My grandmother had a favorite saying for any given situation: “Nothing ever stays the same.” She could apply this statement broadly, and the meaning would vary based on the circumstance. It might be positive, like “Thank goodness things don’t stay the same or people would still die of preventable diseases!” The next time, it might be a lament like when she found out that Blossom got canceled.
Grandma understood that change is inevitable, and her simple take on it helped me deal with events in my life that took on unplanned, unexpected twists along the way. Grandma’s wisdom demonstrated a common sense approach to passive acceptance to the changes that occur around us each day. Applying her manta, it made it easier for me to ride the tide instead of using up all of my emotional energy trying to resist it.
But what about change that doesn’t “just happen” on its own, but change that needs to take place in our lives through intentional action on our part? Positive changes don’t always take place passively or accidentally. They take some work.
Here’s simple model for taking control of the changes that you want to see in your life:
- AWARENESS means having a conscious, intentional understanding about what you are doing and what impact your actions have on yourself and others.
- ALIGNMENT answers the question: “Why are we doing it? Why do I want to make a change?” Whereas AWARENESS makes sure that you are being intentional in creating change that you want to or need to see in your life, ALIGNMENT means your ACTIONS must be consistent with your core values and beliefs.
- ACTION isn’t rocket science. Once you are AWARE that you have to make a change, you ALIGN your ACTIONS with who are you and what you hold sacred. And then it’s time to act in a way to propel you to your goal.
In practical terms, it works like this. You are driving down the road, and, as a general rule, you drive within the speed limit. But you see a police car. What do you do? You likely take your foot off the accelerator and put on the brakes. Why? You are AWARE of the police car and the possibility you were exceeding the speed limit. In order to ALIGN your behavior with your desire to follow the rules (and avoid a ticket), you slow down (ACTION). AWARENESS helps you ALIGN your core values to ACT in a way that gets you what you want (and avoid what you don’t want). If your core values tells you to break the law when no one is looking, you should consider yourself lucky if you don’t get a ticket.
But it’s not that easy. For example, at any given time, half of Americans consider themselves on a diet. Why might you diet? You might have a short term goal like fitting into a dress, wearing a bathing suit on vacation, or increasing your sex appeal to members of the opposite sex. You have AWARENESS that you need to lose a few pounds, perhaps your clothes fitting too tightly or a scale that inexplicably adds 10 or 20 pounds to your weight when you stand on it. If you ALIGN your ACTIONS with your short term goal, you might diet, take a pill, or get on the treadmill. Meaning what? You might lose the weight you wanted to lose…only to gain it back a short time afterward. Why? You were ALIGNED with a short term goal (weight loss) instead of core value like staying fit. A diet involves short term pain for short term gain (or loss, actually); fitness, on the other hand, necessitates a lifestyle change and not a quick-fix pill or fad diet.
Your marriage is falling apart, and your wife has become increasingly distant. You can’t help but be AWARE of the distance and the silence. To ALIGN with your values of keeping your marriage solid, you ACT accordingly and bring home flowers. Nice try. The attempt to apply an instant-fix to a longstanding problem will leave you falling short of your desired outcome. Had your core vales included building and maintaining a solid, strong marriage, you might have acted on your beliefs sooner and in a more lasting manner.
As the annual employee engagement survey approaches, you as the manager want to have good scores. You are painfully AWARE that poor scores might hold you back professionally. So you set a goal to increase your scores. Since you don’t really spend any time with your employees, you choose to ALIGN your ACTIONS with a quick-fix: you bring in a box of donuts. A swing and a miss! Had your values been to build strong relationships all along, you would be eager to receive your survey results instead of resorting to a quick-fix at the finish line.
AWARENESS about what you doing while internalizing and ALIGNING your ACTIONS to achieve a desired results can drive successful, sustainable change. Unfortunately, though, most of us try to manage change through AWARENESS about what we want and then taking ACTION to achieve our pragmatic, short term goals. But without ALIGNMENT to our core values and beliefs, we end up manipulating ourselves, situations, and others for short term gain instead of lasting change.
Nothing ever stays the same. What do you need to change for the better?