In the rainforest, something is always growing, and the most growth occurs soon after some immediate conflict and change. For example, a huge tree gets old, dies, and falls onto the forest floor. Talk about conflict! The trees around the falling tree lose some branches as it comes down. Any animals, plants, or bugs that happen to be on the forest floor right in the path of the falling tree face an immediate conflict with possibly permanent consequences: they must move fast or die.
Immediately following the fall of a huge tree in the rainforest, sunlight reaches a patch of the forest floor for the first time in a long time. This change results in second conflict: all the seeds and small plants just waiting for this opportunity race each other to take advantage of the sunlight. Since this second conflict happens over a long period of time, it is not immediately noticeable, but it’s there. Over time, the process comes full cycle and new growth occurs. Some plants sprout up quickly while others grow slowly. Those that sprout up quickly require much care and attention to keep growing. Ultimately, the slow-growing plants have such big leaves they win the race because they block the sun’s rays from providing light to the others.
This same process of conflict, change, conflict, and ultimate growth happens to people every day. Oftentimes, how the conflicts are handled determines what the growth looks like. In human relations, effective communication, a systematic values-based approach to problem solving, and a goal-oriented approach seems to promote the best growth for everyone involved.
In this article, Dr. Davenport outlines how to endure the conflicts of change and experience lasting growth.
Change is Difficult!
First, it’s important to understand that change is hard for everyone and this is normal. Change is tremendously difficult because it typically involves an immediate conflict before seeing the benefits of long-term growth. Some sages say that change results in conflict while others say conflict results in change. Who is right? Since I am such a “people-pleaser” I suggest that both are correct! Besides, when I agree with both sides of the argument, then 100% of the experts agree with me!
Making a change is a multiple-step and multifaceted process that can involve multiple conflicts before you see the resulting growth.
Change is the Result of an Initial Conflict
Our initial motivation for change is usually some sort of conflict or problem that we see the need to address. Conflict can get us moving: problems inspire us to make things better. This desire to “make what is wrong in our lives right” is hard-wired in our brains. However, avoidance of problems is also an innate part of our humanness: it’s a natural part of our brain’s safety system that allows us to decide to either “fight or take flight” away from those things that might harm us. The conflict that happens after we think about making a change can get us “stuck” in thinking about making a change. We often either avoid (flee from) change or we fight it with everything we have.
As humans, we spend a lot of time thinking about the pros and cons of the changes we need to make. During this time, we are said to be “sitting on the fence.” This period of indecision can be both comfortable and uncomfortable at the same time. While contemplating a change that we need to make, we can get really good at arguing with ourselves: during this time, we learn to say to ourselves, “Yes, but…” For example, we might think, “Yes, I can see how overcoming procrastination is important to my future success, but right now is just not the right time to do it: I think I’ll wait and think about it some more.” While thinking about change, it is very easy for us to get stuck “sitting on the fence” wavering between two choices.
Change Results in Internal Conflicts
Once we start moving toward making a change in one direction or the other, an immediate internal conflict arises. We hop off the “fence of indecision,” and we take a few steps in the one direction, but we struggle and stumble because of the newness of the situation. Things start to get difficult and it takes an effort to keep moving in this new direction. We may face obstacles we were not prepared to face. Then, we start to doubt our decision. We’re so used to the comfort of “sitting on the fence” and thinking, “Yes, but…” that we often look back and think about how good things were before we started on this journey to a new way of life, and we say to ourselves, “Yes, this is important, but sitting on the fence wasn’t so bad!”
Because many of us (including me) often focus so much on how we feel in the immediate here and now, many of us struggle with the immediate conflict associated with change: When faced with the initial conflict associated with change, some of us will turn around and hop back up on the fence! But, at this point the fence usually doesn’t feel as comfortable as it once did. Deep down, inside our heart of hearts, we know that if we would have kept moving, growth would ultimately occur. The problem is that the ultimate growth we are striving toward is delayed (months or years) and the conflict of change is immediate.
Change and Internal Conflicts can Result in External Conflicts
As we are turning back to our old comfortable way of life, an external conflict can occur and make us even more indecisive. Someone else, (usually a parent, a friend, or a hired professional helper) may come along side of us and try to help speed us along to the right, straight, and narrow path of change. These people are truly filled with the best of intentions: they see us moving toward a change and they want to make sure we make the best and safest choice. They see us eyeing or moving back toward the fence or even toward the “not-so-safe” path, so they jump out in front of us and take actions that say, “Stop! Can’t you see the danger ahead? Turn around! Take this other way!” Again, their desire to set us on the right, straight, and narrow path is filled with the best of intentions: this desire is very common and it has a name: it’s called the “righting reflex.” The problem is that their way to solve our problem may not match our way of doing things.
Problems often arise with those who are trying to help us when we say those words we have learned “sitting on the fence,” out loud to that person who is trying to help us. When we say, “Yes, but…” out loud, the well-meaning parent or friend or helper may insist on winning this battle for our own good. As a result, the change we need to make becomes their goal not our own: we get even more stuck and all real growth can come to a screeching halt! Like in the rainforest, our helper’s well-meaning help may block the light from reaching us and our growth stops. (Those of us who are helpers need to remember that in trying to win a battle for someone’s own good, the one we are trying to help may lose an opportunity for true growth.)
Often, “sitting on the fence” of indecision for a while can become a motivator for change. Sitting on the fence day in and day out is uncomfortable as we see the world passing us by. Yes, many of us don’t like change any way you package it, but can we really be alive and spend our lives sitting on the fence? Regardless of our likes or dislikes, change happens with or without us, and sometimes, we have to figure out how to “grow with the flow.”
The Keys to Real Change and True Growth