How we change

Image via Creative Commons

My wife and I often say we’ve been married to 2–3 different people in our lives. Now, the fact is we’re married to our first and only spouse for more than 30 years. We’ve both changed significantly over that time, however, and the people we are today aren’t the same as the one we married in January, 1982.

Change comes a price, usually the discomfort of doing something that doesn’t feel right. Back when our family used to watch the TLC show, “What not to wear”, I would gaze in fascination at the participants who seemed extremely psychically disturbed as their hoodies, baggy t-shirts, and ill-fitting jeans were tossed out in favor of $5000 worth of clothes chosen by fashion experts. Is there a better lab to show that often what feels wrong really isn’t?

Change is difficult for us. Think about the last time you changed in a significant way. Consider the upheaval it introduced in your life, even if it was a good change.

I think a good part of us wants to make ourselves into something better. The appeal of motivational speakers and self-help books is attributable to the way they give us a glimpse of what we might become.

Perhaps the best way to help move ourselves and others from here to there, from vision to reality, isn’t the major event or the large initiative but the day-to-day things we do. I often see little gestures, which I admire and which make me want to be a better person, that make a difference:

  • When you invite someone, perhaps a person who needs a little self-confidence, to be part of a challenge. For example, maybe an important job needs to be done. You ask the person for whom this is outside his or her comfort zone. As she acquires the skill, her confidence grows.
  • When you steer a conversation away from a negative direction toward something uplifting. We may not always realize how powerful our words are and how people think about those words long after we’ve said them.
  • When you model taking responsibility for your actions. I remember one of my friends, someone who inspires me frequently, began to say “I haven’t had time to…”. She quickly stopped and changed her statement to “I haven’t made time for…”. It was a small thing but spoke volumes to me about her character.
  • When you roll up your sleeves and put in a few hours of good, hard work. It sounds simple, but the fact is we sometimes spend too much time thinking of how to avoid doing something, how to spin something to our advantage, or how to point out the flaws of others. There’s nothing like a little elbow grease, applied to any formidable task, to gain ground and influence others.

These are examples of how we help other grow. The way we live our lives will speak volumes. The wonderful irony is that as we try our best to model good behavior for others — we benefit from good behavior. Virtue is always its own reward.

As Emily Dickinson said, “Forever is composed of nows.” It’s those small moments, gifts given both to ourselves and those around us, that will help us to change into what we want to be.

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