Why, even if you know you need to change, can one not change?

cassidysummers ‏@cassidysummers: Why, even if you know you need to change, can one not change?


It was time for me to pee on my boss’s desk. When I took the job two years earlier I was told, “the only way to get fired is to pee on your boss’s desk”. I had to go the bathroom. His office was right there. I wanted a reason to get the hell out of there. Why couldn’t I pee on his desk?

For that matter, why was it so hard for me to even pee in the building. I was so ashamed to pee while standing next to someone I would hold it in until I was going to pee in my pants and then RUN to the New York Public Library across the street, go in the side entrance, race down 4 staircases to the sub-basement, found the bathroom which was probably only ever used by me. And then I would pee. Ahhhh. Satisfaction.

But I was ready to leave. I had spent 3 years there. I was bored. I was unhappy. I hated going into work. And I wouldn’t do it. I couldn’t get myself fired. I told them I was running a business on the side. They didn’t fire me. I stopped working. They wouldn’t fire me. My boss walked in my cubicle while I was playing chess online and I made him sit in a chair while I finished the game. “One second,” I said, “I’m playing the champion of Sweden.” He didn’t fire me.

I wanted a parade of ex-Presidents to come to my desk and shout out so everyone could hear: “YOU WON! Now your life can change!” I wanted a prostitute carved out of a block of gold to kiss me and leave a gold rock in my mouth each time so I would never have to go to work again.

I would wake up in the morning unable to move. Like I was cryogenically frozen. Eventually scientists would figure out how to bring me to life and then I would get unfrozen. Or so I thought.

We all have that period between moments in our lives. The feeling that we can’t move on. The feeling that we can’t move back. The feeling of “stuck”.

Being unstuck isn’t a matter of moving forward. It’s a matter of moving inward.

Several things keep us stuck:

A) we don’t know how to make a move. Maybe we were at the same job, or in the same relationship for years and years and forgot how to use the “Change Muscle”.

B) we’re afraid. It’s a scary world out there. Nobody owes us anything. We can make a change and it might not work out. In fact, it might even be worse. We just don’t know. Often it’s very worse before it gets better. This happens to me with almost every change.

C) we could be wrong. Perhaps the change we need to make is subtle. But we are fooled into thinking we need to make a big change. Often we think we need to move to a new city in order to avoid the horrible people in the old city.

But there’s that Zen story: A man goes to a Zen master and says, “I would like to move to this city. What do you think of the people here?” And the Zen master says, “What were the people like in your old city?” And the man says, “They were awful, mean, spiteful.” The Zen master says, “they are the same here. You shouldn’t move here.” Then another person goes to the Zen master and says, “I’d like to move to your city. What do you think of the people here?” And the Zen master says, “What were the people like in your old city?” And the man says, “They were very nice people. Very smart. I enjoyed being around them.” And the Zen master says, “They are the same here. You will enjoy it here.”

Sometimes we think we need that big move but it’s really the internal that we need to change else we won’t be happy anywhere. So it’s difficult. There’s no one scientific formula for change. But change must happen. Because it happens with or without you. And if you don’t go with it, you get left behind and you die, either internally or externally. When you feel the itch, somehow or other, it has to be scratched.

A couple of tips for change. If you follow these you can trust that the change will be right, even if it seems difficult.

A) Don’t change if you are in a bad mood. Maybe your boss yelled at you. Maybe your wife cheated. Maybe your business partner stole money. You are mad, you are furious. You punch a wall. What can we say about that punch? Your hand hurt. You broke your fingers. You broke a wall. But nothing happened. And you know, before you unclench your hand, that you just made things worse. Everyone goes from bad mood to good mood to bad mood. That’s the nature of blood sugar, or neurons, of oxytocin, or serotonin. It’s beyond your control. It’s the computer we live in. It’s programmed to go back and forth. So if you are in a bad mood or if your panicking about something, say to yourself, “I am in a bad mood. I need to wait until I am in a better mood to make a decision”.

This is VERY IMPORTANT. Nobody makes a good decision in a bad mood. The mind is too crowded. Think about when you are happiest. It might be when you are sitting on the beach, looking at an empty ocean, a sky that feels empty of air, your brain itself as empty as possible. That is happiness. When you are in a bad mood your mind is rushing around, the thoughts are very busy, catching dirty subways to other parts of your brain, avoiding the rats scampering along the gutter, carrying a knife to fight other thoughts. Overflowing with garbage that hasn’t been picked up in weeks.


Breathe. [Damn, I feel “cliche” coming on. The word “breathe” has become a cliche in a self-help context. What can be a better way to put it. Maybe “breathe with your abdomen instead of your chest”. More specific.]

The good mood will eventually come back and you can make your decision. It might take hours. It might take days. It might take seconds. It doesn’t happen automatically after “10 deep breaths” [cliches begone!].

The challenge of the day here is: exercise the muscle which NOTICES when you are in a bad mood. Get better and better at noticing that. That is much more valuable then meditation. And much more valuable then therapy (which tries to analyze your bad mood instead of just waiting for it to move on). Much more valuable than making a decision right then. Practice noticing those moods even when you don’t have a big decision to make. So you can get better and better at it.

The other day I had to do this. I received a letter that had agitated me. A company I had 16 year relationship wanted to terminate the relationship. I was PISSED OFF. I started making calls. But eventually I stopped. I was in a bad mood. I waited. This was two days ago. Now I’m in a good mood. Now I know exactly what I need to do.

B) Phew! That was a long “A”. And, of course, my “B” is the obvious cliche. You get better at making decisions if you do The Daily Practice. I will tell you exactly what you need to do to get your mind and body ready to make a good change.

– Sleep 8-9 hours a day. Which probably means don’t watch TV or drink alchohol late at night and avoid coffee after 8am. (whoops. It’s 8:10am and I am going to go for my last cup of the day).

– Take 20 minute walks in the middle of the day. You don’t need to be busy all day. Trust me. You’re not that important. Dress warm. Take a walk. Notice the rooftops during your walk.

– Don’t snack. This requires willpower. It’s hard to do. If this is too hard then you have to practice it for awhile. Else you’ll use up all of your willpower and be incapable of making a good decision. But junk food turns your brain to junk. We don’t want you to do that if it will make you a bad decision-maker.

– Be around people who uplift you. Who give good advice. Who think highly of you. Who will support your decisions. If you can’t be around people like that, then slowly disengage with the negative people and be more around the positive people. You can’t make a good decision if you’re trying to please a negative influence.

– Read a lot. One to two hours a day at least. Sign up for my email list if you want to see the latest things I’m reading (and stealing from for these posts).

– Write down ideas. As usual, you can’t make a good decision if your brain doesn’t know how to sift through 1000s of possible decisions and ideas. Building your idea muscle is the only way.

– Gratitude. List the things you are grateful for. Even be grateful for the negative things. Without the negative things that have happened in my life I would never have gotten myself healthy in the way I’m describing here. The word “humble” comes the latin “humilis” which means “on the ground”. You have to be literally “on the ground” to learn humility. To learn the skills you need to get back up. Be grateful you have been put on the ground. The lessons you learn create a Phoenix, create a new you. It’s where you go from here that will create the person you can be proud of.

– Surrender. You don’t know if you will make a good decision. It’s ok if you don’t. But if you follow all of the above, surrender to the fact that you’ve done very great things to prepare yourself. Surrender to the fact that with that preparation it doesn’t matter if you hit a home run, it means you’ve done everything you can to prove that you are capable of getting at bad. That you are a valuable member of the team. That life rewards those who prepare. That the universe of everything you don’t know is the same as the universe of everything you will want to explore.

Eventually I made the change. And at first it was horrible. Then it got a little better. Then it was horrible again. Then it got better. Then lots of other things happened. That’s life.