We Must Change

fish leaping into a bigger bow.

For there’s a change in the weather
There’s a change in the sea
So from now on there’ll be a change in me
My walk will be different, my talk and my name
Nothin’ about me is going to be the same
I’m goin’ to change my way of livin’
        “There’ll Be Some Changes Made” Berton Overstreet and Billy Higgins

Am I changing? Well, not fast enough. I’m in the last quarter of life, so I don’t have any time to waste.

Today I reviewed my intentions for 2016, carefully thought-out themes and goals I set 12 months ago. My main theme was “Inviting Wonderful New Things in 2016.” I loved the theme when I typed up my intentions, and I referred to them from time to time during the year.

I intended to change, but I didn’t invite many new things into 2016. I did achieve a couple of new things—revision of a book that I co-authored with my granddaughter and a good job with our investments, beating the stock market by 2.5 percent.

But mostly I failed to create the changes I planned to bring into my life. I wrote for my blog as planned, but failed at achieving a professional writer’s work discipline, writing nothing at all for weeks at a time. I didn’t create a book out of my blog posts, as I committed I would do. I didn’t break my sugar addiction, although I never stopped thinking about it as I binged on cookies, candy bars, cake, and ice cream. I did not learn to play the piano (my written outcome was “I play the piano with great pleasure.”) Instead, the new things I created were discouragement and a self-doubt that I would ever play the piano.

I’m a warrior, a master of learning and change! What’s going on?

I got part of the answer in the Harvard Men’s Health Watch: “Summoning motivation for long-term goals gets harder when we have moved beyond the family and career-building stages of life.” Ah, yes, I recognize my diminishing motivation. At this age, I want to rest, to take it easy. Change requires energy and mine is in decline. Yikes.

Still, I know I can change. I’ve made substantial changes at several key junctures in my life. A couple to times I needed a crisis to wake me up, but generally I’ve been able to make modest changes—constant improvement in my thinking and behavior—throughout my adult life. My top priority has been learning.

But, last year I failed to change much because I forgot how hard it is to change, and I forgot how much we have to focus on the changes we want if we are to succeed. And I failed to change because I have it made: my life is happy and without anything awful that demands an intense focus.

To keep changing, I’ll revisit the approaches that have worked for me in the past. Here are the three key strategies I will have to use if I want to continue to change—to learn and emerge into my full potential. If you want to change too, consider:

Figure out what you want and say so
Many people don’t really know what they want, so they never change unless forced to by some crisis in their lives. Knowing what you want takes some introspection. Then it takes some courage to tell the people closest to you what you want. What if they don’t approve—or what if they aren’t interested? This is pretty intimate stuff, and we may feel vulnerable trusting others with our hopes and dreams.I found it very useful this month to ask myself what I want in 2017. I chose changes that I want to make, not changes I have to make or think I should make. Creating these changes, which are aligned with my top values, will give me great pleasure and satisfaction as I pursue them:

  1. To become more aware, more conscious, avoiding habitual blind spots and deep, negative patterns.
  2. To feel better physically, my body untroubled by illness, weakness, or pain.
  3. To become a better writer, more professionally committed, more productive, and more successful at marketing.
  4. To test myself with something new, difficult, and positive, specifically learn to play the piano.

On number one, I always want to become more conscious, more aware, so that my world is expanding and emerging. But Mary has not been happy with my predictable claim that I always have the best explanation for what is going on in our lives together. She often hears my explanations as critiques or one up-man-ship in response to her ideas. No fun for her, I recognize. My unconscious pattern is not loving. I want Mary to always feel loved by me.  I want to change.  I must change.

On number two, I only feel completely good physically some of the time, that wonderful state in which we don’t notice our bodies, except to enjoy them. As I’ve moved into the last quarter of my life, I have come to accept certain physical discomforts as inevitable. I believe I can feel good more hours each day if I learn more about how my body responds to exercise, food, drink, and drugs. I’ll have to change some of my health practices. I want to change.

About number three: I don’t have to write. I don’t have to earn money from writing. But I love to write: it makes me happy. I don’t like my lazy habits, which undermine my writing goals. I respect my blog and book readers and want to give them my best. I think I have more potential as a writer, and I’ll need to change if I want to realize it. More disciplined, I’ll be happier. I want to change.

playing-do-re-mi-cover

 

 

 

Number four: Piano music is a beautiful gift in my life. Mom was a gifted piano and organ player, and my childhood was accompanied by her music.

I have thought about learning to play throughout my adult life and now I have the time to do it. Mary plays, and we have a piano in the house.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, brain scientists are telling us that our brains stay more agile in old age if we take on very difficult learning challenges. Here’s the most difficult change I’ve decided I want to make. I’ll have to challenge the hell out of myself to learn to read and play music. I want to change.

Determine what you must learn in order to change
I have plenty to learn if I am to get what I want in 2017:

  • How to avoid insisting that I have the best explanation
  • How to avoid indulgent levels of eating and drinking alcohol
  • How to establish a disciplined work routine that invests enough time and effort to become a better professional writer
  • How to read and play music

I’m excited about the learning I’m about to pursue. The learning will be difficult, but also fun and rewarding. This is all stuff I want to do.

Establish some accountability
We have to define some measurable outcomes to track how we’re doing. I’ll know if I’m learning and changing if:

  • Mary testifies that I don’t criticize her or one-up her with ideas I consider better than hers. She will say that she feels loved by me all of the time.
  • I feel good many waking hours per day
  • I average 20 hours per week writing and/or marketing and my blog is one of the 100,000 most visited websites in the USA
  • I average 5 hours per week practicing the piano or taking lessons

One day at a time

I wanted to make more changes in 2016 than I achieved, so I go into 2017 humble and alert, like a good warrior should. 

I’ll take it a day at a time.  Mary and I have coffee and conversation to begin each day. I will review with her how I did the day before. Did I insist on my better explanations with her yesterday? How many hours did I write? Did I practice the piano? How did I do yesterday with my health goals?

Then, having reviewed once again what I want and what I intend to do, I go off into the day clear and focused.

Yeah, this is the way I want to live.

This is how a poised warrior does it.

ch ch ch changing

Ch, ch, ch, changing!

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About Gary

Gary Stokes is mapping the universe of poise. His book, Poise: A Warrior's Guide, charts the path toward a fully-realized life, a vibrant integration of presence, connectedness, gratitude, creativity, and light-heartedness. Gary Stokes has been a coach to leaders of transformational change and President of Mountain Consulting. He designed and conducted research to test innovative strategies for reducing poverty in partnership with national foundations, federal and state government, and local communities. As founder and CEO of Move the Mountain Leadership Center, he coached hundreds of leaders, among them Presidential appointees and other top executives in government, education and business. He has written and spoken extensively about the profound personal and organizational challenges facing individual leaders of large-scale change. Mr. Stokes lives with his wife and collaborator, Mary Morris, in Prescott, Arizona.

4 Responses to We Must Change

  1. Ron Stokes January 6, 2017 at 7:37 pm #

    Good one Dad! Growing, learning and changing at 80!

    • Gary January 9, 2017 at 7:16 pm #

      Ron, Thanks for the comment, son. I wasn’t going to let the world know how old I am, but what the hell….

  2. Helen Pauley January 7, 2017 at 2:25 am #

    Gosh Gary, you are truly inspirational. Perhaps that’s not on your list of things to achieve in your life time but know that you are. Your realism and honesty is so refreshing to read it brings me close to tears to think how disconnected we can be from this in today’s world. Thank you so much for putting yourself out there and enriching our world.

    • Gary January 9, 2017 at 7:21 pm #

      Helen, Thank you for your kind words: they encourage me to continue writing. And I agree that many humans seem disconnected, but there are also lots of people like you and me–devoted to waking up and becoming our true selves. Blessings to you, Gary

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