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🏞 The Magic of Change
I’ve been thinking about change. There are so many types of change. Big changes. Small ones. Those thrust upon us and those we implement. Personal change. Organizational or collective change. Change is everywhere, inevitable, and in many cases, it is necessary. We have many theories and models to navigate the process of change. Just off the top of my head, I’m thinking of Lewin’s model, Kotter’s theory, and my personal favorite from my public health grad school days, the Transtheoretical Model (TTM)! And every year, more new books are published, each claiming to crack the code on how to best effect change.
If we need all this help, it appears change isn’t easy.
Today, I want to share one such experience I recently had with the change process though not as a how-to-change, one-size-fits-all type of instructional as much as a story on the strange, compelling power of magical thinking.
Late last year, I realized I needed to change some things about myself. Like most people, I have experienced multiple occasions of needing to grow into another version of myself, one who has acquired some newer capacity or skill or let go of a sabotaging habit, grudge, or person. With this most recent instance, I knew it was time to let go of some old patterns of behavior that were hurting me.
I’d looked at the problem this way and that. I knew the benefits of changing. I’d read dozens of books and listened to podcasts on the topic of change, but for some unknown reason, I still couldn’t take action. (Prochaska and Clemente’s Transtheoretical model would identify that I was in the Contemplation stage.)
I continued to circle the idea in my head until early on a dull, gray February morning. I was waiting to board yet another airplane. The departure lounge was noisy and crowded, and I felt my usual mix of pre-travel excitement and trepidation. I tried to distract myself by listening to a self-improvement/personal development podcast though I was only able to pay sporadic attention to the speaker. She’d been talking in my ear for some time when I caught the tail end of one of her sentences. It went something to the effect of “… use this moment to leave your old patterns behind and step into a new you.”
I have heard versions of this many times over the years, so it wasn’t a new or radical idea. I’d even implemented it in small ways with varying degrees of success. But somehow, on that day, I heard the words differently. She seemed to be talking directly to me. It sounded like an urgent summons. And I felt like I had to respond, to do something.
I glanced out of the tall, glass windows of the lounge. I could only see the nose of the plane that I was going to be flying in. From where I sat, it looked like a compact capsule or container.
I could do it, I thought giddily. I really could. I could use the plane as an alchemical crucible for transformation. I would go into it as the Old Me, and when it landed on the other side of the world, I would step out as New Me, one who no longer allowed such self-defeating behaviors. It seemed important there was a physical container to enter to be changed. Just as it seemed important that the flight was nearly 16-17 hours, sufficiently long, I imagined, for a magical, transformative process to occur. I was aware of a growing sense of excitement. I looked around the departure lounge for support. No one was looking directly at me, but some people were definitely cheering as they emerged from their container-like plane. I took it as a sign.
I walked into my plane with a new sense of agency. In fact, I felt almost lightheaded with power.
When the plane landed at our destination, I took a deep breath before I stepped out. Remember who you are, I told myself, you are New Me. But I didn’t need the reminder. I already felt different. Somehow, I knew that, though I might have moments of relapse, I was changed.
I don’t know what made this particular change stick. Was it a happy coincidence of a powerful suggestion, a crucible, and a ritual? Was it the timing? Had I mulled over it enough? Was the problem easier to solve? I don’t have answers but it reminded me of this quote that for decades was stuck on the inside of my mother’s closet.
“Happiness is like a butterfly: the more you chase it, the more it will elude you, but if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder.”
Maybe change too is a butterfly coming upon you when you least expect it.