Sometimes, change is obvious:
“You got a new job; good for you! How’s it going?”
“It’s been one month since my last cigarette.”
In those instances, there is a clear “before” and an equally apparent “after.” Last week, he worked for Black Industries; today he’s employed by White Productions. One month ago, she inhaled tobacco several times a day; today she’s smoke-free.
In each of those circumstances, there is a measurable difference; a line has been crossed. It is beyond argument whether or not a transformation has taken place. It has. Period. End of story. They were “there,” now they’re “here.”
However, not all change is so easy to discern.
- A husband and wife argue almost every day.
In order to change this painful dynamic, they agree to listen better to each other and respond with compassion rather than defensiveness. Although they have not had a disagreement in over a week, today was a rough day and they really “got into it.” What say you — progress or failure?
- The state of society can be depressing — and contagious.
After waking up day after day under a dour cloud, she decides she cannot do anything about “them” and instead will work on improving her own attitude. Like water off a duck’s back, she lets stresses roll away and is definitely more upbeat — for a few days. Unfortunately, after hearing of an extremely dysfunctional political interchange, she finds her positive outlook beginning to slide. Is she moving forward or backward?
- You decide to get in better shape.
Setting up a plan that includes twenty minutes of walking every morning, drinking less wine, and going to bed by eleven; you do remarkably well. That is, until you leave town for a family reunion. After sharing stores until three AM over a few bottles of Pinot Noir; you, exhausted the next morning, decide to skip your morning stroll. Are you changing your habits or not?
There are no right nor wrong answers; it’s all how it’s measured.
Ray Bradbury’s classic, Fahrenheit 451, is, at its most stripped down core, about a future where books are banned — and burned. The book gets its title from the (not completely accurate) fact that paper, the material of which books are made, auto ignites at 451º F. What stands out to me about that fact is that at 450 degrees, paper — while not in flames — would still be untouchably hot, as it would be at 449 or 448; or for that matter; at 278 or 383. It’s just that at a certain particular point — in this case, 451 degrees — we see results. Its path to catching fire starts once the heating process begins; we’re just not aware of it until the evaluating system we use (our eyes) can measure the results we seek. It doesn’t mean that changes are not happening prior to that point. It’s just that we are not using the appropriate way of assessing them.
So, what does this have to do with the scenarios posited above?
Most of life does not have clean, easy-to-gauge, readily viewable lines of success or failure.
Rarely are there “before” and “after” moments. The trajectory of life is altered one heartbeat after another, minutes sliding into hours and becoming decades before we are aware. To continue the metaphor, we change our habits one degree at a time.
Change is rarely obvious in the short-term, yet it is always happening. If it seems like the results are lacking, maybe all that needs to be adjusted is the system of measurement.
About the author: Scott “Q” Marcus is a motivational weight loss speaker and productivity expert as well as the founder of www.21DayHabitChange.com, guaranteed to help you change a habit in just 3 weeks. He is available for coaching and speaking at 707.442.6243, firstname.lastname@example.org or facebook.com/ThisTimeIMeanIt.