Saturday, September 12, 2015

Change is psychological loss

Past me leaves messages for present or future me all the time. To tell the truth, past me can be a bit of a pain in the keister. In 2012, I left the comment below on J.D. Roth's personal blog in response to this post.

Hi JD – I read this over at Get Rich Slowly when it was first posted there. It’s a powerful presentation. I haven’t watched the video yet, but that’s next on my list because I want to hear the words in your own voice.

There’s so much good stuff here, but a couple of things really jumped out at me when I first read it at GRS. Sometimes people are so miserable that they look for “change” when what they really want and need is “growth.” The examples of longevity you give don’t have to be negative examples of sameness, do they? I think the best long-term relationships and the most successful businesses are those in which the parties grow and adapt to the changing world around them. Do you think there’s a danger of swinging too far to the change side and becoming less grounded?

Somewhere along the way I heard that “Change is psychological loss.” I think it was on a TV show years ago. (I just got a Google hit on “Cagney & Lacey.” Please say I haven’t held onto a line from Cagney & Lacey all these years.) You’ve gone through so many changes over the past few years, I’d be interested in your take on that “psychological loss” perspective.

I still shudder to think that I quoted a Cagney & Lacey line with such heartfelt sincerity, but it is what it is. As for the substance of the comment, It's true. Change is psychological loss. We forfeit something when we replace it with something else, whether by choice or necessity.

Finding the growth in change can be hard. It’s especially hard for the inertially challenged like me. How can we find the growth in change when our imagined experience of change is painful? If you're struggling with that as so many of us do, consider the following.

Yes, change is psychological loss. Allow yourself to grieve before you push yourself to move forward.

What does grief look like? Grief takes many forms. It’s important to remember that not every experience of grief is grief for the loss of something that was good for us. Sometimes we even grieve over toxic things. We grieve the loss of an unhealthy relationship or a demoralizing job. Even if you’d prefer to imagine yourself singing a chorus of “Thank God and Greyhound You’re Gone,” allow yourself to grieve. The grief is just as authentic, no matter the circumstances.

Change is also opportunity. Consider making a list to firmly seat that concept in your mind - a crosswalk between loss and opportunity.

If it’s hard to believe that change is opportunity, it might help to think of living a full life as holding an armful of “goodness.” You can only hold as much as your arms can accommodate. If you’re already standing there with your arms full, you just don’t have the capacity to hold new goodness. If the things you’re holding aren’t really positive and beneficial things, they may actually prevent you from holding all that goodness and living a full life. You have to put something down to have the capacity to pick up something new. That loss (putting something down) enables opportunity (picking up something new).

While "change" and "growth" are related, the two words are not synonyms. Don’t confuse one for the other. We can change without growth, but we can’t really grow without change.

About 10 years ago, I was interviewing candidates to fill a lab tech position. One candidate, a former college athlete, answered almost every question with a platitude his football coach had taught him. I was not impressed with many of his stock answers, but one response has stuck with me for over a decade years now. In answering a question about how he'd handle a difficult situation, my interviewee said, "As my coach always told me, don't just go through it, grow through it!"

But what about the times we look blindly for “change” when what we really need is “growth?” Have you or anyone you know suffered from restless legs syndrome (RLS) at night? It’s a condition characterized by an overwhelming urge to move the legs. The symptoms seem to be activated by the very process of lying down to relax. Sometimes I think we humans are susceptible to a similar emotional malady, one we might call “restless life syndrome.” The very process of settling into a stable situation seems to activates a state of misery that creates an overwhelming urge to change.

My father used to describe people in those situations as being “like a worm in hot ashes.” If you’re proactively making major changes, take your own emotional pulse now and then to diagnose restless life syndrome. And ask yourself the tough question.

Am I growing through change or am I just a worm in hot ashes?

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