04 March, 2011

Making personal changes work

Change, one of my favourite words. Change stands for a challenge, a chance to turn something into a better version. A chance to make the transition to 2.0. Of course, change is also something that disturbs the pattern. So it's okay to be a bit nervous about it. After a change, you can't keep doing things the same way - that's the definition of change. On the other hand, changes make life more interesting and in that way contribute to our happiness.

The opportunities for changes in life are relatively easy to detect, and not only because the multitude of flaws in personal action patterns. With an honest outlook on one's behavior, it shouldn't be too hard. Personally I rather often feel a twinge about something that I do, and I know that it could be much better. I can do it. Yes I can. I just need to make a bit of effort.

Well, often that's exactly how far I get, and no further.

Too often, the actual change never happens, despite my strong disposition that it has to change. Thoughts never transfer into actions. Frankly, that bugs me a lot. It seems like a pretty stupid thing to do: deciding that you want to change and then not making it happen. Why is that? More importantly, how to make it work? How to change the changing?

I used to be very confident about my strength of willpower. I used to think that I just need to decide for a change and it'll happen. True enough, sometimes it does, but mostly not. Mostly, I get stuck between the action and decision phase, not because the change is so complex, so difficult or so frightening, but because I just don't make it happen. It's like there would be something wrong between the neurons transferring the information from the decision-making centre to the "let's do this" branch of my brain. What's even more stupid: I know the change is supposed to be happening, but it's not. And I know it's my fault - who else could I blame for failing to change? So, in the end I feel sad for disregarding my own instructions and not changing, making the situation worse, not better! Not very smart.

Fortunately, I've discovered a way to reroute this blockade in my mind. One trick I've learned over time is to not try abstract leaps.The change needs to be tied to something concrete. The change needs to happen with some concrete thing. Sometimes I've focused my idea of the change and focused it on an object, so that whenever I see that object I immediately think of the change I want to achieve. Quite naturally, this works best with an object you perceive positively and somehow associate with the change. For example, as I was trying to increase my levels of writing and reading, I focused it on my coffee mug. Now whenever I see the coffee mug, I go "well, I should probably read or write something now". And lo and behold, during the last months I've been reading and writing more than ever - and my instant coffee jar has emptied, twice!

Another trick is to change in parts. If the upcoming change looms too large, divide it to subprojects. This is a piece of advice told to me several times at organizational development lectures, but only now have I learned to apply it to myself. As an example I can tell about a research project that I'm doing. The goal is to a) get to know the business ethics field, b) see if there's a connection between the position in organizational hierarchy and ethical decision making. This project will last for a good 6 months, so I divided it into subprojects. So far, I'm mostly in schedule, meaning about halfway through. Will sure be interesting how the end part goes.

An exchange year has been a good way to make changes and take chances, exactly as I had hoped. I'd recommend it as a way to escape the current environment if big changes are what you want. Go abroad and discover yourself in a new way. Discover yourself in a new way - that could be a motto for most personal changes. Or at least it should be.

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