You’ve decided: you’re changing.
You’re not going to argue with your husband, anymore.
You’re not going to stay late to work, anymore.
You’re changing careers.
You’re selling everything and moving to Italy.
You’re going to quit drinking, smoking, over-eating, using a substance.
Sometimes, you can just…change. Do it, and people take notice and that’s all you need to do.
Other times, people give you the merest bit of shit about changing. If they’re not being direct in their criticisms of your new behavior, they’ll communicate by raising an eyebrow, making jokes, talking about what you’re doing to everyone but you, or upping the ante and trying to get you to revert to your old behavior by providing you with tempting triggers.
You have two choices: Either pretend not to notice all of these things and continue with your changes, or clue the person in that you’re changing, that’s where this train is headed, and they can get on board or they can watch it pass them by.
If you don’t want to pretend not to notice passive-aggressive behavior, then you get to say something about it. And if you say something about it, then here are a few options:
Speech: The Train is Leaving the Station
Chances of this going well? Low.
Why? Because most people don’t like being abruptly told that things are going to change and “If you don’t like it, too bad.” Note that this is probably the most frequent way that people approach telling someone about a proposed change, and unfortunately, this conversation is often labeled as “courageous.”
Really, it’s just fear, shouting loudly and hoping to intimidate someone else into not protesting.
It sounds something like: “From here on out, I’m planning to do ___________ differently. I’ll be [insert behavior change]. I hope you’re on board with that, because that’s where I’m headed.”
Speech: Pretend The Change Isn’t A Big One
Chances of this going well? In the short-term, okay. This speech is all about minimizing the bigness of the change that is to come, by pretending as though it’s something still being negotiated, not a change that you’ve firmly decided on.
It sounds something like: “I’d like to make these changes. What do you think? Can we work together on that? Give me your feedback.”
In the long-term, this approach can go south, because giving someone the impression that they are allowed to make decisions about the changes you’re intending to make can only work for so long. It’s a bit like saying to someone who’s in love with you, “I’d like to break up. What do you think? Can we work together on that?” The person who’s in love with you is going to hear that and think that there’s still some chance of maintaining the status quo–not good if you’re clear that you’re ready to move on.
Speech: Here’s What I’ve Realized
Chances of going well: Good, if you keep the focus on yourself.
(Note: This is the one that I recommend.)
It sounds like: “I’ve realized that I have a tendency to ____________, and when I do that, there’s [insert negative consequences of your tendency to ________]. I’ve thought a lot about what I can do differently, and I’ve decided that from here on out, I want to [insert your behavior changes].”
Note how well this speech can work, with so many different scenarios:
“I’ve realized that I have a tendency to nag at you and this starts arguments, and when I do that, there’s less connection between us. I’ve thought a lot about what I can do differently, and I’ve decided that from here on out, I want to stop and take a breath whenever we start to get into an argument, maybe even pause and leave the room until I’m calm and know I can talk without being combative.”
“I’ve realized that I have a tendency to not live in the present moment, and when I do that, there’s this lack of fulfillment in my life. I’ve thought a lot about what I can do differently, and I’ve decided that from here on out, I want to sell my stuff and live in Bali at an ashram for six months, and then figure out what my next step is, from there.”
“I’ve realized that I have a tendency to drink too much, and when I do that, there’s inevitably a hangover the next day, and the people around me are starting to comment on it. I’ve thought a lot about what I can do differently, and I’ve decided that from here on out, I want to stop drinking and start attending AA meetings.”
“I’ve realized that I have a tendency to stay at work late, and when I do that, there’s a real impact on my family, how well I’m sleeping, and my stress levels. I’ve thought a lot about what I can do differently, and I’ve decided that from here on out, I want to leave work on time every day, and only occasionally work late, and I’m open to coordinating with the other members of our team so that we can figure out how to make sure that everything gets done.”
They Get To Choose
The only way Option Three goes well is if you understand that the other person gets to choose.
You can make the big, mature speech to your husband about not arguing, anymore–and he might agree now but argue, later. Or he might immediately debate with you and tell you how everything’s your fault. Or he might shrug, and you’ll realize that secretly, you were attached to the idea that if you made this big, mature speech, he’d realize how he’s done it all wrong and he’d apologize and you’d fall in love, again.
May or may not happen.
You can make the mature speech about how you’ve decided to sell your shit and move to an ashram, and your family might still think you’re nuts, might still talk about you behind your back, might still be dramatic about illnesses to guilt you into staying. Or, they might passive-aggressively stonewall, pretending “not to care” since “obviously, you don’t care.” Sniff!
May or may not happen.
You can tell your friends that you’ve decided to quit drinking, and they might still invite you out to the bar. You can tell your job that you’ve decided to quit working late, and your boss might retaliate by passing you over for good assignments, making passive-aggressive comments about your change in meetings, pitting co-workers against one another, or straight-up telling you that you can’t leave late and that’s that.
They get to choose.
You making the big, mature speech isn’t about getting a result from someone else.
It’s about communicating in a way that doesn’t steamroll over people, or manipulate anyone into being okay with your decisions by pretending as if the decisions haven’t been made.
Sticking To It
The hard part of change isn’t going to be what you tell other people, even though that might feel like the hard part.
The hard part is whether or not you’ll stick to it.
Will you drop your desired changes like it’s hot, based on how others respond? Will you get sucked into the same, tired arguments?
Or, will you practice the courage of your convictions, sticking to the changes that you know are best for you, even if they’re not the best for someone else?
The Final Speech
The final speech isn’t a speech, exactly. It’s listening and allowing someone else’s feelings. It sounds something like: “I’m committed to this change. Tell me about what’s concerning you, and if there’s a way to work something out while I’m also able to stay committed to the changes I want to make, I’d like to work together with you.”
The person might initially need to vent (so you just listen and let them get it out).
Then: “Let’s take it one specific concern at a time. What’s just one thing?”
If you can look at one thing at a time, and if you are both communicating respectfully, there’s a chance of working together.
If respect isn’t happening, then it might be time to reiterate your earlier speech: “I’ve really thought about [this behavior that I want to change.] I see [these negative consequences.] I’m committed to [changing in this way.]”
Lather, rinse, repeat.
And sometimes, despite your best intentions, you walk away. That’s tough. There’s a lot to grieve, in that.
The conversations that open you up to the possibility that it won’t work out, that there will be something to work for and something to grieve, are actually the conversations that are most courageous. Those are the conversations that allow for two humans to meet each other, somewhere, both just wanting to get needs met. Both just hoping for love.
First, do this: don’t do anything.
Not doing something is, in fact, an action.
I’d often give my life-coaching clients an exercise: take a week-long sabbatical. No internet, no email, no social media, and if possible, no work. Also? No self-help books.
Most of the seriously smart women I worked with who felt lost and totally confused started trying to do something about their lost-ness and confusion–read a lot of self-help books, re-work their schedules, spend hours on the internet surfing websites that talked about living a better life.
A happy accident: this “doing” included hiring a life coach, a move that ended up working out for them if they were jamming with me, primarily because I’d ask them to stop trying to paddle away from lost and confusion, and instead try to figure out what “lost and confused” was trying to say, and I was willing to be with them in the lost and confusion places so that they weren’t doing it all, alone.
The Doing Problem
The problem is that when you’re feeling lost and totally confused, you’re feeling murky and uncertain and there’s a lot of second-guessing and doubt. You start taking strides in one direction, then you feel like no, that’s all wrong, I don’t want that, I don’t know what I want, who am I, anyway? Ugh I hate all of this.
All of that doing often ends up becoming a distraction from clearly seeing what’s really going on. You need to find paths to less distraction.
Internet, email, social media, and being frustrated with jobs we hate are almost always a distraction from what’s really going on. We turn to the internet, email, and social media to numb out.
The job you hate? That feels more and more intolerable every day? Or the marriage that suddenly feels unbearable? Or feeling triggered around old family wounds? Sometimes, that’s what’s “really going on,” but often, suddenly feeling angry and like those things over there are the problem is a distraction from what’s “really going on.”
And of course, we read the self-help books so that we can feel like we’re “doing something” about all that we feel. Piling those on can be helpful, but again, is often a distraction.
So I’d ask clients to drop away from all of that, for one week. Spending a week without all of the habitual distractions would usually open up some kind of insight: My marriage isn’t working and it’s because I’m the one sabotaging it, or I’m feeling creatively stifled and wish I could just bust out the paint brushes, or I feel completely fake and inauthentic around my friends.
Boom. Fucking terrifying, all of those realizations.
You can see how it is that we avoid getting quiet with ourselves. One of the reasons I’m such a fan of life coaching is that when someone has these realizations, they have support for working through them without being alone.
The Lost and Confused Mask
Feeling lost and totally confused becomes a mask that prevents you from feeling the truth of your life. “Lost and confused” becomes the cover, the drama, that prevents you from seeing those hard-to-face truths about the marriage that isn’t working or the friendships that feel inauthentic or recognizing that actually, all you want to do all day is paint.
When people see clearly into the truth, lost and confused–the murky, fumbling, don’t know what you want variety–dissipates pretty quickly. When you actually see the truth about who you are, or your creative longings, or your marriage, or your desired career, things stop being murky and become quite clear.
Harder Before Better
And then, when you realize the truth of what you really want or where you ache, it gets harder before it gets better.
“Wait, Kate–what? WHAT? What did you just say? It’s going to get harder?”
Yes. Hollywood sells you on seeing the truth and having the a-ha breakthrough. In my experience and in working with clients, I’ve usually found that it (temporarily) gets harder, before it gets better.
For example: Realizing that your marriage isn’t working leads to more hard truths–perhaps about all the places where you didn’t step up to the plate, the pain of wondering if it’s too late, or the messy untangling of finances and living situations. Realizing that your entire life feels inauthentic opens up the harrowing question of figuring out, perhaps for the first time, who you actually are. Understanding that all you want to do is quit your job and paint means butting up against all of your fears about not having enough money or being rejected by the art establishment.
Make It Worth It
But it will get better. And it will have been worth it if you commit to this one very important thing: seeing what’s on the other side of harder. If you give up before then, you miss out on the gold that’s on the other side.
So, To Recap
You get quiet with yourself, minimizing the outside distractions.
You temporarily don’t try to search for any “answers” whatsoever.
You pay attention to what seems to emerge as truth without attaching to anything as “the truth” or “the answer.”
You accept that this space feels wiggly and feral and awful, at the same time that it might also arouse your curiosity.
You will know when the truth-truth-truth emerges, mostly because it’ll keep coming back up.
Lost and confused–the murky kind–dissipates as you understand what’s true.
Things feel tough for awhile, as you start responding to what you know is true.
And, if you pay attention, you learn something of incomparable value along the way–who you really are, and what you really want, and that nothing in life can actually break you.
You learn to trust yourself.
You learn to prioritize what matters to you, most.
This becomes your freedom.
(These are, by the way, things that I teach in the Courageous Living Program, which is not the program for you if you’ve yet to be willing to sit with yourself and do nothing, but it’s absolutely what you’re ready for if the truths are emerging and you want to learn how to work with the fear as you make your next move).
When you trust yourself and your life pivots around your freedom, the gratitude and joy you feel just for breathing? It floods you.
I can’t speak for anyone else, but that’s what I want: to be flooded, regularly and routinely, with reverence for life.