The rules for reinvention have changed. Whether you want to end procrastination or become more sociable, it’s possible to change basic elements of yourself. But first you have to grapple with your hidden fears. Still, there’s no surer route to security in life.
“Change sucks,” declares Art Markman, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas, Austin, and the author of Smart Change. “The brain is a prediction engine. It wants to be able to predict what’s happening in the future and then act accordingly, even with things that are bad for you. As soon as you make significant changes in how you do things, you no longer know how to predict what the outcome will be.”
The prospect of change pitches us into a deep dialectic between hope, disappointment, and accountability. Even if we pierce the ambivalence enough to aim for a goal, we are outed for all time as the sole author of the life that lies ahead. Change, then, takes courage. Examining the tensions hidden within the desire for change carries sweet rewards: It smoothes the path to success—and may be the best measure of possibility and purpose in life.
The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. ~Henry David Thoreau
If change takes courage, it also takes a plan. A plan serves as a blueprint for transforming intentions into actions. Want to change jobs, find a partner, be more forgiving? Cleaving any goal into actionable steps directs the considerable effort that is needed to bend behavior. Taking small, incremental steps toward a goal is exponentially helpful; the completion of each one unleashes the motivation to go on—it builds a sense of mastery.
“Someone might say, ‘This year I want to be more fearless,'” explains Markman. “Great. So, what does that mean? You say, ‘I’d like to get up in front of other people and give a talk without going weak at the knees.’ Or, ‘I’d like to be willing to meet new people without crawling into a hole.’ You have to be specific. At that point you can start to create a plan for action. But until you get to a specific thing, you’re paralyzed because there’s no action to take.”