You know it’s time to make a change when you hear the “click” in your head, a term that was coined for Gregory Peck in the movie, “Gentleman’s Agreement.” He is assigned to do a magazine piece on anti-Semitism but with a new twist. After weeks of gathering stats, a series of false starts and several eye-opening incidents, he finally develops an angle. He shouts to his mother: Ma…this is it. That click just happened inside of me.
The click can be the moment of critical mass, threshold or boiling point that writer Malcolm Gladwell dubbed “the tipping point” and wrote about in his book by the same name. Regardless, the result is similar. Enough happens –perhaps you research and ruminate—and then suddenly a switch flips and you know in that instant that you’re going to make an enormous change.
Margaret knew when it was time to sell her too-large condo and relocate East from her Midwestern home. She talked about moving for a few years, but the timing never seemed right. She could give up her car since driving never appealed, downsize square footage which seemed excessive and costly for St. Louis and she would be near her sisters, older son and Barbara. Although in her 70s, she was still healthy and had the energy to make a move. She felt it was now or never. And then it happened. Her last relative in St. Louis had died and several days later she woke up and said to herself, “I’m going to move to NYC.” She called her sisters and Barbara to tell them because she had to hear herself say it out loud.
Barbara knew when she had to step away from caring for her mom and staying with her five days a week. As much as her mother wanted to see her for comfort as she aged or “because I am a very old lady,” her mom would say, Barbara finally recognized that the process was wearing on her physically and emotionally. She had been grocery shopping, cooking, baking her mom’s favorite cookies weekly and oversaw the two certified health aides she had found to take care of her. Barbara established a routine where she stayed overnight during the week and did her writing. Then come the weekend, she went home to recharge. However, as her mom’s demands grew—including requests in the middle of the night for food--and as her patience declined—her mother wanting this or that at that very minute— Barbara’s health became affected adversely. She asked the aides to stay longer.
Many friends and family members spoke up to her about their concern. “Nothing is worth it if it affects your mental and physical health, and you will know when it happens” both Margaret, the beau and a few other close friends warned her. Even one daughter told her bluntly, “You are so much happier when you’re home. You need more time there, especially now that the weather is good.”
We wondered, why does it take so long for us—and most others--to reach that point of recognizing that change or a decision must be made? Maybe, because we’re creatures of habit, we often can’t see what’s right under our nose or we’re simply too scared to make a change that we deem irreversible and permanent?
All may be the reason. So, we struggle a bit, debate, talk it over with friends, family or a therapist, agonize a bit more, even have sleepless nights or headaches and stomachaches. And sometimes we continue to do nothing because we feel paralyzed. Often, we finally act when a major event occurs that propels us to take the risk.
With Margaret it was the death of her sister-in-law and not having a blood relative left in her town. Then, the decision became clear. Why not? Do it while you can, she reasoned, or there may never be another opportunity. She didn’t want to live with the regret.
With Barbara it was too many times her mother awakened her in the middle of the night and usually for no good reason except that she needed to know she was there or had lost the ability to fully differentiate nighttime from morning, despite a new digital clock showcasing the time brightly.
Such decisions happen all the time and sometimes with less impact on the outcome to our lives. We may hem and haw about a big purchase—a new car, a new appliance, a fancy new sofa bed, an expensive vacation or even a piece of clothing. In our cases, we’re not impulse shoppers and spending money doesn’t come easily. And we’ve found we still go through the same process even with less costly purchases, though sometimes to a lesser degree and for a shorter period. Also, we’ve learned, nothing is permanent or irreversible. Many purchases can be returned. In Margaret’s case, she calls her move to NYC and leasing an apartment there her one-year experiment.
And because of what we’ve gone through or, been through with our recent decisions, as well as prior ones, we’ve come up with a way to move faster through the decision process perhaps with less agony. See if what we’ve come up with works for you, too.
- Decide what the challenge is—stay or go, keep engaging or cut back, buy or not buy, for example.
- List on a big yellow pad or your computer the pros and cons of all the options. Think about them for a few days, maybe tweak or change the pros and cons for more clarity. Sometimes it helps to see the choices in writing.
- Talk it over out loud to make it more real with a dear friend or family member who knows you and the situation at hand.
- Come up with a plan. Call it an experiment. Maybe, move in six months rather than in a month or cut back on care a few days a week rather than all the time. Think of the gray zone rather than think in extremes of either black or white.
- Know that any decision you make usually is reversible and fluid. Margaret can always change apartments in her new location or even move back to her former city, though just not the same condo. Barbara can go back to more days a week of stepping in to care for her mom or even restart her cookie baking, which is now on hold.
- In six months or six weeks, whatever time frame works, metaphorically take your temperature. Reevaluate, trusting your gut, physical health and emotional state to tell you how what you’ve done feels. Decide then if you need to make some tweaks or major changes. And don’t beat yourself up. Congratulate yourself that you decided after thinking through options.
How will your change shake out? Will it change you? Will it be messy? We don’t know, but it’s the not quite knowing that is part of the fear. Imagine the excitement or relief once you decide to take that leap.