“Change happens when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change.”
I don’t know if Tony Robbins actually originated that mantra, or it has simply been attributed to him, but I’m not convinced it’s right.
It’s certainly not that simple.
If it were true, we would not have people asking for a cigaret lighter in the lung cancer ward. Or people texting while driving. Or, in the business metaphor, managers walking around with their hammer in search of nails to pound.
Change that involves a new strategy or a re-directed investment or a better process is comparatively tame stuff. The tough slog is the change in behaviors, because what underlies behavior is habit, and habit is rooted in belief. To give up or change beliefs is kicking over our psychic trashcan.
What I have seen more as a working model for change is this:
The probability of change increases when…
…we match a profound dissatisfaction toward the status quo with…
…a clear vision of the future, combined with…
…small, incremental steps that give us a sense of hope and momentum.
Why is it about this formula that is different?
Note I said the probability increases. It is not a certainty. Us humans are a wonderful, bewildering, complicated creation. And often unpredictable.
We have to be profoundly unhappy with where we are in this change journey. Not somebody telling us we need to change; we have to tell ourselves. Not making excuses to put up with it (or us), not maybe-I-could-be-better, but that knot in your gut, burning platform, I’m-not-going-to-stay-here kind of restlessness. Anything less and you will always have a safe harbor awaiting you when the change gets hard.
A clear vision of the future is key to moving from need-to-change to want-to-change. You cannot expect people to let go of what they know unless they have some notion that its replacement is far better. This vision is more than some job or station in life. Vision is all about purpose. When we do the hard lifting to discover and articulate our purpose, we start to understand what it means to live a life of significance. And most of us want significance.
The small, incremental steps feed our spirit for accomplishment and reward, but they also make the whole process less daunting. Too often, we go big on change and become overwhelmed. We are impatient with exercises that seem beneath our earlier capability. It’s worth reminding ourselves that we did not get capable in a day. Nor can we expect new habits to take hold overnight.
As long as I am framing this discussion with quotes, I share one from Henry David Thoreau that offers both hope and some sobering truth about this:
“Things do not change; we change.”
When we identify the problem, we are closer to the solution.