How to Be an Agent of Change

We all see those inspirational quotes and posters, commanding us to “Take charge of your life!” or some such, with a photo of a silhouette of someone on a mountain bike riding into the sunset. Or someone lounging in a field of daisies or poppies. Or someone in an office working late at night, collar unbuttoned and sleeves rolled up.

You probably have some complaints that immediately come up around creating change in your life, like:

  • “There’s too much to do, I don’t know where to start;” or
  • “I don’t feel ready yet, let’s wait a little longer;” or
  • “What if I make a mistake? People are going to think I’m stupid;”
  • Or many other excuses why we don’t even start.

There may also be some preconceptions about what types of actions it will take to accomplish real change in your life:

  • Making displays of anger, power, or authority;
  • Giving ultimatums;
  • Trying to manipulate people into doing what you want, and making sure they don’t do what you don’t want;
  • Being hardlined and not taking “no” for an answer.

It’s understandable that these are our default strategies. It’s ingrained into American culture through our stories, TV shows, and movies. We’re shown that loud arguments show that you’re right; that admitting you’re wrong is a sign of weakness; that getting what you want is a contest of might and strength (especially with men).

These are all dead-end strategies. If you use these, sometimes you’ll get what you want, most of the time you won’t. When you do get what you want, the way you went about it will cause lasting, often permanent damage to the relationship. This path is lined with:

  • Frustrated conversations or angry arguments;
  • Stunted communication and built up resentments;
  • Not taking action until you’re sure they’ll agree with you (which ultimately means never doing anything about it);
  • Deciding that you know how they would respond, and preemptively ending the relationship without ever having brought it up.

One of the main things that prevents us from being effective agents of change is our emotional reaction to other people resisting our ideas. We want to control their reactions and manipulate their responses so that everything goes smoothly, which means without any disagreements. We want to be so persuasive that they will suddenly abandon all of their own thoughts and opinions, and immediately agree.

At the center of this is the idea that there is something wrong with other people’s resistance. You may think they’re resisting because there’s something wrong with them, or there’s something wrong with you. What it means to be an agent of change is neither of these.

In order to alter the course of your life, you will encounter resistance: resistance of other people, and resistance within yourself. You should expect this. The struggle comes from thinking there shouldn’t be any resistance, and getting angry/upset/frustrated when it shows up.

It’s like the bow of a ship.

The bow of a ship bears the brunt of the force of cutting through the water. If you want to change course, the bow will be pushed and pulled as the ship starts to turn. The sharper the turn, the stronger the forces.

There’s nothing wrong with the water for resisting the turn; it’s an inherent physical property of all matter: “objects at rest tend to stay at rest.” There’s also nothing wrong with the ship for creaking, bending, and leaning with the turn. These things are inherent in making a course correction. The trouble comes when you expect there shouldn’t be any resistance. This is when bows break, ships capsize, and entire crews and cargo are lost.

An experienced captain relates to the ship as a partner, rather than an enemy. They understand the strengths and weaknesses of the ship, and take proper precautions. They will only take the turn as fast as the ship can handle, and know the difference between regular healthy creaking, and noises that spell disaster.

Bringing this out into our lives, when we are going to make any changes, there will be resistance: both resistance within ourselves, and from others. Expect this, plan for this.

If your life has a lot of responsibilities, like taking care of children or parents, or having mortgage payments, your ship is large and heavy and will encounter greater resistance. You will need to take the turn more slowly to ensure the safety of everyone on board. If your life has few responsibilities, your ship is light and can afford to make quick turns without risking too much.

But understand that everyone encounters resistance when making changes. If you’re committed to having the life you’ve always wanted, prepare for resistance. The greater the change, the greater the resistance. It’s part of the process and part of the journey. The people that make it are the ones that face, embrace, and accept that resistance. Like the experienced captain, it’s something to work with, rather than something to avoid.

Is there something you’ve always wanted but have been afraid to take the first step?
Do you avoid difficult conversations because you’re afraid of other people’s reactions?
Do you just not bring up the things you want, because “you already know” what the other person is going to say?

Consider that you’re expecting the turn to have no resistance. Things just don’t happen that way.

What would you do differently if you’re expecting there to be resistance, like a partner rather than an enemy?

 

What did this blog bring up for you? Please tell me, I’d love to know!
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