A Safe Little Cage of Inertia
I’ve said it before along with a Greek chorus of other members of the human race: Change is hard.
If little changes, like getting a haircut you’re not sure is you or somebody moving your favorite chair away from its usual spot, can put you on edge, big changes can really do a number on you if you let them.
If you let them.
I’ve been thinking a lot about that phrase. What we allow in our lives. You see, I think a lot of the time, it’s easier, more expedient, and more comfortable to think of things happening to you. But, in general, things happen to you because you allow them to happen to you.
Stop. Before anybody goes off shift, I’m not talking about disease or some crazy asshole doing something crazy, I’m talking about life. Just ordinary, you’re going about your day-to-days and during that process you allow things to happen to you. You give other people permission to treat you a certain way. You give yourself permission to treat yourself a certain way, too.
And I lump myself into this group with you. You’re not alone. We all do it.
Let’s start there.
Over the last few years, I have become convinced that I was unhappy for so long because I allowed myself to be unhappy. I knew the sources of my unhappiness. I just didn’t have the wherewithal to make the necessary changes because (say it with me and Greek chorus over here):
It was easier, more expedient, and more comfortable for me to accept my unhappiness as my new state of being rather than to make the big changes to correct it.
Why? You ask.
Because even though you might have a gut feeling, an instinctual hunch as to the source of your unhappiness, it’s still just a working theory. And, like all great achievements, some theories can be wrong. Also, when you get to a point in your life where you are deeply unhappy, dissatisfied, disillusioned, or otherwise suffering from some form of ennui, it’s usually not just one thing you need to change.
If One Big Change is hard. Imagine how hard it is to make Many Big Changes. It’s overwhelming and terrifying and paralyzing. So, you sit, frozen in your state of ennui, knowing you need to do something, but not knowing where to start.
There’s an old adage that my mama loves to use, and it’s amazing how it easily it applies to many of life’s struggles.
Question: “How do you eat an elephant?”
Answer: “One bite at a time.”
The point is that nobody wants to eat an elephant, all that blubber and tusks and things, but if you had to, one little bite at a time would get the job done, right?
So, when faced with a daunting list of major and minor changes you must make to stop allowing yourself to be unhappy, you pick something small and easy. Unless you’re one of those remarkable people who can just say “Fuck it! I’m moving to Casablanca because that’s what I want. Fuck you, responsibility, I’ve gotta do me.”
But most of us aren’t like that. Most of us use our responsibilities and societal obligations as excuses to not change. That nice little framework built from the expectations of others is a convenient structure that we can turn into a safe little cage of inertia.
I’ve found that as I started making little changes, change became easier. I’d mix it up. A few little changes here. One major change there. Working my way up to the biggest, scariest change that I knew instinctively would have to be made at the end of this process. But I wanted to be sure. It wasn't a working theory I could allow to be a failed experiment. I had to be absolutely certain that this last big change was necessary, because I really didn’t want to make it and I definitely couldn't afford to be wrong about it.
The funny thing is that as you cross off the changes from your long “to change” list, it gets easier. And every change you make gets easier to accomplish. New habits form faster. Bad habits fall by the wayside with less work. And then when all that’s left is that one big change? It’s suddenly not so scary anymore.
And here’s why. You’ve seen what happens every time you’ve made a change that took away some of that permission you were giving yourself to be unhappy. And every time you took away that permission, you gave yourself permission to feel joy.
I’ve recently become obsessed with the Queer Eye for the Straight Guy reboot on Netflix. I big heart LOVE the new Fab 5. In one episode, they talk about how you can’t numb just one emotion. When you cut yourself off from fear or anxiety or insecurity, you also cut yourself off from joy and community and love.
The opposite is true as well. If you focus your energy on how unhappy you are, you will draw more negative emotions to yourself until it’s all you can feel. It makes you numb to anything that doesn’t feed that negativity.
Now that I am a generally happy person and especially now that I’ve made that biggest of scariest of changes, I’ve found that happiness is its own sort of magnet. I could be having a horrible, terrible, no good, very bad day, but I can’t sustain that dissatisfaction. Some little thing will happen to shine a light in, and all the darkness just falls away.
Change is hard. It’s also expensive. It’ll cost you something to make it stick. But you know why it’s so expensive?
Because it’s fucking worth it.