The Illusion of Change

There is change that happens suddenly when everything thereafter is fundamentally different and cannot be undone easily or at all, like a divorce, the death of a loved one, a natural disaster. However, that isn’t the kind of change I’m thinking about today. I’m thinking about the kind of change that is incremental, iterative and takes the time it takes.

Consciously chosen personal growth work is typically more the latter kind of change (even if spurred by the former) and I think sometimes there is a disservice in the way in which change is spoken about in those circles that makes it seem like all change is momentary, like it is and should be a simple “flip of a switch” even when it isn’t. It makes it seem simple when it’s portrayed that way. Like it should be instantaneous and easy. That’s an illusion.

“One day I just decided to quit smoking,” makes it seem like change happened in that moment and that’s not completely accurate. That decision is more like a direction, an arrow pointing to change, an impetus, an intention. It is the decision to change which is different than the multiple decisions and processes and complexities that inevitably make up the actual substance of change.

If you decide to quit smoking you’ll make the choice to not smoke over and over and over not just once. When we think change happens in the moment of the decision to change and not as a series of choices, we might then also think choosing to smoke once agin while we’re trying to quit has ruined our chance to change. Yet each choice to smoke or not smoke won’t necessarily affect the next choice. They are individual and cumulative.

Why do I think this is this important to say?

Well, because I’m going through some difficult change and I made my declaration and yet the substance of the many decisions of time is taking time. I want to compare myself to the false ways it’s portrayed and say I’m somehow failing when some of the momentary choices don’t seem aligned with my initial intention or it’s taking too long.

I’m not failing.

Many of us also have deeply engrained patterns of behavior created or influenced by things like the aforementioned catalytic momentary change events, various forms of trauma (which may be ongoing and systemic), certain disabilities and neuro-atypicalness, all of which can create very real challenges when moving through the process of making change, even when we very much would like to make it.

If we perpetuate the misconstrued notion that the declaration of change alone is change, we risk circulating toxic positivity and bypass our lived realities. We call an organic timeline too long. We miss out on sharing the uniqueness, wisdom and richness that comes from being with ourselves and the complexities of our processes - the gold we can mine to share and uplift and support one another and use to empathize more deeply with our own humanity and that of others - the many celebrations. Editing all of that out can further alienate us from ourselves and each other and perpetuate cycles of shame.

The truth is that change can be a long and even painful and difficult process sometimes. It’s made of many many choices and it’s not all within our control. It takes the time it takes. If we are having difficulty we may also need more support, or need to build skills, to have our access needs met, to utilize different modalities or kinds of support or rest or play or any number of things.

Change is not always easy or even possible in the way we would like or envision or is sold to us sometimes AND we can do what we can to support ourselves in the ways we can to shift our patterns and ways of being. Both of these things are true.

Be gentle with yourself. Tend to yourself.

I believe in us wholeheartedly, in our ability to make shifts and support one another in them. Most change will not happen in an instant and we can learn to be with that reality too.