I’ve been thinking a lot about how change happens recently. This is in part due to Charles Duhigg’s book The Power of Habit and Dan Pink’s Drive, but mostly because I’m inspired by the profound change that occurs when coaching clients are willing to make one small (yet often scary) shift at a time in their lives, which collectively accumulate until at some point these shifts have amassed enough weight to tip the balance of habit in a positive – and permanent – new direction.
As new habit momentum picks up, those new directions are often unexpected. A corporate client reports offhandedly during a leadership development coaching session that, by the way, they’ve lost 30 pounds, have started eating healthily, working out, and are sleeping great – things we haven’t even directly addressed in our work together. Or a client mentions during a weight loss-focused series that they just had the first conversation ever with their mother in which they were able to say no without feeling guilty. Or a client notices that as they focus on what they really want to do professionally, they’re feeling more confident and suddenly enjoying dating more.
No change happens without affecting the whole. So once we accumulate a proverbial snowball of healthy habit momentum, positive change builds upon each positive choice and action, and the snowball grows, picking up additional healthy changes in all areas of our lives.
But we can’t always perceive how things are changing as they’re changing. It’s, as a friend of mine says, like going on vacation and only realizing how tan you’ve gotten once you’re back home in your usual surroundings. Sometimes we can’t see just how much we’ve grown until we have that growth reflected back to us. Like we spend some time around a relative who used to trigger our less-than-lovely side, and realize that this time, we weren’t so reactive.
And sometimes we just wake up one day and have some new awareness that things have, in fact, changed. I’ve been reminded of this as a hamstring injury has been healing over the past four months. One day it felt like after months still nothing was changing at all, and the next day, what do you know, I didn’t notice those same contracted twinges on a walk.
Whatever form change takes, one thing is for sure: If we give up before positive new habits have had a chance to take root, we’ll never get to reap the rewards of our efforts, and our old behaviors will remain our defaults.
Changing the way we do things – especially things we’ve been doing the same way for most of our lives – takes energy at first. We have to stay hyper-vigilant about replacing our old habit routines with new ones; we have to be willing to practice this new routine again and again; and we have to trust that this effort will be worth it. We need faith, patience, and, above all, a commitment to do whatever it takes to change.
We may not see the effects of our efforts immediately. But if we stay awake and trust the process, we realize (at some usually undefined moment) that we’re suddenly pretty darn tan.
This is where the Spanish phrase “Poco a poco” comes to mind: Little by little. If we thoughtfully lay just one brick at a time, even if we lay just one brick a day, we’ll eventually build a wall…and then maybe even a house, and who knows what else.
So let your imagination run wild with what you’d like your new “house” to look like. But remember that in this moment, your only real task is to lay this ONE brick with attention and intention. Once the one in your hands is appropriately placed, you’ll have the foundation upon which to lay all the others.
So if there’s a change you’ve been wanting to make but haven’t known where to start, what’s the “one brick” you can lay with intention right now? Start there. And just think how great that tan’s gonna look on you!
In Love and Support,