In 1986, I started an organization that has been in almost constant flux for over three decades. Some love it. Others abhor it. I’ve often told those who were having a difficult time adjusting, the one sure thing you can count on at Cape Christian, is change. Change is inevitable. It happens to everyone. If this year has taught us anything, we can’t prepare for everything. As a leader, college and graduate school couldn’t adequately prepare me for this. Every day is a new opportunity for something unusual to happen.
I must adapt accordingly. It’s scary. Uncomfortable. It stretches me. My friend Jenni Catron says, “Leadership growth is contingent on our ability to keep ourselves slightly uncomfortable. It’s in the discomfort where we continue to learn and grow.” Most of us want comfort, not discomfort. We all naturally gravitate toward comfort. But the reality is, there’s no comfort in growth and no growth in comfort. I have no idea who I heard it from, but I wrote it in my “quote” notes about a year ago, “All living things grow, all growing things change, if you aren’t growing then you are dying.”
Andy Stanley wrote this, “You are perfectly positioned now to continue getting the same results you have been getting.” Are you totally satisfied with the results you have been getting? My guess is that many of us wish for different results. We want better marriages, higher compensation, less stress on the job, more internal peace, improved health, a closer relationship to God, greater fitness and so on. Basically, most everyone of us wants better results in some area of life than we are currently receiving.
There is one thing central to getting better results. Change. It is the key. Doing the very same things you are doing now, will not bring improved results. Status quo will not bring enhancement. Business as usual, will not bring progression. Author Bruce Van Horn writes, “If you don’t intentionally choose how to live your life, you are actually choosing to let your life be driven by circumstances.” Change that produces different results is based in intentionality. My pastor, Cory Demmel, puts it this way: “We have uphill hopes and downhill habits.”
Change is hard. New Year’s resolutions almost always fail. We are creatures of habit. In a Harvard Business Review article, Tony Schwartz (CEO of The Energy Project) contends that 95% of our behaviors are habitual. Only 5% of our choices are intentional. Schwartz suggests that most of us wildly overvalue our will and discipline. He goes on to propose that our changes must rely less on our prefrontal cortex and more on co-opting the primitive parts of our brains in which habits are formed. Put simply, the more behaviors are ritualized and routinized — in the form of a deliberate practice — the less energy they require to launch, and the more they recur automatically.
Let me wrap up with 5 things I’ve adapted from Tony Schwartz that will help you make change:
1. Be Specific. Imagine a typical wish to start to “exercise regularly.” It’s a prescription for failure. You have a vastly higher chance for success if you decide in advance the days and times, and precisely what you’re going to do each day. I have my 2 mile walk on my calendar for each morning at 5:30. If something makes me miss it, I have alternative times. The same thing for “spend more time with my spouse.” Set a day and time for a weekly date, or time to talk each day or whatever. Put it on the calendar. Be precise and specific will dramatically increase your odds of success.
2. One at a time. Take on one new challenge at a time. Too many changes at one time will likely lead to no changes at all. Computers can run several programs simultaneously. We humans do best when we take on one thing at a time, sequentially.
3. Not too much, not too little. Too often we make the mistaking of biting off more than we can chew. Trying to make a radical change at one time can lead to giving up. Choose a small step. Instead of trying to lose 50 lbs., go for 5 lbs. Once you can keep that first five off, go for a second five. You will eventually get to 50 and be able to maintain at that level. Quick and radical weight loss plans usually lead to rebounding back to a worse situation.
It’s also easy to go to the other extreme, and take on too little. The only way to truly grow is to challenge your current comfort zone. The trick is finding a middle ground — pushing yourself hard enough that you get some real gain, but not too much that you find yourself unwilling to stay at it.
4. What we resist persists. Think about sitting in front of a plate of fragrant chocolate chip cookies over an extended period of time. Diets fail the vast majority of time because they’re typically built around regularly resisting food we enjoy eating. Eventually, we run up against our limited reservoir of self-control. For dieters, keep food you don’t want to eat out of sight, and focus your diet instead on what you are going to eat, at which times, and in what portion sizes. The less you have to think about what to do, the more successful you’re likely to be.
5. Keep the faith. Change is hard. It is painful. And you will experience failure at times. The average person launches a change effort six separate times before it finally takes. Perseverance is needed. But for me, “keeping the faith” also means that I leverage faith in a God who is bigger, stronger and wiser than I. God is all about transformation and change for us. He too wants us to be our best selves. He gives us many invitations to lean into Him and His strength. A relationship with God is the greatest motivation and source of change. He offers supernatural power to do things we will fail at on our own.
There is so much more I could say about change and the challenges of changing my life. The above five are a starting place but not nearly everything that needs to be said. Right now, in our nation, there is so much emphasis about changing things. And it is correct that we should work toward change in our nation on several fronts that are being highlighted right now. But let’s not forget what Russian writer Leo Tolstoy said, “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” Change in our nation begins with me. My heart. My attitudes. My actions. My life. My habits. My relationships. I must be the change that is needed. My prayer today is simply: “Lord, show me one thing that I could change in my life today that would effect change in the world around me. Amen.”
QUESTION: Of the 5 things, which one do you find the easiest? The hardest? (I’d love for you to put them in the comment section below.)