Tuesday, November 11, 2008

"Just A Little Change..."

Change.

You might have heard about it; it was in all the papers. The new president won on change. The guy he beat ran on it too. They called it a “change” election. One thing they neglected to tell you?

People hate change.

Why did they vote for the “change” candidate? They forgot.

Plus they didn’t want to vote for a Republican.

Plus the new guy’s really cool.

Nobody likes to change. If they did, therapists would be out of business, and Dr. M and I would be on planes, traveling to distant locales. Does that mean the people who claim they want to change actually like things the way they are? No, they hate things the way they are. The thing is, they want things to be different “magically.” They refuse to change their behavior, while hoping to get different – read: better – outcomes. This never happens. Therapy’s in demand. And I don’t get to see Victoria Falls.

Conventional wisdom: “Change is good. Inflexibility is bad.” (Years ago, a therapeutic professional proclaimed, “The only thing I’m inflexible about is my flexibility.” I believe my response at the time was, “Good for you.”)

(Before we proceed further, a tip of the hat to inflexibility’s responsible relative, discipline. I’m a fan of discipline. (We’re not talking leather and chains here.) Discipline allowed me to virtually never miss a deadline in the thirty-plus years I wrote professionally. Discipline sends me to practice the piano without anybody telling me to. Discipline has allowed me to publish five blog postings a week for the past ten months, delivering a greater reliability than energy, mood or inspiration would predict. So there’s that. And never forget it.

That may have come out a little pricklier than I intended it to, but I believe discipline gets a bad rap, coming off Nazily “goose-steppy”, when in reality, it’s an indispensable ingredient in getting things done. And I exhale.)

No question, change of any kind is not easy. A while back, when I damaged my left shoulder, I had to retrain myself – so it wouldn’t hurt – to pull on my left sleeve before I pulled on my right sleeve. If it weren’t for the stabbing pain reminder, that change would have taken forever. It’s been months, and I still sometimes forget.

I think a lot of people’s resistance to change stems from the concern of an alteration so transforming that “I won’t be me anymore.” Setting aside whether that’s a realistic worry, or a bad idea (as well as the question of how much of “me” is all that uniquely me), I’ve discovered that meaningful change doesn’t have to be anywhere near that big. You can change a sliver of your behavior and remain so essentially “you”, you will recognize yourself immediately when you look in the mirror.

Okay, here’s a confession, and I’m aware of its implications. I’ve been eating the same breakfast cereal for thirty years. Spoon-sized shredded wheat. It’s dry, it’s crunchy, it doesn’t get mushy in milk, and it doesn’t contain any sugar. Four essential requirements. All present in spoon-sized shredded wheat.

I’m only human. After twenty-five years, spoon-sized shredded wheat started losing its appeal. I was really getting sick of it. I mean, you know, you come down to breakfast, and there it is. Again. And again. And again.

I couldn’t find a substitute. I was doomed as doomed could be, as Ed Grimley would say, destined to eat the same boring breakfast cereal for the rest of my life. And then, with the help of a visit to this spa I go to in Mexico, I made a discovery that changed my entire breakfast-eating life.

What I discovered was, I didn’t have to change my cereal. I could stick with my spoon-sized shredded wheat, as a base, but supplement it with other things. Dry, crunchy, not mushy in milk, non-sugary things. Such as almonds and sunflower seeds.

And that’s what I started doing.

I felt transformed. Without in any way sacrificing my principles, I had discovered, or, more accurately, invented, a “change” cereal. And the change was virtually nothing.

To paraphrase a classic:

“Just a little change

Small to say the least

Mornings were transformed

And I felt reborn

Beauty and break…feast.”

Another example: (so the concept will sink in.)

My first car. An orange and black Mazda. I’m so excited, I drive it my brother’s law office to show it off. I park beneath his window. I “honk-honk” the horn. I take my foot off the brake, and roll into the car parked in front of me. My front grill is caved in. My headlights are cockeyed. My car had eleven miles on it.

Six years later…

My second car. A burgundy Peugeot diesel. (There was a gas shortage, lines were shorter at the diesel pump, and diesel gas was cheaper.) I drive my new car back to my condo, pull into the driveway, push the button, the electric garage door slides open. I start into the garage, a fellow condo owner walks by, I stop to brag, the electric garage door closes, crashing into my car. The car has two miles on it.

Taking stock: Two new cars, two first day accidents. Both times, I was showing off.

Four years later…

My third car. A bright red Saab. (The Peugeot had been totaled when I was rear-ended.)
Two thoughts immediately flash to mind: One, I had crashed my first two cars on the first day I had owned them. And two, both times it happened ‘cause I’d been showing off.

I addressed myself candidly. “Earl,” I inquired, “is it possible for you not to show off when you get a new car?” My response was equally candid. “I don’t think so.” I was honest, but It looked bad. My inability to change doomed my new Saab to an early trip to the body shop.

Then, I thought of something. A change that was substantially smaller than the change I had asked myself to consider.

What I realized was that, although I was unable to stop bragging when I got a new car, I didn’t have to be in the car when I did it.

I made an adjustment. I saw a friend. I parked. I got out of the car. And then, I bragged.

Just a little change. But it saved the Saab.

Or, in song form…

“Just a little change

Well within endurance

You can brag away

And not spend the next day

Calling your insurance.”

1 comment:

impworks said...

Great post as always and you managed to cover part of the work of Geert Hofstede on cultural dimensions and the whole of the Product Life cycle too...