How are change and happiness connected — and is there a place for each in 2014?

It’s no secret that the one thing, which unites us all, is our desire to be happy.  New Year 2014It’s also no secret that at the end of each year we look forward to the next and consider the ways in which we can become happier.  Perhaps a change of job, or a change in relationships, or a change in business-as-usual approach to life, or a change of a routine, etc.  Change is central to our pursuit of happiness – for without change there is no progress.

All this seems pretty straightforward but it turns out that when it comes to initiating and maintaining change, we really suck at it.  Just think of the New Years resolutions that come and go.  As much as we, humans, always want to grow and evolve, when it comes to this growth being propelled by change we stumble.  In their book, Immunity to Change, Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey give an example of a study that showed that if heart doctors tell their seriously at-risk heart patients they will literally die if they don’t change their lifestyle, only one in seven, on average, is actually able to make the changes…”

One in seven!  Imagine that.  At the risk of dying, only 1 in 7 people would change their ways of being in the world.  How is that for resisting change?

Kegan and Lahey go on to say that one of the reasons changing is so difficult for us is that by not changing we are honoring a “hidden commitment” – a commitment to something entirely different, something that conflicts with our desire for change.  It’s hidden because it’s so deep in our subconscious that it resides completely outside of our conscious awareness.

Because this commitment is hidden, we don’t get to examine it closely.  But if we do, we may discover a couple of things:

1.  The hidden commitment is based purely on fear and/or guilt.

“How can I take time away from kids to have a massage, take a photography class, or a history course in a local university?  I am already not working so it’s my job to always be with the kids.  What would my friends and family back home say if they find out that I regularly leave them with a nanny even though I have all this time I can spend with them?”

2.  The hidden commitment expresses the things that are truly important to us – and the change we want to initiate doesn’t agree with them at all. 

“I must look for work in the new year – I can easily get hired here.  We don’t really need the money but I’ve worked all my life and not working feels kind of weird.  My friends back home are making fun of me for all the time I am wasting on my hobbies.  Although I really like concentrating on them now …”

In scenario 1 digging deeper helps us see that at the root of this “hidden commitment” is our subconscious understanding of what makes us safe – on physical, emotional and social levels.  We come to realize, thus, that we live our lives the way we do because we are scared.  And more often than not – we are scared of things that are either not really valid for us or seem scarier than they actually are.   Staying at home with kids at all hours of the day and feeling guilty when leaving them to take time for yourself may be scary in the realm of social acceptance/safety — yet it does nothing for either your or their happiness.

In scenario 2 digging deeper helps us discover the values that we hold dear and makes us realize that only by living those values will we achieve happiness and fulfillment.  Working because you’ve always done so isn’t a good enough reason to give up on what’s important to you now and what makes you tick.

So what can help us to initiate and sustain change – the change that will bring us closer to being happier in the new year?  Try these three steps:

Step 1: Learn your hidden commitment – what’s really stopping you from going for that change?  This isn’t an easy exercise and requires a process that’s like peeling an onion – digging deep until you expose the fear or the values at stake.

Step 2: Make a choice.  Either consciously choose to continue as before or commit to change.  Make it your choice rather than an automatic behavior you’ve engaged in until now.

Step 3: Get a support network together.  Surround yourself with people who will help you through this process of adopting change.  This is difficult, so make sure your support network is 100% behind you, holds no judgement over your choice and the outcome, and doesn’t have any hidden agenda.  Family and friends are probably not the best people to enlist here – a buddy system or a coach is your best bet in sustaining a new behavior.

Good luck on your dreams, wishes and aspirations in the coming year!  Remember that if you are not feeling completely happy in any area of your life – you can choose to make a change there and begin moving towards greater happiness.  Why continue to settle when you can create an amazing life for yourself?

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