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How to change when change is hard

Posted in the following categories: Life Lessons, Personal Development

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Onto the regularly scheduled programming…

Until about 5 years ago, my work day would start the same way.

Each morning, I’d walk into my office, open Gmail, and spend the first two hours of my day replying to emails until I hit “inbox zero.”

I was a really good correspondent. People would praise me on my prompt replies and beautifully thought-out responses.

But then I realized something: I was spending the most creative two hours of my day tackling other people’s to-dos. Each email I received was a request for my time and attention. Each email would hand me a piece of someone else’s task list, and I would then dutifully tick off their to-dos instead of focusing on mine.

Even when the need for change became apparent, I initially ignored it. Change can be really hard. There’s comfort in the certainty of the status quo, and discomfort in the uncertainty of change. It’s easier to keep doing what you’ve always done than risk making the “wrong” decision.

But change doesn’t have to feel like wrestling an octopus.

There’s a trick I use to make change easier: Running experiments.

You act like a curious scientist, test out a hypothesis, and see what happens.

Here’s what the experiment looked like for my email-checking habit: For one month, I committed to not checking email before 12 pm. Instead, I’d devote my mornings to what mattered most to me (which, at the time, was writing Think Like a Rocket Scientist). At the end of the month, I’d review how the experiment went, evaluate what went right and what went wrong, and decide what to do going forward.

The results were clear. Nothing bad happened. And a lot of good happened: My creativity skyrocketed. I wrote a record number of words in that month. That made me comfortable with making the change permanent. I now rarely ever check email before noon, and whenever I do, it’s almost always to my detriment.

I know, not everyone can get away with ignoring their inbox until noon. But that’s the point: You have your own unique life. You get to be your own scientist and design your own experiments to figure out what works for you.

Experiments take the pressure off. Change can feel daunting, permanent, and all-or-nothing. But experiments, by definition, are temporary. You’re just testing the waters to see if it makes sense to jump in.

The goal isn’t to be “right.” It’s to discover. As you walk down different paths, you’ll sometimes hit a dead end. Or you’ll discover that a path you tried wasn’t the right one for you. If that happens, you can go back to where you started or try a different path forward. It’s a shift in mindset that can make change feel a lot less intimidating.

With this mindset, life turns into a forever experiment in your very own laboratory. Instead of fixating on a static self, you try on possible selves. Instead of making firm plans, you experiment with different futures—and allow your path to emerge as you discover what works for you and what doesn’t.

Happy experimenting!

The Contrarian Handbook
The Status Quo.

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