Debbie Allen started every episode of the TV show Fame by saying, “You want fame? Well fame costs. And right here’s where you start paying. In sweat.”
I was a big fan, although never went as far as wearing the leg warmers.
The same philosophy applies to change; you don’t get there by turning up to dance class late, slumping in a corner to eat a bacon sandwich and then taking a nap; you gotta get up, squeeze yourself into that leotard and start working for it.
There’s always a cost to change; the basic equation going something like this:
For everything you say yes to, you say no to something else.
- Start going to the gym and you stop being able to sleep late.
- Start a relationship and you stop being able to do exactly what you want exactly when you want it.
- Start a side-project outside of work and you stop being able to see your friends or family as much.
- Start eating healthily and you stop being able to drink beer on a Friday night or have pancakes and syrup on a Saturday.
- Start writing that book and you stop being able to slouch in front of the TV at night.
Each decision you make takes you towards something and
away from something else
The loss that’s part of any change is why a lot of people don’t see things through. Sure, the change might look all shiny and sexy at first but when it starts biting you on your butt and costing you, it’s oh so much easier to back out.
It’s understandable. We don’t like to lose things, especially something we’re comfortable and familiar with. And when you’ve been anticipating something good happening to you (like that shiny, sexy change) only to be confronted early on with the loss of something, it hurts. It’s like being told you’ve won a 5 star, all expenses paid vacation at a luxury resort for you and your friends, but that you’ve got to chop off your toes and bury them in the garden to signify your acceptance of the prize.
No frickin way. What, you want me to lie by the pool sipping a Mai Tai like some no-toed freak?
You can keep your beach. I love my toes
The reality of loss that’s inherent in change, even if what you stand to lose is as apparently benign as the status-quo (especially if it’s something as apparently benign as the status-quo) turns people right around and has them stepping back into what they already had; something known, something safe.
So here’s how to stop the cost of change from stopping you change.
1. No surprises.
You probably secretly know what the cost of the change will be, whether it’s time, habit, attention or anything else. But you just kind of bury it down deep and try to ignore it, because who wants to think about loss?
But you need to openly and honestly acknowledge what you need to say “No” to before it jumps out at you from the shadows and persuades you to turn back. You need to operate a policy of no-surprises.
This isn’t about casting yourself as a victim so you can say “Woe is me…oh how I suffer…” and throwing yourself a pity party; it’s firmly, deliberately, lightly and non-judgementally naming what needs to shift in order for the change to come about.
2. Look at the real cost.
We’re creatures of habit, so it’s entirely possible that what you’re standing to lose is simply a sense of familiarity or comfort. That’s why it’s helpful to punch through any initial reaction to see what the real cost is, or if there’s really a cost at all.
If what you’re losing is familiarity, comfort or routine, then you’re simply trading possibility for safety. Safety’s great and all, but if you want your life to be all about safety then one of the safest places on Earth is six feet under in a casket.
Deciding whether what you think you’ll loose has any significance certainly helps, but don’t forget to look at the real cost of not taking action. What price is to be paid for staying still?
3. Let it be
There’s always discomfort in change, and the killer of too many dreams is that nagging thought about what you’re losing that takes root and spreads. So you gotta make a choice.
If you’ve figured out that the real cost doesn’t add up to much at all and therefore doesn’t matter, then it’ll be a piece of cake to let go and move on. Make the choice, let it go, and you’ll feel lighter for it. Other times it’s not quite so simple.
If the loss is something bigger or affects something that’s very relevant in your life (giving up some family time, moving away from friends, perhaps a drop in salary, etc) then you can’t let go in the traditional sense – the thought of what you’re losing is there and once thought you can’t “unthink” it, right?
So instead of letting go, you let it be. Openly and warm-heartedly acknowledge that there will be loss on some level, and welcome it in the same spirit as you’d welcome the fruits of change.
4. Watch for obstacles.
Shit will always happen and any endeavour will have its obstacles, so for crying out loud don’t expect everything to be perfect or to go swimmingly first time round. Do that, and hitting the smallest obstacle can give your brain the evidence it needs to say to you, “See, told you so. Better turn back peppy.”
Expect things to go wrong. Accept that the unexpected can happen. Put up imaginary road signs ahead of you saying “Risk from falling setbacks” or “Danger, nostalgia in road”.
You might want to take action to smooth out the environment ahead of you, and it’s sometimes wise to get the right plans and support in place. But always remember that obstacles, setbacks and failures are a necessary part of what you’re doing, and never forget that it’s not the obstacles you encounter that suck, it’s your thinking about the obstacles you encounter that you make you believe they suck.
5. Remember to remember.
At some point your mind will wander. You’ll remember what you had and how safe and comfortable it was. You’ll remember how nice it felt being safe. You’ll pine for the days when things were simple. You’ll forget why you were in this “change” thing in the first place.
That’s okay, those old patterns in your brain are well-rehearsed and well-known, and your brain will use what it has certainty in. Your brain doesn’t know the new stuff yet, so you need to deliberately remember to take meaningful action. That’s the only way your brain will be able to encode a new pattern of behaviour and a new way of thinking that supports the change you want bring about.
Don’t forget to remember.
6. Nothing’s forever.
Sometimes you employ logic that goes like this – If I do this then I’ll be stuck with it even if I hate it, so I’d better not bother.
Come on, really?! If the change isn’t working out; if you’re just plain miserable; if you realise that you really did make a mistake or if you figure out what really matters, then you’re allowed to make a new choice and change direction.
Sticking with something just because you made a decision some time ago is dogmatic idiocy, so screw the whole “never change horses mid-race” thing. If your horse is lame or turned out to be a couple of guys in a horse costume, then it’s best to get off. It’s okay to make a new choice that’s appropriate.
Sometimes you need to push through, and sometimes you don’t, and here’s how I see that equation working: If sticking with it serves your values best, then do it. If quitting serves your values best, then do it.
To paraphrase Debbie Allen, “You want change? Well change costs. And getting sweaty just means it’s working.”
What’s your experience when change starts biting you on your butt? How have you handled it?