The challenge of change
Try it by the micro-dose
A lot of life is luck.
The world you were born into wasn’t a choice you made and you couldn’t do anything about it for a long time. Rich or poor, silver spoons or nothing to eat, the good life, or just getting by, kids aren’t able to direct their lives - and by the time we do have some agency, we’re either running away from where or how we began, or doing what is expected of us. Sometimes we think we have run away, only to find ourselves copying out a life we said we didn't want. Sometimes, we realise that what we were born into is the best thing for us - we carry it on, we raise our kids in the same way. We value the continuity of experience. Even though the world is bumpy and tough, we feel connected to the life we have. It’s enough.
If that’s you, that’s great. Carl Jung used to say to his patients that if fate doesn’t come knocking on the door - don’t open the door. Live your life, be a good citizen, do your bit, and don’t look for trouble where there is none. Be satisfied with what you have. That’s difficult to hear in a world that makes money by making you dissatisfied. Capitalism wants you to want what you don’t want - and then go out and pay for it. That might mean clothes you won’t wear, a holiday that busts the finances, and yes, therapy you don’t need. Not everyone needs therapy!
Maybe you are doing fine, but feel you should feel something is missing? That could be the start of a long journey for your Soul’s sake. Or it could be the mischief that happens every second on social media and in the advertising industry. Discontented, unsettled, anxious people are easy to manipulate.
I know that being content with what you have has been used to keep folks in their place for centuries. Know your place. Don’t get above your station. The rich man in his castle the poor man at his gate. Social injustice needs to be fought now and always. No-one should be content with poor pay, crap housing, police bullying, closed doors, poor education. We fight to make the world a fairer place. What I am talking about is more subtle:
Do you want change? Do you need change? Or are you being manipulated into a restless unhappiness?
We have all heard so many stories - perhaps been the story - where someone leaves a decent dull relationship only to find themselves in a worse place. If a relationship is dull, sure, it may be worn-out and change is essential.
But what if both of you have just got boring? What if each of you wants the other to provide what is missing? Is the boredom really a prompt to look inside, not outside?
I have made a lot of changes in my life. Change is good. Change is brave. Change breaks bad habits and toxic patterns. The key is to ask the question:
What is this about?
You really do deserve a long conversation with yourself - and others - your friends or family, about what’s beating you down or making you disappointed, restless, lost. First and foremost is to clarify whether this is a fake situation. Are you being manipulated by impossible desires? Is what you want realistic for you? If you got what you want, what difference would it make? If you don’t know what you want, but you don’t like what you’ve got - well, what’s going on there?
Dig deeper. Step back. Pause. Take a day off. If you can’t afford that, take an hour off. More than one, when you can. That in itself helps you to feel less helpless. Give your restlessness proper attention. Give your sadness some time. Don’t run away from it - but don’t let it run your life, either. When you know, really know, what’s at the core of your discontent, then you can make a move.
There’s a lot of self-harm out there in the world right now. Not only the cutting, the drinking, the drugs, the cheap sex, the compulsive spending, the Likes… there’s the bad decisions made because it feels like you’re finally doing something about your unsatisfactory situation. Someone I know recently packed in their job, losing their home that went with the job in the process, and she felt great for a few weeks. She had stuck it to her employer. She was free. Now, she’s in a crummy bungalow with high rent and no job, using her savings in the name of ‘freedom.’ She’d been mentally unstable for a while, but claimed she was fine fine fine. There was nothing any of us could do. Now, I fear things will get worse, not better.
Resist the temptation to jump off the roof of your own life.
Change needs a plan. Yes, sometimes, there’s nothing for it but to walk out the door tonight with what you can carry on your back. Too many women are in that situation. That’s an acute solution to a chronic crisis. We should avoid those acute solutions if we can because the price is high. If that’s the price you must pay, then sure. But is there another way? In all and any situation, whether it’s in your head or in your circumstances, can you step back and make a plan?
Consumer-society depends on us having poor impulse control. We are encouraged to behave like a perpetual toddler in the toy department. You might be spot on about the change you need - and that you need to make it - but if you act impulsively you create more hardship for yourself. Try not to do that if you have any choice. The time you are taking honours the decision you need to make. You are the grown-up in the room.
An old Jewish friend of mine said to me: ‘You go through life with two bags. One is Time and Money. The other bag is the Life and Death Struggle. First of all, which bag is your problem in?’
Now, it could be both - it often is, because the Life and Death Struggle costs money and takes time. What you don’t want to do is make L&D decisions when you’re talking about a T&M problem. That’s why I say, get to the bottom of your heart - or at least a fair way down, and listen to what’s going on.
And is it really a big change you need, or are you weighed down with an endless jam of irritations that make you want to blow the whole thing up? Be careful. Be creative.
Try micro-dosing your change. Bring difference and variety into your life. Don’t keep doing what makes you feel dull, rigid, resentful, whatever. Be creative in the small changes - that, in itself, makes you mindful and aware. You’re not just going through the motions; you’re in motion.
A friend of mine with kids used to stay up late to get some Me Time. It made her tired and snappy in the mornings, and she was having that extra glass of wine too often. Getting the kids to school was a battle every day. One week, when the kids were staying with their father, she reversed her routine and worked on going to bed early, and getting up 90mins before the old alarm-clock time. She found she could drink coffee in silence for a half hour - a kind of freshly brewed meditation - and then get on, clear-headed, with an hour’s life-admin, so that when the alarm went off, she jumped in the shower while the kids were waking up, and emerged, happy to see them, prepared for the day, and calm.
It wouldn’t work for everyone, but it worked for her and it’s an example of a creative solution to a chronic problem that was messing with the whole family.
It’s a micro-dose of change.