If I want things to change, I have to change the way I think. If I respond to the outside world the same way I always have, then I’m simply reinforcing the status quo. Albert Einstein told us not to expect different results from doing the same thing over and over.
Well, this is easier said than done. I’m admittedly a shy person so in some contexts I feel awkward about talking to strangers. I have a hard time being myself at a social gathering where others seem to know each other but I don’t know anyone. I could force myself to go talk to others, but since I already feel awkward about it I will also come across awkwardly. Such an attempt will not yield a different result from not trying to talk to anyone at all: either way I won’t get to know anyone new.
It is possible to get half way across that awkwardness, though, if I change how I think about the situation. I may pretend that I already know the person. Or maybe I dare to embarrass myself (if I’m already embarrassed, I won’t fear being awkward any more — the damage is already done). Whatever my tactic is, how I think about it does help in alleviating some of my clumsiness. Not all, but possibly enough to come across half way decent. This approach is particularly effective when I start thinking of everything as an experiment. I am a curious explorer at heart so instead of mandating success or a particular outcome, I could turn it into a little “what if” venture. Then situations that I previously avoided may turn out to be a fertile soil of new explorations. Experiments ease the pressure because even if it fails to prove your hypothesis, the experiment itself is not a failure. You learn something from it.
I was at a conference recently, which I attended on my own, counting on the fact that I wouldn’t know anybody else who attended. The first day I talked to no one. At the end of the day I felt a bit empty, as in I did want to talk to someone. So the next morning, I spotted a guy walking toward the conference venue alone. It’s easy to tell because we’re all wearing the same badges. So I walked up to him, pointed out that he was going the same place I was, and asked what he thought of the conference so far. We had a nice chat all the way to the venue. After that, I also started walking up to the session speakers if I liked them, only to say that I enjoyed the presentation. I didn’t make any new friends, but that wasn’t my goal. I was trying to enjoy myself better.
If you’re unable to come up with a neat mental trick, though, there’s still a value in trying something different even very clumsily. At least you tried a new approach. Even if the end result ended up being the same, there is value in doing something different for newness’ sake. Who knows, the next time you’ll do it less clumsily. It may even turn up a different result. Maybe not the desired outcome, but something different. At least your attempt did gain you a new perspective. You will not be as clumsy at it if you try that again.
I see patterns in life. Some patterns are very hard to get out of. I don’t see a lot of grown-ups radically changing (other than aging) so I assume this is common — we all get stuck in our ways, whether we like it or not. But really, getting old is the only thing that’ll happen to you if you stay stuck. I am getting old, too, but I like it because I do seem to like myself more and more as life goes on. So that must mean I am changing, and changing more to my own liking. It’s such a little thing, but it’s not so little in the context of one person’s life. It gives me hope. Hope that next year, I’ll like myself even more.
And that does add to the motivation to keep living. At least it does to me.