Change is about opportunity, possibility, creativity, growth, and making a difference.
Unless it’s not.
Sometimes change, and its opposite stagnation, makes us feel trapped or stuck. There are many factors that go into this emotional responses, the following is a musing on one: how to find choices and regain a sense of agency in our lives when both appear to be lost so we become better at embrace and drive change than to bemoaning or fighting it.
What can you relate to in this article? What is making you give it the side-eye? Anything in there you want to explore more or try or rail against? Other thoughts or feedback? Send them my way or share them with others. I could be wrong about all of this, it’s up to you to decide!
Little Shifts that Lead to Choices
by Becky Lemon, 2/20/19
We can often feel helpless when change lands, un-welcomed, at our feet. That same feeling of helplessness can also grip us if we’re in situations that we feel powerless to change. It’s in those moments that we get caught up in the fears of feeling that we have no choices, no ability to make decisions or control our own lives and therefore seem paralyzed to change its direction. That’s a scary and powerful story that we tell ourselves from a narrow space, and it’s one that we can rewrite by finding choices we can make. Choices are everywhere, it takes time and practice to see them and begin trusting the ones that will lead to the change we need for ourselves. When you’re feeling backed into a dark corner and can’t find your way out, start noticing the colorful spectrum of possibilities available to you. How do you do that? Little shifts.
Little Shifts in Language
Using language like “I/they should…” or “we’ve always/never…” are sure signs that you’re rooting yourself in rigid and limiting thoughts that will keep you focused on constraints and stuck in the status quo. Change that language to open up a world filled with opportunities, choices, creativity, and growth.
Try thinking and saying these more often:
“What if/What about…”
Asking “what if/what about” questions triggers the generation of choices, it counteracts the belief you might hold that you are stuck, powerless. It will trigger you to dream and discover more possibilities: What if we tried that? What if we could feel better about this? Challenge yourself to accept all of the possibilities you can think up, don’t shoot them down right away with practical analysis or assumptions about what can and can’t be done. (Check out this article on how simple improv games like “yes, and…” can boost group brainstorming and trust). This same question will help you name and understand your fears of the unknown – What if the worst happens? What about that obstacle? – which you can then investigate and decide to believe & prepare for or debunk & discard. Expanding your map of possibilities gives you a greater understanding of where you are, where you don’t want to go, and where you want to move towards. Make the choice that best suits your needs and capabilities, get to the next plateau, and start a new round of “what if’ing.” You’ll never be without a choice again.
This helps you get the most robust, most comprehensive picture of whatever situation you’re in and whatever destination you’re trying to get to. That hyper-understanding is the springboard of all creativity. Asking “what else” also propels you to shift out of your own head and go out and get feedback from others. What else am I not seeing or hearing? What else needs to be asked? What else would help us reach this goal? What else could we imagine for our team? What else could we do? What else could this be about? If you’re operating from a small sliver of the picture that paints, you might be alone in your understanding of the situation at hand and your choices and outcomes will be limited. If you’re operating from a gigantic, shared picture that’s full of color and texture, sky’s not even the limit for what can be achieved. Getting people on the same page about where you are, where you’re going, and how you’re going to get there is no small feat. Chasing down the “what else’s” eradicates troublesome blind spots and miscommunications, and unlocks the to-the-moon ideas that need to be said to propel any situation from good enough to groundbreaking.
“I could be wrong, (and here’s what I think…)”
Predicating an idea or observation that you really believe in with “I could be wrong” opens you up to acknowledging that there might be other perspectives. This forces you to imagine more points of view or seek them out, which expands the number of choices you have, and positively challenges and grows your self-awareness. If you say it aloud before sharing your opinion, it signals to others that instead of forcing your will or ways on them, you are willing to hear them, share ideas, and engage in dialogue that leads to understanding and connection, and sometimes changes of heart, mind, and direction. Investigating your own observations and opening them up for discussion are fantastic ways to create more choices and increase trust between yourself and others. Every time you think or utter “I could be wrong”, you’re separating a little bit from your ego and opening yourself up to a wealth of new, transforming ideas. I could be wrong about all of this, and I believe it can make a real difference.
What other language shifts could orient you toward generating or recognizing the choices that are out there? (I’m seriously asking, if you have them let me know!)
Little Shifts in Attitude
If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. – Maya Angelou
Sometimes you’re in situations that you don’t have control over, or you don’t have the means or power to make the choices that would change your surrounding conditions. Your choice here moves from what you can and can’t do to how you feel about it. The change you experience will be in your energy and attitude, and it can be remarkable. This one gets tricky, human beings often use this same course of reasoning to make excuses for fear-based behaviors and to justify actions that increase isolation from or avoidance of difficult circumstances. In all cases, use your purpose and values to help you stay on the path that leads to wellness and wholeness.
To trigger or design little shifts in attitudes, try the following:
Make the Charitable Assumption.
This is a catchphrase used at Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group restaurants to orient his team members away from judgement toward compassion, something we need a lot of in our industry when encountering guests who act in ways that don’t have our well-being in mind. Here’s an example of how this little shift works: you may not be able to choose the guests you interact with (or whether they’re pleasant or annoying), you can change the kind of energy you’ll bring to those interactions by choosing the story you’re telling yourself about them. You won’t know the truth about who they are or why they’re acting the way they are in the short span of time you’re all together, why not ignore the assumptions in your head that lead to misery for all and get behind a story that contributes to your well-being and their’s?
- Labeling guests whose behavior you don’t like as (1) entitled jerks, (2) oblivious assholes, or (3) ignorant idiots, activates you-versus-them stories that will root you in feelings of defensiveness, frustration, and indignation.
- Empathizing with their humanity and choosing other possibilities for their behavior like (1) maybe their angry behavior is a result of losing a job or loved one, (2) they’re camping at their table because they’re caught up in the excitement of reconnecting & celebrating with a friend, or (3) they’re asking a million questions because they’re taking a first step out of their fast-food comfort zone toward more adventurous dining, activates stories that connect you and highlight common ground which will root you in feelings that inspire care and hospitality.
Your positive efforts and energy may fall on deaf ears; the point of your shift in attitude isn’t necessarily to change the other people or excuse their behaviors, it’s for you to choose your own emotions and change your behavior to create positive energy. Try out the charitable assumption catchphrase in other situations you can’t “do” much about: actions you dislike from other drivers in traffic or fellow takers of public transit, the people causing the slowness of the line you’re waiting in, the distracting sounds or antics from someone else’s kid/s that is interrupting your flight, dinner, movie, etc.
Focus on the Silver Lining
May time-worn, ubiquitous cliché’s are pointing us in the direction of emotional well-being: finding the silver lining, making lemonade out of lemons, seeing the glass half-full – these all remind us to make the best out of any situation. Yes, their advice might sound trite and naive, there also might be something to it. Pause and think for a moment about how you feel when you’ve embraced the alternative: making the worst out of any situation. We are all shaped, to a certain degree, by how we perceive our world and how we respond to it. What’s going on in situations where you feel caught up finding company for your misery? When are you able to put on and benefit from rose-colored glasses? Start paying attention to how you’re showing up in different situations, start evaluating if it’s helping or hurting you. The better we get at recognizing the emotions that surface in difficult circumstances, the more able we are to shift our initial reactions and make choices about how things are going to feel moving forward (and what behaviors we’ll need to stop, start, or continue engaging in to get there). Having a hard time seeing the rainbow through the rain? Try asking yourself these questions to shift your perspective:
- What is going on around me that I don’t need to complain or worry about? (aka What is present that is contributing to my feeling of well-being?)
- What do I need that I’m getting right now?
- What 5 things am I grateful for today? (Can’t think of anything? Feel like cringing when people ask you to answer this question? Check out this article to help you come up with those 5 things: Gratitude Journaling for Cynics, A Crash Course in Gratitude with 100 Fill-in-the-blank Prompts
Keep this in mind – choosing to meet your life’s challenges with an eye toward what’s good in them does not mean that you have to like the situations you’re in; silver linings are not asking you to enjoy being robbed, losing a promotion, or missing a party because you had to work, they’re asking you to show up in ways that lead to creativity and growth. There is also no expectation that your bright-side attitude eclipses all dark moments, it’s natural and often useful to fall into feelings of sadness, anger, and even shame as you move through pain toward healing. We learn a lot about ourselves in those spaces, and silver linings here ask you to call upon your resilience, your courage, and support from others to make that trip into the darkness a temporary one.
Changes don’t always have to be big, huge, time & energy engulfing initiatives that make a big, splashy difference; they can also be little shifts that often, over time, open up new ways of seeing our situation, providing choices where we once thought we were stuck, and securing a sense of control that we thought we had lost.
P.S. If you remain overwhelmed by the bounty of possibilities before you and take no action, you can still maintain some of the little shift benefits, because Neil Peart said so:
If you choose not to decide
You still have made a choice – Rush. “Freewill.” Permanent Waves, 1980