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How do you know when to make a change?

Improving Systems and Habits

Scott Miker is the author of several books that describe how to use systems and habits to improve.  This free blog provides articles that to help understand the principles related to building systems.  

How do you know when to make a change?

Scott Miker

Change is something that most people try to avoid.  Consistency tends to bring comfort and change tends to invoke anxious feelings. 

But nothing good has ever happened without change.  Change has preceded every great thing in your life.  Landing that great new job, getting a promotion, finding a new love, moving to a new apartment, having a new child are all examples of times when change causes something great in our lives. 

In fact, many times the preceding change isn’t positive.  It can be uncomfortable or painful to lose a job but most people say they wouldn’t be where they were if some of those painful changes hadn’t forced them to grow. 

But how do we know when to make a change?  Should we wait until we absolutely can’t take it anymore or should we change as soon as things get uncomfortable?

I heard a quote the other day in my Toastmasters meeting that said, “life starts at the end of your comfort zone.” 

The problem with most advice is that it takes an extreme perspective.  It either says we need to be consistent and keep going past discomfort to improve or that we need to be willing to jump around in order to find what we are looking for.

But those are the two ends of the spectrum.  If we always jump from thing to thing we won’t improve.  We will simply move on.  If we stay too long then we miss opportunities to grow even more.  So how do we know when to change and how should we change?

The answer depends on each individual.  The first step is to know your tendencies.  We all naturally lean to one side.  Be aware of this and don’t let it distract you from the reality.

The perspective that I always take is that of improvement.  Are you improving or have you reached a plateau?  Have you given it enough time to learn and grow or do you want to change before you have given yourself a chance to improve?

Sometimes change is forced on us and we have to accept it.  But what I have found was that long before that moment were signs that I ignored that said I should change.  Because I ignored the early signs the change was forced on me and wasn’t nearly as pleasant as it would have been if I was proactive when those signs appeared. 

So don’t be so focused on consistency without taking a second to think if this is actually getting you where you need to go.  And what is the pace?  Is it a very slow growth that is hindered by outside circumstance?  Or are you improving so much that you can barely keep up?

Once you get to a point where you think you might want to make a change, do three things. 

First, determine if a small change can help you get back to improving.  If a small change can get you there, don’t go all out.  Implement that small change and work on consistently finding other small changes to help you grow.

Second, if you can’t make a small change to improve, determine if there is something that you can let go of.  Too often we take on too much and it starts to bury us.  We get caught up in things that used to matter and responsibility that should have been passed to others.  We have to be willing to say “enough” and let go of it.  Find a way to move on.

Third, when you find that small changes or letting go isn’t enough, then put in place a plan to get you where you need to go.  Don’t act on emotion and storm into your boss’s office to quit.  Don’t end the relationship because you are upset.  This is where you have to put your emotions aside.  Emotions can easily cause you to make the wrong decision and you probably won’t even realize it until the emotional rise has fallen and you can think clearly.

Once you have a plan in place then act on it.  It may be to get additional education before quitting your job or evaluating your finances before moving to a new neighborhood.  Take a series of small steps that will change those things in your life that need to change. 

This three-step process can be a great way to evaluate change.  It can help you determine how to change and how much to change.  By looking at change systematically you can start to use change as an impetus for improvement.  And you can reduce the anxiety around change and replace it with confidence and excitement.