involved in finding a solution because they are, after all, victims. Their answer to the question, “What am I going to do about it?” is “I am going to do nothing. I’m going to stay put. Even though I’m unhappy where I am, I’m not going to change. I prefer to have the world change, and I refuse to do anything until it does.”
If there is something in your life that you wish to change, but are finding it difficult to do so, you may find it helpful to understand the five steps of change.
The first step of making a change, is ambivalence. That is, we will both want to and not want to change at the same time. That is perfectly natural. You see, although we want to improve our lives, we don’t want to experience the immediate, though temporary, discomfort that usually accompanies making a change.
You begin the second step of change when you answer the third question (What am I going to do about it?). For the second step of change is one of preparation. In this stage you make a plan of the steps you need to take to get to where you want to go.
The third step is implementation. That is, you carry out your plan by taking the necessary steps. This is the most difficult step because of the resistance we will experience when trying to make a change. This is the point where many people fail. To increase your chances of success, carefully consider what we learn by taking action:
a) Since we cannot think of two things at the same time, once we immerse ourselves in a task, that’s all we can think about. All thoughts about whether it is pleasant or not fade from our consciousness. And as we get involved in the task, it grows increasingly interesting. So, the ‘pain’ associated with doing something we don’t want to do is short-lived.
b) We discover that the task was not as hard nor did it take as long to do as we had imagined. Remembering this will make it easier to start the next task.
c) We learn that we have the power to do what we don’t feel like doing. Understanding this unleashes the power of our potential, for the key to success is self-discipline.
d) After finishing an important task that we didn’t feel like doing, there is a feeling of exhilaration. We feel proud of our accomplishment and are delighted to learn we have the self-leadership to take charge of our life. Therefore, what we thought would be painful turns out to be highly pleasurable.
e) What’s more, as we experience this truth, we come to embrace discomfort because of the pleasure and power conquering it will bring. And as we experience victory after victory, we will grow in confidence, feel exuberant, and know what it truly means to be free.
f) To avoid missing out on success, we mustn’t be tricked into running from responsibility to indulge in some fleeting pleasure. After all, if we were to do so, we would find the ‘pleasure’ (such as watching TV) is pleasure in name only. For as we waste valuable time, we will be racked with guilt, greatly diminishing our ‘pleasure.’ And whatever momentary pleasure we were to experience, it would later be followed by stress and regret.
g) When we consider these facts, we will discover that what we usually interpret as pleasure ends up being painful, and what we first interpret as painful, turns out to be pleasurable. The lesson, then, is we have to think before we act, for the price of living irresponsibly and neglecting our duties is loss of happiness. On the other hand, the result of mastering self-discipline and living up to our responsibilities is a life of accomplishments and joy.
The fourth step is broadly called maintenance. You check your progress and make corrections when needed. Reworded, you make sure you stay on course and are headed for your target.
The fifth step or stage of change isn’t experienced by everyone, but it is important to understand. It is the step called relapse. You may suddenly find that, despite your initial progress, you have slipped back to your previous state. Like step one, relapse is a natural event. It is to be expected. Although not everyone experiences it, many people, if not most, do. So when it happens, just pick yourself up, brush yourself off, and say, “I’m not going to get discouraged and give up now! I refuse to choose to be a victim! I choose to be victorious, so I’m getting back to the program of change and regaining control over my life!”
Coping with change
Understand the ebb and flow of life. Flow with the current. Maintain a balanced view. Socrates expressed it well, “Remember, no human condition is ever permanent. Then you will not be overjoyed in good fortune nor too scornful in misfortune.”
Change is great, but we have to pay for it. For example, you may decide to live in a foreign country for a few years. That’s fantastic; you’ll have an exciting adventure. However, the cost of your adventure is separation from home. You will experience the loss of your friends, favorite hangouts, and culture. However, as long as we understand and accept that loss is part of life we will be able to cope with change.
Autumn must give way to winter. We cannot have one without the loss of the other. We cannot hold on to anything, any more than a tree can hold on to its leaves. As long as we savor the moment we will leave behind happy memories. And as long as we make the most of this present moment, we will open ourselves to a promising future.
Perhaps the best way to cope with change is to help create it. That way we control change rather than having it control us. Since we spend a good portion of our lives working, consider your workplace. What can you change for the better? Can you accept all aspects of your job that you cannot change? If not, it may be time for a job change. But before moving on, make sure it is your job and not your attitude that needs to be changed.
Change is invariably linked to stress, so don’t add to it; relieve it. Exercise, eat balanced meals; spend time with friends and family; enjoy hikes in the woods, and curl up with a good book. You are a scientist in the laboratory of life. Experiment with it. Experience the joy of discovery. Those who fear change the most are most unhappy. The courageous cope with change and benefit twice: by the joy of growth and the joy of overcoming fear.
The successful are adaptable, for as Charles Darwin wrote, “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” So, if you can’t change the direction of the wind, change the direction of your sails. Learn to adapt. Grab on to the only thing you can hold on to, change, and let it take you to the future.
Can we change the world? Sure we can! We begin by changing ourselves. Little actions can lead to big results. Take the 2000 Summer Olympics Opening Ceremony, for example. After a little prodding by the International Olympic Committee, North and South Korean athletes entered Sydney’s Stadium Australia holding hands and marching under the banner of a single unity flag. This was the first time they marched together in the Olympics. A simple idea, launched by a few people, resulted in wild cheers of the 110,000 member audience, to say nothing of the cheers shared by the more than one billion (perhaps as much as three billion) TV and Internet viewers. Can we change the world? Sure we can; we begin by becoming the change we wish to see.
How long Does It Take to Change?
The digital world is a hotbed of excitement because computers, digital cameras, cell phones, and other technological marvels improve at a breathtaking pace. But the social sciences (sociology, psychology, economics, politics) seem to move along at a much slower rate. Most psychology books, for example, continue to teach it takes three to four weeks to break a bad habit.
But is that true? Well, it usually is true when we believe it is. That is, our beliefs influence the outcome more than the circumstances do. The point is, then, when we want to change our habits or behavior, we should question the popular belief that it will take time to do so.
Why does it have to take time? Why not change instantly? In fact, we could say all change should take place N.O.W. The letters “N.O.W.” stand for No Other Way. For there is No Other Way to change. After all, if I put off changing, isn’t that procrastination? And isn’t it true the only time I have the power to act is now? Besides, we have the innate ability to change instantly. But little or nothing is said about it. Therefore, we don’t think about or take advantage of it. Let’s consider an example.
You’re walking down a crowded sidewalk, when suddenly someone hits you from behind with such force you are knocked to the ground. You are angry. Very angry. You get up to see what has happened and you see a blind man. Apparently, he stumbled into the hole in the sidewalk that you carefully avoided earlier. As soon as you realize what happened, you anger dissipates. It disappears in an instant! You have instantly changed from an angry person to a calm one.
You can use this principle to instantly change a negative emotion to a positive one. Here’s an example. You go to a restaurant and order a steak. You specifically ask to have the steak well-done, explaining that you can’t eat it if it’s rare. Twenty minutes later, the waiter returns with a covered, sizzling plate and walks away. You uncover the plate and find the steak is rare. You are now angry.
You can choose to remain angry, but that would unwise as it would ruin your meal. Instead, you choose to stop and think about the situation. You ask yourself how do these stupid mistakes happen. As soon as you do, the answer appears. Mistakes happen because we’re dealing with people, and people make mistakes. That’s why pencils have erasers. Making mistakes is part of our nature. We’re imperfect. And since you’re a person, you, too, make mistakes and upset people.
After arriving at this conclusion, your anger is gone. You calmly call the waiter, return the steak, and ask him for one well-done. Also, you spontaneously add, “since I have to wait again, perhaps you can bring me a free cappuccino to pass the time.” The waiter answers, “I’ll be happy to sir; I’ll get you one right away.”
You are proud of the way you responded and look forward to the pleasure of a cappuccino. This turn of events came about only because you changed your mental state. It is only in a state of calmness that your creativity can spring into action and think of “the cappuccino solution.” Instead of ruining your dinner, you improved it! And the restaurant gets a chance to make up for their mistake. It’s a win-win situation. Isn’t the magical power that is at your disposal wonderful? Well, there are other instant-changing techniques that you can use as well. Let’s look at some of them:
1. Life as an Adventure.
Did you ever dream of climbing the Himalaya Mountains, exploring the great Australian Outback, or scuba diving for buried treasure? Wouldn’t it take a grueling effort to do so? Yet, we willingly struggle through great difficulties all for the sake of adventure. As Louis L’Amour wrote, “As I have said elsewhere, and more than once, I believe adventure is nothing but a romantic word for trouble… What people speak of as adventure is something nobody in his right mind would seek out, and it becomes romantic only when one is safely at home.”
Once we recognize that all of life is an adventure and every struggle that is conquered results in exhilaration and joy, how can we not embrace the struggle we are working through? If you are feeling pain instead of joy, you are focusing on the struggle instead of the adventure. Remind yourself that you are an adventurer and join the ranks of Ernest Shackleton, Sir Francis Drake, Christopher Columbus, David Livingstone, Sir Walter Raleigh, Joan of Arc, and others. How long does it take to change your focus from the struggle to the adventure? Just an instant. Learn to change your negative state of mind to a positive one in the blink of an eye!
2. Be Aware of Your Choices.
Life is not supposed to happen to you. You are supposed to happen to it. You happen or create yourself with your choices. So, if you don’t like how you’re feeling, change it; your feelings are of your choosing. Here’s how to quickly end a negative feeling.
a) Ask yourself, “How do I feel?” That is, identify the feeling. For instance, are you angry, envious or jealous?
b) Ask yourself, “How do I want to feel?” Identify the desired feeling.
c) Then ask yourself, “How do I choose to feel?” This is a reminder that your feelings are your choice. True, a negative feeling may spontaneously occur, but after it does, you have the choice of keeping it or changing it.
d) Ask yourself, “How do I feel now?” If the answer is negative, keep repeating steps b) ~ d) until you feel positive.
3. Letting Go.
We don’t have to change negative feelings to positive ones. Another method is just to let them go. Letting them go offers relief, just as removing a burden from your shoulders would. Here are the steps.
a) Ask yourself, “Could I let go of this feeling?”
b) If the answer is yes, ask yourself, “Am I willing to let go of this feeling?”
c) If the answer is yes, ask yourself, “When?”
d) Hopefully, the answer will be NOW. If so, let it go and move on. Repeat the steps several times, if needed.
4. Recognizing the Truth.
This is a powerful variation of technique #2, “Be aware of your choices.”
a) Ask yourself, “How do I feel?” Identify the negative feeling.
b) Ask yourself, “How will I feel in the future?” Recognize that you don’t know. That is, you may feel terrific tomorrow, or in an hour, in a few minutes, or even in a few seconds.
c) Recognition of this fact will provide some relief. Allow yourself to enjoy the relief.
d) As you enjoy the relief, you will start to feel better.
e) As you begin to feel better, acknowledge to yourself, “I am feeling better.” Add, “Now that I am feeling better, I am ready to return to my tasks.” And do so.
5. Change a Complaining Heart to a Grateful One.
The next time you feel like complaining, write down your complaint and then change it into something you are grateful for. Do this often enough and you will develop the skill to always see the positive in every situation. For an example of what I mean, change, “Why do I have to pay so much in taxes?” to “I’m grateful that I pay taxes because it means I have a job.”
You may be wondering if the above techniques also work with entrenched habits. The answer is yes. Take smoking, for example. Considered an addiction, it certainly is a hard habit to break. Yet, hundreds of thousands of men and women around the world quit smoking cold turkey every day. They are living examples of the power we have to break habits and transform ourselves in the blink of an eye. If they can do it, so can you and I. Blink your eyes and change!
Change Anything: The New Science of Personal Success By Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler
Coaching for Transformation: Pathways to Ignite Personal & Social Change By Martha Lasley with Virginia Kellogg, Richard Michaels, and Sharon Brown
Managing Change with Personal Resilience: 21 Keys for Bouncing Back & Staying on Top in Turbulent Organizations by Mark Kelly, Linda Hoopes, and Daryl Conner
At The Speed Of Life: A New Approach To Personal Change Through Body-Centered Therapy By Gay Hendricks and Kathlyn Hendricks
Chuck Gallozzi lived, studied, and worked in Japan for 15 years, immersing himself in the wisdom of the Far East and graduating with B.A. and M.A. degrees in Asian Studies. He is a Certified NLP Practitioner, speaker, seminar leader, and coach. Corporations, church groups, teachers, counselors, and caregivers use his more than 400 articles as a resource to help others. Among his diverse accomplishments, he is also the Grand Prix Winner of a Ricoh International Photo Competition, the Canadian National Champion of a Toastmasters International Humorous Speech Contest, and the Founder and Head of the Positive Thinkers Group that has been meeting at St. Michael’s Hospital, Toronto since 1999. His articles are published in books, newsletters, magazines, and newspapers. He was interviewed on CBC’s “Steven and Chris Show,” appearing nationally on Canadian TV. Chuck can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. View his photography at https://500px.com/chuckgallozzi. This article cannot be re-published without permission.