Prevention Magazine . April, 2006
How to make the leap to a richer life
Until recently, my home office felt like a scene from a horror film—the kind where the walls move in to crush the heroine. Stacks of books and papers made it hard to feel creative, but after years of being squished, I’d simply grown used to it.
Then I visited my friend Karen’s new home and was stunned by her gorgeous workspace. She’d taken over the whole top floor! Our third floor—the largest space in the house—was just a guest room. I immediately traded spaces, and now it’s my dream office. The question that the belated Great Office Shuffle posed to me was this: Why is it so hard to make a change when your life would obviously be much better if you did?
The reasons are usually pretty simple. You’re comfortable enough—and change is scary. I know a woman who was fired from her long-term job as an assistant to a mortgage broker. At first she was afraid she wouldn’t be able to make a living. She missed her predictable life. But within a year, she opened her own brokerage firm and now she’s the boss. We’ve all heard of similar instances where life changes for the better after someone is evicted from his or her comfort zone. If you want to overcome fear and inertia, and embrace change more willingly, here are a few suggestions.
Don’t just sit there, do something
“Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.” This famous quotation of the German philosopher Goethe is a great bit of advice. There’s something about making a commitment and putting yourself out there that invites success, even though it may not come instantly or through the obvious channels. For example, a few years ago one of my friends was longing to find a mate. Eager and determined, she decided to make meeting Mr. Right her first priority. So she scraped together her resources and visited an expensive matchmaker, to no avail. Considerably poorer but still undaunted, she searched the Internet and snagged dozens of dates. Still no keepers. But apparently her bold intention had tilled the ground, and success came through an unexpected pathway: She was walking her dog one morning and literally bumped into a recently widowed man who lived in a condo just three blocks away. And yes, they are still living happily ever after.
Don’t just do something, sit there
Meditation teacher Sylvia Boorstein wrote a wonderful book by this title. It’s great for tuning in to your best self at any time, but particularly when you feel stuck. Maybe you know that something has to give, but you’re not sure what or how. Or perhaps other people are pushing you to do something, but you need to search your heart and determine if it’s their dream or yours.
I believe we all know in our hearts what to do—we just have to listen. Setting aside an evening for journaling and reflection can help you tune in to your deepest wisdom. Turn off the phone and arrange to be undisturbed. Take 10 or 15 minutes to quiet your body and mind through meditation, yoga, or deep breathing.
Then ask your inner advisor, What is needed for my best life to emerge? or any other question that feels appropriate to your situation. Sit quietly for a few more minutes and then jot down whatever comes to you. You might do this once, or daily for a period of weeks or even months. Be prepared for the light to dawn in unexpected ways—say, through a dream or conversation. You can’t force insight, but it certainly favors the prepared soul.
Be brave and keep your goal in mind
If you wait until everything in your life feels safe and predictable, you may lose your opportunity. Courageous people aren’t fearless. They just take action in spite of their fears. Last January, my husband, Gordon, and I published our first book together, Saying Yes to Change.
For a lone wolf like me who was used to holing up in solitary to write, collaboration was a difficult shift. What if the project was a disaster? What if it ruined our fledgling marriage? But we kept the goal in mind, and the risk was more than worth the effort. Completing the project brought both of us, and our marriage, to a new level of trust and intimacy. Change expands the territory in which you live and lets your fullest potential shine.
Enlist an ally
Once you’ve announced your plans to another person, you’re more likely to follow up—because if you don’t, someone is there to hold your feet to the fire. Earlier this year, due to months of heavy travel, I’d stopped exercising. Then my friend Annie and I had a heart-to-heart about the lack of balance in our lives. Though we both wanted to start exercising again, neither one of us had managed to make the change alone. We agreed to meet for several brisk walks each week to inspire ourselves to get back on track. The effect was immediate. We started walking more, both for each other and for ourselves.
The best motivation for change is a heartfelt desire to live your best life, not only for yourself but also to make the world a better place. That’s important for friends and loved ones to understand, because when you start your transformation, they might fear that you’ll leave them behind. But good change isn’t a selfish thing. It’s a validation of the fact that all people continue to grow throughout life, and that our potential for both work and love is much vaster than we might ever have dared to imagine.
Tips for getting support to change
- Shake up your routine That way, no one can ignore your new plans. Move the treadmill into the living room or start driving your friends and family past the house you want to buy. When loved ones see you’ve made an effort, they’re more likely to offer encouragement.
- Talk about your plans Use the present tense: “I am starting my own business” instead of “I will.” Friends will soon want updates on your goals, and you’ll be more likely to honor your word.
- Don’t keep a stiff upper lip If you’re unhappy with your life now, seek counsel from friends about what’s wrong—and how you can change it.
- Plan your reward Tell others you’ll throw a party when you’ve accomplished an important goal. Pick a target that’s reasonable to accomplish in 6 months and set the date. That gives your friends incentive to keep you focused.