What’s the first thing that pops into your mind when someone mentions change? Do you think of political slogans? Do you hear clichés from childhood or pop culture? How about classic David Bowie, singing “ch-ch-ch-changes?”
With the years, my thoughts on change have both mellowed and grown bolder. No, I’m not thinking about dyeing my hair red (again). No, I’m not planning on taking flying lessons. No, I’m not relocating to Paris – certainly not at the moment.
Nor is there a promise to myself to lose five pounds or ten, to walk a specific number of miles or minutes per day, or any other quantifiable change in habits to be trimmer, fitter, or somehow a more attractive self. Those are reasonable goals, but the preoccupation that ensues is often self-defeating, not to mention, self-limiting.
Change Yourself, Change the World?
I’m pondering (and acting on) other sorts of changes and yes, habits are involved. Habits to do with how we look at each other, how we treat each other, how we speak to each other. So much of what we do and say is mechanical, and we can modify all of it if we pay attention.
To say please is a habit; to ignore it makes the world less pleasant and to insist on it, in my opinion, makes us all more civilized. Likewise, the word thank you – and meaning it. Thank you to your spouse, your lover, your friends, your neighbors, your co-workers – and naturally your customers and clients. After all, couldn’t any of them go elsewhere for a spouse, a lover, a friend, or a source of services or products?
Sure, theoretically our family is stuck with us. Yet who doesn’t avoid the toxic critical voice, when a small measure of awareness would have kept the relationship intact?
How Long to Change a Bad Habit?
When we’re overwhelmed with work, with family, with the “juggle” – and all those new year’s “goals” – do we give new habits the time to take? Do we allow other bad habits to creep in as a result? Something as simple as not listening to a partner or a child, or only half-listening?
I’m as guilty of both as the next person, but I’m trying to reset priorities just a little. Trying to take that step back and refocus. Trying to remember the relationships that matter most, the principles in my life that matter most, what I would like to achieve moving forward – the result of who I am, and who I wish to be.
Recently, I was told I’m a natural teacher. I’ve heard it before. I consider it the highest of compliments. But to teach, I must be a better listener. To write, I must be a better reader. To be effective at anything that I care about, I must be a perpetual learner. To exchange ideas as a writer (thus, to teach well), I must listen attentively, read consciously, learn naturally, think critically – critically, in the best sense of the term.
So how long to change the bad habit of not paying enough attention? How long to re-instill the good habit of daily reading? How long to change any habit, so it sticks? Apparently, it’s 21 to 28 days to change a habit though some say as few as 15. (So don’t give up on the resolutions just yet.)
On Doing “Good” and Pushing Limits
As I think about habits and changes, and as I think about the passage of time (the theme in Bowie’s song), when asked by the writers of “By Invitation Only” to muse on the topic for this month, here’s what comes to mind: changing myself in ways that go beyond me; using the gift of aging to understand that I am part of a larger fabric; never taking for granted what is precious, what is exciting, what is essential, the people in my life who are essential.
And I think of kindness – of being kinder to those I love (and more attentive, more giving); of being kinder intentionally in what I do and the way I do it; of being kinder to myself in accepting who I am and what makes me “me” – the love of questioning, of creating, of sharing what I learn, and yes, of pushing limits at times – judiciously I hope – in order for us to be more open, more honest, more understanding of each other.
The reality is that I am, in my own way, a “do-gooder,” and unwilling to pretend otherwise, however un-chic it may be to say as much.
The Habit of Kindness
What changes do I anticipate for the new year? What changes am I working on? Personal style? Exercise? Oh, they’re on my radar at various times more than others. (Hello? Footwear obsession? And who wouldn’t love that flyer’s jacket paired with skinny jeans and just the right heels?)
Listen. Fashion is fun – and therapeutic! In my book, it’s also art. Glorious art, at that.
Besides, personal style, however we express it, helps us be ourselves – it helps us discover and define ourselves, or redefine ourselves as our lives go in new directions. But I know my style and I’m comfortable with it. My desired changes are little nudges beyond “me” to be a better “me” – for those I know, and perhaps, those I don’t. I include those proverbial random acts of kindness, and intentional acts of kindness as well, which strike me as even more important.
Maybe, just maybe, the result will be a tiny Butterfly Effect, the ripples of a kind act or a kinder self taking on momentum and felt on the other side of the world, just down the street, or across the dinner table. Wouldn’t that be lovely?
Please join the writers of “By Invitation Only” at Marsha’s place, Splenderosa, for more writing on the topic of changes. This week’s ongoing series of essays will continue tomorrow.
You May Also Enjoy