when healthy change feels like crap

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Here are a few changes I’ve been a part of in the past year:

  1. growing the kick-ass staff at the nonprofit I help lead

  2. a re-configuring of the two flagship events at that same nonprofit

  3. an intense dietary change to the Autoimmune Protocol that has helped my husband come back from debilitating daily pain

  4. the creation of a brand new granting program for local theaters

  5. year three of a school’s new equity focus so that all children can thrive there

  6. parenting our child—our story-loving child—as she excitedly learned to read

  7. shifting so that I use my phone instead of my phone using me

  8. rediscovering my patience at home [ahem. in progress.]

And here is part of what has come with each of those healthy, necessary changes:

  1. complaints, confusion, disagreement, feeling of failure

  2. distress, double-clutching, and reluctant buy-in

  3. a full month of scrambling around trying to buy different things, cook different things, say no to things we loved to eat and drink in the past

  4. weighty community sadness about the loss that preceded the gain

  5. discomfort about what to say and how to say it

  6. tearful conversations

  7. generalized embarrassment, plus an early morning race to get my husband the car key

  8. one of the hardest conversations of my parenting life


All these changes have been good changes. Really good. Positive. Lots of benefits associated.

And all these changes have—at some point—felt like crap. Some for a few hours, some for a few days, some for months.

Because our brains hardwire repeated behavior.

You, too, have probably read stuff about this. Stuff reminding us that it feels better to drive in that neural rut we’ve created over time than to off-road. Off-roading is bumpy, muddy, and scary for the brain. Even when the rut is no longer serving us. Even when the rut downright sucks.

It is hard to change.

We’re trying to change something for the better in ourselves, in our relationships, in our organizations, in our world—and after a honeymoon moment of excitement, it just feels like shit.

What do we do?

You know the (good) advice: Choose one or two changes at a time. Prepare for obstacles. Communicate before, during, after. Stay the course. It gets better with time.

Here’s my addition (learned after mostly NOT doing this for a whole year of experiments and change):

Press pause. Not on the change. On the analysis of the change. Don’t allow yourself to say whether it’s good, bad, impossible, miraculous, fool-headed, brilliant, career-ending, or life-changing yet.

Just wait.

A week.

Let it be glorious or awful or both. Without judgment. Without talking about it too much.

After a week, there’s usually some movement. Enough movement that you can press pause on analysis for another week or two.

For bigger changes, you might need a month. Some of our organizational changes need an even bigger judgment pause. A year, perhaps. Sometimes two. And world changes . . . whew.

Some of this pause can allow us to work out the kinks. To make small changes to our changes so they work better.

But much of it is about giving our brains time.

Our brains need time to create that new pathway. Time to feel comfortable using it. Time to let go of that old familiar road.

If you are in the shit of healthy change, let’s press pause on the analysis together. Just for a week.

I love you, and I love that you are out there trying something new, too. You are not alone.