The world around us either inspires us, or forces us to change. How do we deal with the trials of change to actually achieve transformation?
A year ago, after 27 years of being a smoker, I quit. The decision was sudden and I was certain it was what I wanted. On that mild October night, I decided it needed to happen. What followed were the most difficult 3 days of my life and one of my most challenging years as an adult. The bright side: I was an addict and I was breaking free.
The urge to quit came over me in a much different wave than the countless other unsuccessful attempts to stop the horrible habit. The experience was filled with so many emotions – as I write this I get a chill of the pain felt those first few days. Aside from breaking the addiction that had consumed me, the experience itself has created clarity that had been missing for some time. Dealing with change taught me a few things that I would like to share.
Pay attention and go with what flows: force doesn’t work.
Significant change cannot be forced. Its rationale must be understood and the reasons ‘why’, accepted at its most basic level. You must create a connection within yourself or within the others you want to change. Without that link, the attempt may be somewhat successful, but it will not create that energy necessary to be sustainable. Believing and understanding why the change is the right thing, is more powerful than any other lever used to drive the change.
I lost count of my previous attempts to quit smoking; those usually lasted a few days and were never without the support of some form of nicotine replacement – or smoking. I often found myself chewing nicotine gum, with a nicotine patch on my arm, looking for my electric cigarette. I had self-help books to guide me through the process – some purchased, some gifted by family and friends. I had a handy 1-800 help line to coach me through the challenge. Everyone wanted me to quit, but me. The one time I felt the urge to change, where I didn’t force change or I didn’t drive change because of someone else’s agenda, I was successful. 
Release old habits: your support system starts with You.
How often do we get stuck doing what we do because we worry more about the effort to change than the benefits it will bring? You may start out with the benefits in mind, but those are quickly forgotten when the hard stuff starts.
Change helped me see things differently. It helped me experience life differently. Change is hard, but it is also enlightening. For the first few weeks, I really felt sorry for me. I expected everyone to understand what a monumental effort this was. Look at what I was sacrificing? Didn’t anyone know how hard this was? Then, my perspective changed; that change was the defining moment that enabled success. I began to think about my ‘carbon footprint’. Prior to this, I never worried about asking people to wait while I have a smoke before we go in…hang on while I fill the air with a foul smell and toxic carcinogens…watch me while I damage my health and my future… I was experiencing a totally different perspective. That change of perspective began to make the days much easier to handle.
You’re not the only one going through change…
The impact of change is not confined to you. Whether it affects your personal or corporate life; change directly or indirectly impacts those around you. Be conscious of the fact that change can leave a very distinct footprint. Being aware of your attitude is very important. Although it is you who is “struggling”, “suffering” or even benefiting from change, others are experiencing it with you; through you.
Being aware affects your success. But, please don’t walk around with a fake smile, waving all your troubles away. Be honest and clear with your family and your team. Pay attention to your communication and especially your body language:
I need help.
Here is what I am struggling with…
I could use your expertise with this challenge.
You don’t understand.
This is difficult.
I don’t care what you think, this needs to happen”.
I never realized the impact of my attitude, more than I did when it wasn’t as positive as I normally was. I was going through withdrawal, my habits where changing dramatically. It took a little while, but once I started to pay attention to how I was projecting, things started to become easier.
Being transparent and paying attention to your words, feelings, needs and actions can have a profound impact on the success of the change. Changing your approach can draw the support you need more effectively than wallowing in your own self-pity.
Don’t quit…focus on the WHY.
When change is difficult, we long for the way it used to be. ‘Why change our lives, our daily patterns and routines that seemed to serve us well?’ I could have continued smoking. I wasn’t in perfect health but I was not ill. The problem was, I knew better. I was merely postponing the inevitable. Someone told me that ‘everyone quits before they die’; he was right. So why not change now, before I was forced to quit? When we focus and pay attention, we know when change is necessary; when transformation can make things better. But we get stuck thinking change is messy and disruptive. Change will challenge us in so many ways that are both known and definitely unknown. The alternative: become stale and succumb to the ‘comfortable’ ways. To know better, but not to do better can be as dramatic as inviting extinction.
At the end of the day, I was giving up cigarettes. I wasn’t fighting poverty, hunger or disease. I was fighting a personal demon which many have already conquered.
However, I have experienced clarity and triumphed over my addiction. The changes give me the opportunity to be healthier and live longer than I would have if I didn’t quit. This was all made possible because I didn’t force the change; I supported myself but I respected those around me, and I focused on “why” the transformation was necessary.
I hope the tips above make your transformation easier.