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Making Changes – A Day at a Time

Violet Hates Being Changed
Creative Commons License photo credit: Joe Shlabotnik

Some people change when they see the light, others when they feel the heat.

— Caroline Schoeder

Elie Weisel, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, begins his autobiography, Night, with the story of Moishe the Beadle.  Moishe was a person of little significance in the little town of Sighet.  He was the jack-of-all-trades in the Hasidic house of prayer, extremely poor and almost invisible in the community.  Moishe was also a foreign Jew and when the Germans began the cleansing, they started by gathering up the foreign Jews.  Moishe was taken away and over the next several months the Jewish community convinced themselves that things were back to “normal.”

Over time, the Germans reduced the lives of the Jews so that they were smaller and smaller.  Each time the Germans took something away, the Jews adapted.  They learned how to accept this new suffering.  It was easier than facing the unknown.

Meanwhile, the foreign Jews were deported, forced to dig a mass grave and executed.  But Moishe was only wounded in the leg and was able to escape.  He returned to Sighet, going from house to house telling his story, warning his neighbors with horrific tales of mass executions.  No one would believe him.

It could not possibly be true.  And yet, we know that it was.  We also know that Moishe was not the only one to warn of the hate that was about to descend upon them.  Many stories are told of warnings delivered to Jewish communities.  They could not believe the horror.  They could not face the change required to save themselves.

Stasis

As we live our lives, we tend to move towards a point of equilibrium – the point where we are happy enough, wealthy enough, comfortable enough – and then we work really hard to maintain this enough place.  Why choose discomfort?  Why risk it?  Why change?

Since we were small children, we’ve been creating a picture in our minds of what life is and how it should be lived.  We saw what our parents did that worked and we added that to our picture.  We saw what our parents did that didn’t work and we swore we would never do that.

Now, we’ve turned much of our life picture into reality.  For some of us, it fits just fine.  For others, it doesn’t feel like we thought it would.  And the world is intruding.  Like Moishe the Beadle, the news is telling us the old situation doesn’t exist anymore.

In this issue of Fortune Magazine, Steve Rattner tells the story of the restructuring of GM and Chrysler in The Auto Bailout: How We Did It.  Although the article is long unless you like to know the behind the scenes “stuff”, it highlights how people can avoid the need to change.  Rattner and his team’s first shock was when they met with the various stakeholders: bond holders, stock holders, unions, and suppliers.  Each group was there to “ask” for stuff, not to “give” so that the companies could survive.

Meetings with GM and Chrysler management were equally shocking.  None of them were really aware of how their company and products were perceived outside of Detroit.  They saw no real need for change.  With no plan to make radical changes, they were executing a “going out of business” strategy and weren’t even aware of it.

That’s the problem with stasis.  It’s like the story of how to boil a frog.  If you put the frog in hot water, it’ll hop right out and get away.  Put a frog in “comfortable” water and it’ll stay in the pot as you gradually turn up the heat until it becomes frog soup.

Change

Assuming that you, like me, don’t want to end up being frog soup, we need to build a compelling enough vision of the future for us to be willing to leave our comfortable pot of water and venture out into a different world.

In My Grandfather’s Blessings by Rachel Naomi Remen, she tells of a conversation that she had with her Grandfather about why Moses had such a hard time getting the Jews to leave Egypt. (This is after Pharaoh agreed to let them go.)  As her Grandfather explained, Moses had a hard time convincing his people to leave their slavery because, “They knew how to suffer.  They had done it for a long time and they were used to it.  They did not know how to be free.”  Sound familiar?

Start Off Slowly

If we look at the frog story from a different perspective, there is another lesson to be learned.  With the frog, the temperature is being turned up by you – the non-frog.  But when you choose to change, it is easier when it is done in small steps.  Large changes are scary because it is hard to predict the consequences of the changes being made and it’s hard to visualize all of the effects of these changes.

This is why Alcoholics Anonymous talks about “a day at a time.”  You can choose to eliminate chocolate for today but eliminate it forever? NOOOOO!  If you want to make a big change, you need to be able to make small changes, over time, so that you are not overwhelmed.  You need to turn the temperature up sloooowly so that you can gradually get used to the new environment.

Another way to make it easier to face change is to balance the changes you want to make.  Often the chosen changes are “improvements” on something that is “wrong.”  Try balancing improvements with enhancements.  Pick something that you enjoy and are good at, and enhance it.  Enhance your favorite skill.  Make what you love, better.  Enhance it slowly, over time, but work on something you love.  That way, change won’t always be about overcoming the bad stuff, it will also be about adding to the good stuff.

Change is a process, not an event.  Just like your life, you do it day by day.  When you can choose to make a little bit of progress every day, you can feel that you are still growing, still learning, and still able to find a sense of accomplishment every day.  That’s how change happens – one day at a time.

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Cup o’ Inspiration

cup with steam swirl

Take a short break and consider the following:

“You are the way you are because that’s the way you want to be. If you really wanted to be any different, you would be in the process of changing right now.”

Fred Smith
Founder of FedEx

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