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Life Change

“To change one’s life:
1. Start immediately.
2. Do it flamboyantly.
3. No exceptions.”
― William James

Some of us think of radical change but do precious little of it in practice. Instead we opt for incremental change by changing habits or jobs or the way we commute to work. There’s a strong case for incremental change in our lives, for it sets us up for long-term success. Flossing and brushing one’s teeth are good habits that can change your life (and those in close proximity to you) for the better. So is reading and writing every day: The benefits are long-term and tangible and well beyond holding your own at a cocktail party.

The idea of changing radically and immediately is fascinating when we get stuck in a routine that doesn’t inspire us. When you see people do it, it seems less ridiculous to think you can do it too. I’m more inclined to believe selling everything to sail off to ports unknown is possible because friends have done it. There’s magic in possibility realized, and we all want a bit of magic in our lives.

William James’ recipe for change is a simple two step approach. Begin now, not someday. And be bold in both your vision and how you communicate it to the world. We shouldn’t go slinking off to some incremental change—we must follow our damned dream to the ends of the earth if that’s what it takes. Changing the bath towels isn’t going to do it.

Tangible life change is really a combination of bold choices and consistent action. Dreams can be realized in one bold act, but for change to last we have to do the work to make our desired identity stick. Put another way, we can buy a plane ticket to paradise, but if we don’t work a plan for our life when we arrive there it’s nothing but a brief holiday before the world wants us back. Is there anything sadder than returning to something you don’t love after a brief but glorious dance with a dream? Here’s an idea: establish what you love and put yourself in the place where you can best realize it.

Lately I’ve been talking to people of a certain age about what their exit plan is. What are they going to do when they’re not doing “this”? It turns out most people have a general vision for a future version of themselves, but it isn’t very specific. Playing golf seems to come up a lot. Travel. More time with family. These are all very nice things, but are they bold? Do they stir the fire deep within?

To be fair, maybe the long-term comfort of a warm hearth was the answer all along. We don’t know what we’ve got ’til it’s gone, as Joni Mitchell reminds us. We ought to ask ourselves why we want change, not just what we want to change. If the why is compelling, the what often seems to take care of itself. Habit formation is easy when the vision is clear. That vision is the person we want to be in this brief dance with light. Being a bit more flamboyant with that vision is the least we can do for ourselves, don’t you think?

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  1. What a thought-provoking piece! William James’ two-step approach to change—start now and be bold in vision—is compelling. Your insights on the balance between incremental and radical shifts add depth. The call to have a clear vision and take consistent action is powerful. Thanks for encouraging us to question not just what, but why we seek change. Here’s to embracing the flamboyance of our visions and dancing with our dreams in this brief dance with light!

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