When to change, why to change, and who the only person is you actually can change.
Episode II: Why planning for change is important, even if it isn’t right for the moment.
There’s a simple but incredibly efficient pattern we find ourselves repeating into seeming perpetuity:
- See Opportunity
- Get Excited
- Realize Success isn’t 100% Guaranteed
- Decide To Maintain Status Quo
- Regret + Ice Cream
The scariest part to me having just typed those out is that step 5 is even more a joke than I’d like to admit, and not in any sort of good way.
The truth is my feelings of regret and disappointment at having missed good opportunities has lessened over time; it’s sort of a cynic’s law of diminishing returns – becoming more and more jaded about the prospect of ever actually taking a risk and making a significant change in our lives.
Instead of “Regret + Ice Cream” it mostly looks for me like “Shrug my shoulders and invite in that defeated feeling because at this point I’m used to it and it won’t interrupt my day in any significant way.”
Failure doesn’t feel like “Dammit!” anymore. It feels like “Oh, this again.”
Regret is too strong for those of us that have this much practice at not putting ourselves out there. It’s more just melancholy that we feel.
(This post is gonna become progressively less of a downer. Promise.)
It’s important to address the elephant in the room though – those of us who struggle with change only increase that struggle by never getting any practice at it and continually putting up walls against any sort of change which could come at us. We operate with a well-developed habit of avoiding risk and not rocking the boat. We’re freaking stellar at it.
We need a new habit.
Depending on who you ask, or which HuffPost article you’ve never read but are vaguely referencing, it takes a minimum of 24 to 50 repetitions, or anywhere from 21 up to 66 days straight, for an action to become a habit.
Truth be told there’s so much variability in the data and context for which we discuss habit-forming that any number I throw out there would be verifiably wrong according to some study. It can be as simple as this: crystal meth can take people under in one sitting because of the highly potent chemical makeup and resultant neurological dependency, but making flossing a habit may be an impossible task for some of us because seriously why are my gums still bleeding? Both are habits, but the context is entirely different.
Here’s the point though:
Habit-breaking and habit-forming are hard. Very hard. But we’ve done harder.
This is a post about change and in it I’ve led off with building up habit-forming, which at the same time makes no sense and makes perfect sense.
We need to catalyze some change so that we can break our habit of complacency and maintenance of the status quo.
Once we do that then we need to form a new habit of looking for opportunities for adjustment and manipulation to steadily and methodically better ourselves.
We need constantly improving the status quo to be our new status quo.
This is where the headline comes along to help out. Change is hard. Change without a plan is dangerous. Planning for change is slightly less hard, and as eluded to is significantly less dangerous.
If we’re going to get better at embracing, seeking out, or even catalyzing change ourselves (gasp), a great place to start building the muscles which will support that is in planning for the change we’re looking for.
I recently started a blog where I ramble nonsensically about things I have learned, am learning, and want to learn about getting the most out of and giving the most back to my career and, in turn, my life as a whole. The decision to do that was not made in a single second.
I went back and forth for years (with a ‘b’) on whether or not I should just stay the course in the engineering profession I’d chosen out of a hat late in high school. It was steady, secure, doable, but completely misaligned to my natural skills, talents, and values.
I’ve gone through that story before so I’ll spare you much of the detail, but it’s safe to say my status quo was serviceable but pretty shitty. I wanted a way out, but by no financial or physical means did I need one. I spent a lot of time complaining about my job and doing very little about it.
The decision to start Ethea Lab was preceded by a thousand decisions which made it possible. One of those was signing up for an online-business course. [An online course about online businesses. ‘Zero to Launch’ from Ramit Sethi and Growth Lab. Big fan. Would recommend.] That course was not cheap. Nor should it have been. The course and associated work took an investment of time and finances that I deliberated with myself and discussed with my wife for a good while before pulling the trigger.
That was a diversion from the status quo. It was relatively low-risk, but it was something. And that something led to more somethings. This plan took many iterations before landing where we’re at now, and I’m certain it will take on a few iterations further before it’s something which is both fulfilling for myself (and Taylor) as well as beneficial for you as a consumer of the product.
I’m now in a half-decent habit of taking risks. I recently changed jobs (in addition to starting Ethea Lab. Post coming about that.) to something I’m not technically trained for (though I’m naturally pretty damn good at it and enjoy infinitely more than design), I negotiated my work contract with more substantial asks than I’d typically be comfortable proposing, and on the personal side I’ve developed a penchant for reaching out to local business professionals to meet for coffee, etc. for conversations and wisdom downloads. Nothing too crazy, but all carry a touch of risk and that’s enough to keep the habit building.
Here’s what I’m not doing though: I’m not taking my paychecks to a casino and putting them all on black. I’m not dressing like Spiderman and jumping from rooftop to rooftop. I’m not doing stupid things and taking risks just for the sake of taking risks.
Here’s also not what I’m doing: I’m not getting an idea, falling head over heels in love with it, and going all out for it even when early returns show that it may, in fact, be a really bad idea.
Simply put: Don’t do stupid things just because they’re also difficult.
Perseverance for the sake of not being called a “quitter” is all well and good right up to the point where you’ve 100% fully and thoroughly completed a project that is at its very core pointless and dumb.
Alright. So far we have:
- The status quo sucks.
- Unless you build a new and productive status quo, then the status quo doesn’t suck so much.
- Building habits is the way to become more change-adept.
- Unless the habit you’re building is just digging yourself into rigidity and immobility. Building those habits makes you more change-averse.
- You should be more open to change, and should seek out opportunities to practice changing.
- Unless those opportunities are total crap. Then you need to stand your ground and not fall into their grip.
So what’s the actual takeaway? Here it is:
Plan. Act. Assess. Adjust.
Plan. There’s no doubt that we need to work on being more open to change. We should find opportunities to practice change, but even though we don’t need to look for perfect opportunities we should certainly put enough planning in to know that we’re not jumping into something completely asinine. Put a little thought into what you should do next.
Act. We need to build the muscle that helps us take the leap. How many good ideas have we had that we were still too scared to follow through with? If you’re anything like me then it’s countless.
Assess. Pay attention. I’ve had a lot of “great” ideas that turned out to be pretty terrible once I got a few steps into them, and my pride has a way of keeping me moving along the original path for way to long in the name of perseverance and grit. Perseverance and grit are pretty stupid excuses for beating your head against a wall trying to get something to work which you’ve already figured out won’t work. Pay some attention, have some awareness, and be prepared to admit when an idea just wasn’t what you thought it was when you were in planning.
Adjust. Even the best ideas I’ve had haven’t been planned out 100% perfectly. At best I’ve needed to make small changes throughout the process as I’ve learned more through acting and paying attention to what the actual process and execution of the plan is like. At worst I’ve hit a wall and realized the plan needs to be scrapped altogether. Whether adjustments are minor or major, we need to be tuned into what needs to be done to optimize the system or shut it down and start planning the next big (or little) change.
Get to Work: Action Items
(More like a mini-manifesto this time but we’ll roll with it)
Plan for change. Planning is where you’ll find if a change is viable, where your instincts will tell you whether it’s necessary and beneficial, and where you’ll build the confidence to take the leap.
Consistent small and well-planned change (with some big ones sprinkled in there) looks a whole lot like growth. You’re a smart cookie. You’ll know when your ideas are good, when they can use some refinement, and when it’s time to burn it down and start on something new.
This post isn’t to get you to just go turn every routine you have upside down for the sake of revision. Some of your current routines are incredibly well-developed and hugely beneficial, and those you should hold on to and teach me how to do. What I’m encouraging you to do is take an honest look at the habits and routines you have and assess which ones are the good ones and which ones are bad. Grow in confidence in your good habits and lean into them when you can, and start making plans for how to adjust your bad habits to turn them into good habits.
Those are your action items. Assess your self and your habits. Start thinking of small changes you can make, new habits you can form, or places where you know you aren’t satisfied with the status quo and need to make a plan to break out of it. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but it took real workers real days to build it. Start building.