It’s often said that nothing is certain in life other than death and taxes. And after paying taxes, all that is left are two kinds of change. The change we carry in our purse and the unstoppable transformation of everything we experience. As change occurs at a dizzying pace, we cling to straws in the hope of finding stability. But it is nowhere to be found. As soon as we find a small area of firm ground, it begins to crumble beneath our feet.
Nothing in life is certain other than this: everything we are experiencing will change. We ourselves are changing. It is only when we resist change that we find it a problem. Why do we behave like a gyroscope, trying to keep our equilibrium? Why do we try to hold on to the status quo? Why do we have to be dragged kicking and screaming before we adopt change? If an infant had a choice, would it volunteer to be born? After all, it’s nice and comfy in the womb, so why go through the stress and discomfort of being born? Why face the uncertainty of life?
After a struggle, we learn to adapt to our circumstances. And once we do, we are comfortable. Our comfort zone is like a womb that we resist leaving. But it is only by mustering the courage to break free that we can experience life. For life IS change. As the Chinese sage Lao-Tzu taught, “Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them — that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.” To which Alan Watts adds, “The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.”
“Change has a considerable psychological impact on the human mind. To the fearful it is threatening because it means that things may get worse. To the hopeful it is encouraging because things may get better. To the confident it is inspiring because the challenge exists to make things better.” (King Whitney, Jr., President of the Personnel Laboratory, Inc., Stamford, Connecticut.) It should be clear, then, the first thing we need to change is our attitude. We need to learn how to welcome change, for when we embrace it, we embrace life.
Life itself is synonymous with change. For example, during a seven-year period, every molecule in our body is replaced. Change is the power of the universe. Doesn’t energy change to matter and matter to energy? The history of the universe and life is the history of change. We won’t be through changing until we’re through. To exist is to change; to change is to grow, and to grow is to endlessly unfold our potential. Change is not a threat, but an opportunity for growth. How can we become what we are capable of becoming if we remain unchanged? Isn’t it clear that change is necessary? Change is also how we experience life. It is only the dead who don’t experience change. (Come to think of it, even the dead may, for aren’t all the dead composers now decomposing?)
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 in 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.
Entering the Road to Change
Unhappiness is a sign we need to change. And the constant companion of change is choice. You see, we can’t change until we choose to do so. Life is an endless stream of choices. Our primary choice is to accept things as they are or to accept the responsibility for changing them. Often, it’s a choice between freedom and enslavement, a choice between living our dream or having a nightmare. If we’re unsatisfied with the conditions we find ourselves in, how do we change them? We do so by changing ourselves.
Let’s say I’m unhappy with my present income, if that’s the case, instead of complaining about my boss and company in the hope that they will change, I need to change myself. I need to make myself more valuable, worthy of a greater income. Maybe I need to go to night school and study the new technology, or how to become more productive, or how to become part of the solution for my boss’ problems. We all want to increase our earnings, but too often we forget we have to earn the earnings we desire. We want the prize without the work.
Now we have come to one of the main reasons why some people are not experiencing the life of their dreams. They want the gain without the pain or strain. They want to eliminate their debt, but without the sweat. They refuse to accept a basic law of life: there is a price to pay for anything worthwhile. The price comes in the form of effort, struggle, and sacrifice. The greater the prize, the greater the required effort. But the prize is always worth the struggle. Those who make the effort to follow their dream, whatever it is, never regret it. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of those unwilling to make the necessary effort.
Perhaps even worse than doing nothing is searching for a magic bullet, quick fix, or miracle cure. Take the case of Harry, for instance. He has emotional problems that have put is life on hold. His counsellor has told him he needs to change his way of thinking.
“Just seeing me, Harry, isn’t enough. You need to change your patterns of thought. Here, take this Cognitive Therapy workbook and do the exercises daily. Spend between 30 minutes and an hour on the workbook every day. If you do so, within three weeks you’ll begin to feel better. After three months, you’ll be well on the road to a bright new life. But the only person who can help you is yourself. You’ve got to make a commitment and be willing to make the small effort that is necessary for success.”
The trouble is, rather than making an effort, Harry makes excuses. When we speak to him he says, “I feel miserable and want my life to change.” Notice that he didn’t say, “I want to change my life.” After all, for that to happen he would have to make an effort. None of that for him. He prefers to remain passive and dream of someone or something fixing his problems for him. He’s on a quest for the magic bullet. Ironically, he does make an effort. But the effort he makes is to avoid doing the exercises in his workbook.
Harry spends time, energy, and money on his search for a ‘miracle cure.’ He goes from seminar to seminar, from one herbal remedy to another, from one New Age ‘healer’ to another, from one religious cult to another.
Harry not only hasn’t gotten better, but like many of us, has forgotten how quickly time flies. It’s too early to say how long Harry will steadfastly pursue his futile search for an effortless cure. But others have been doing so for years. What a waste of time, energy, and money! Meanwhile, the counsellor’s words continue to be ignored by Harry, and he irrationally refuses to improve his life. Yet, the tasks that his counsellor has given him require far less effort than the fruitless activity he is engaged in. Let’s hope we learn from his example and come to understand that there are no shortcuts on the path to success and happiness. Don’t complain about being in a rut if you’re not willing to make the effort to crawl out.
Another cause for people failing to follow their dreams is their fear of giving up the known for the unknown. We are inclined to avoid taking risks. For example, when I was a university student in Japan, I supported myself by teaching English as a second language. Later, I started doing some translations on the side to earn extra income. However, going to the university, teaching, translating, and studying was stretching things too far. I couldn’t do everything, so I had to decide whether to continue teaching or quit it and build a translation business. I announced my decision to my wife. I was going to quit teaching and use the time to start a new business.
Her mouth dropped. She was in a panic. I can understand how she felt because besides ourselves, we had two small children to worry about. If I were to make the change, there were costs involved. I would have to give up the security of a high paying job with a fixed income, not to mention the comfort of an enjoyable job. But the lure of a new adventure was too much to resist. I was determined. Though fearful, my wife supported my decision, so I leapt into the unknown. A year later, I was still leaping, but this time leaping for joy.
Little did we realize I would multiply my income fivefold. And I would do this while cutting the number of hours I worked by half. So, my hourly income grew by 10X. Because I was willing to give up security and comfort, I gained far more of the same. I multiplied the very things I risked losing. Yes, there was a price to pay to make the change, but there would have been a greater price to pay if I had not made the change.
Refusing to risk what we have is a risk in itself. It is risking the loss of an opportunity to have much more. And I’m not just referring to income. The same is true for happiness, peace of mind, and freedom. We gain more by risking the little we already have. Harry, whom we spoke about earlier, wants to be comfortable, so he avoids making the effort to change. Little does he realize that if he were willing to sacrifice that small amount of comfort he clenches so tightly, he would gain much, much more. Let’s avoid his mistakes. Our dreams are worth fighting for. Let the struggles begin!
How ARE you? The next time someone asks, you may want to reply, “Better than yesterday, but worse than tomorrow!” Did you get it? That simply means that every day is better than the previous one. That’s the way we should live. Rather than growing older with each passing day, we should grow better. And we grow better by becoming MORE, by realizing MORE of our potential each day. But how do we do that?
Begin by FEELING your potential. See how the soft grass pushes itself through the cracks in the concrete, stretching its blades to embrace the sun. See how the migrating monarch butterfly flies 1,800 miles, from Ontario to Mexico, without a map or compass. See how the giant sequoia tree draws water from beneath the soil, raising it 200 feet or more to nourish each of its countless leaves. Imagine the power that resides in every organism that makes such incredible feats possible. That power is the life force and it is throbbing within you. We can also call it your potential. It is eager to express itself. It wants you to stretch out and embrace life; it wants you to soar and travel to the distant destinations known as your dreams; it wants you to tap into the unlimited power of the universe to nurture your every hope. FEEL your potential. Draw it into every fiber of your being. Let it inspire you to take action. Now, begin.
Begin what? Begin to make a plan. Did you ever wonder why so many slack off and fail to reach their potential? Their ship remains in the harbor simply because they haven’t decided on a destination. How can they set sail for an unknown territory? The first thing we need to do, then, is decide on what we wish to accomplish. The second is to list all the steps we need to take to reach our goal. The third is to build an action plan by indicating the dates we will carry out each step. The fourth is to begin following the steps in our plan. The goal you decide on is your compass. The plan you design is your map. The action you take is the wind in your sails. So, you see, you have the potential and the tools to set sail.
Your compass and map point out what you would LIKE to do. Your actions suggest what you WANT to do. There is often a difference between the two. For example, Connie works in the accounting department and dreams about furthering her career by eventually attending night school and becoming a certified accountant. That’s what she would LIKE to do. The trouble is, after a hectic day at the office, all she WANTS to do is go out with the girls, unwind, and have a good time. If we find ourselves in a position like Connie, we have to ask ourselves, “Who’s in control here? Do I want to be led around by whatever feels good or do I want to take charge of my life and map out my future?”
Sometimes it’s helpful to remember that anything worthwhile is difficult to attain. Life is a struggle, but it’s a rewarding struggle. We soon learn that the more we put into life the more we will get out. Success doesn’t come without a fight, but the sweetness of victory makes the effort worthwhile. It is also helpful to remain focused on our goals and ever mindful of our potential. When you pick up an acorn in the park, it is easy to forget you are holding a tree. When you look in the mirror, don’t see an acorn; see a tree. Be ever mindful of your potential and let it energize you.
Is it worth the risk we have to take to follow our dream? Theodore Roosevelt believed so: “Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.” Nobody wants to die, but how many of us want to live? George H. Allen explains: “Only winners are truly alive. Winning is living. Every time you win, you’re reborn. When you lose, you die a little.” And when do we win? When we follow our dream. When do we lose? When we drift through life without a compass and map!
After a rough start, Mary Groda-Lewis created her compass and map. As a youngster she couldn’t read because of dyslexia, which was misdiagnosed. The frustration she experienced led to behavioral problems. Instead of receiving sympathy, she received a sentence to a reformatory. But it was there she learned to read by studying as long as sixteen hours a day. At eighteen, she passed her high school equivalency exam and was named Oregon’s outstanding Upward Bound student. Not long after being released she became a single mother. First surviving on welfare, then on any odd job she could find. After many sacrifices, she enrolled in college. Encouraged by her success, she then decided to become a doctor. After receiving fifteen rejections from medical schools, she was finally accepted by Albany Medical College.
She graduated with honors in 1984 at age 35 and set up a practice devoted to helping the poor and needy, providing more than a $100,000 worth of free health care each year. In 1986, her heroic story was made into a TV movie called, “Love, Mary.” Her story also appears in the book series, “Chicken Soup for the Soul.” She closed her practice on April 28, 2000 among the tears and warm embraces of her patients and colleagues. Yes, she couldn’t read, was sent to a reformatory, became a single parent, and lived on welfare, but all along Mary knew she wasn’t an acorn, but a tree. So, armed with her compass and map, she reached her dream and made a difference in the lives of all those she touched. Can’t we do the same?
Recently I read about a homeless man that froze to death in the winter. When the body was taken to the mortuary, $100,000 was discovered in the lining of his trench coat. He can be excused for ignoring his potential and hidden treasure, for he was mentally ill. But what about us who have sound minds? How can we ignore the treasure hidden in the lining of our soul? To ignore our potential is to ignore life. I’ll rest my case by calling on two enlightened poets to testify:
“To be what we are and to become what we are capable of becoming, is the only end of life.” (Robert Louis Stevenson)
“I had an almost intolerable awareness that every morning began with infinite promise. Any book may be read, any idea thought, any action taken. Anything that has ever been possible to human beings is possible to most of us every time the clock says six in the morning. On a day no different from the one now breaking, Shakespeare sat down to begin Hamlet.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
By Marilee Adams Ph.D.
By Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler
Mind Hacking: How to Change Your Mind for Good in 21 Days by Sir John Hargrave
One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way by Robert Maurer Ph.D.
By David Richo
Robert Greene: The key to transforming yourself
James Tripp: The Essence of Personal Change
Al Switzler: Change anything! Use skillpower over willpower