Finding the Right Balance for You Right Now
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” — Reinhold Neibuhr
Each day involves a mix of ‘change’ and ‘continuity’.
Also known as the ‘explore-exploit dilemma’, we regularly trade-off between doing what we know has worked (reasonably well) in the past versus trying something new with the hope of an (even) better outcome.
How much of each to proactively pursue is one of the repeat questions we face. We can’t escape change, nor should we try. I offer some principles on finding the right balance for you between change and continuity.
Common Advice: Perseverance and Schedules Lead to Success
If you seek out recipes for success, be it on social media, the mainstream press or blogs, a common theme would be discipline. Build a routine, commit to a goal, work at it regularly (ideally daily), and persevere particularly when it feels hard or unappealing.
In other words, continuity. Pick something and then stick to it. Refine the process, potentially even change the metrics of success but don’t change the goals.
Our First 20 Years: Controlled Change
The first 20 years of modern life has a ‘scheduled’ and ‘predictable’ amount of change — in our bodies, our minds, and our daily/annual calendars. All of us take roughly the same path with a predictable range of outcomes.
After that our paths diverge. Remember what you noticed upon seeing your classmates at your 25th high school or college reunion after many years.
Change involves Uncertainty which is Scary
The human brain is optimized to predict the future and keep us safe. We are wired to hate uncertainty, even being willing to choose pain (emotional or physical) over an unknown future that could be better (or worse.)
Change involves uncertainty. Thus it feels scary and requires effort to start down the path. Procrastination is far easier.
Change often Happens to Us
We might know it is coming, but often we have not chosen the change. Be it losing a job, the end of a long-term relationship, the death of a parent, or our children leaving home for good.
Finding the Right Balance for You
Some principles that might be helpful…
- Choose Change: Making a choice is empowering. Control feels good. So proactively choose change. Be committed to it for some period of time. And also set a time in the future to re-evaluate if the choice was the right one.
- Prepare for the Future to be Different: Looking backwards we can see that our life has changed a lot over the past several years. And we still struggle to imagine a markedly different future. It is helpful to prepare for change. Some which come with aging are more predictable. Preparing for a different future helps us savor the present. Like the stoic I encourage memento mori — perhaps not daily but fairly regularly.
- Combine Change and Continuity: If possible, combine the two. Especially when the risks of trying something new are low. Vacations can be a good opportunity to try a combo of doing things you have loved in the past, while also trying out new experiences.
- Seek out Balance: In the spirit of the saying ‘make hay while the sun shines’, choose change in one aspect of life, when the other elements of life are stable and positive. In contrast, when one major change in life has happened, think carefully before embarking on other changes.
- Embrace Luck and the Unknown: Life rarely follows a straight line. A common theme in my interviews with business leaders is how unpredictable their career path has been. Remember that when one door closes, another usually opens. We do have to look for it. Look for the positives in change, especially when you have not chosen the new path.
We can only control our actions and reactions. And even controlling those is very challenging. Our control over others is almost zero; as every couples therapist will remind us. As someone who started college as an idealist and has become a realist over the years, I leave you with the wisdom of Rumi which I have tried to apply to my own life.
“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”