As you take stock and reflect on what makes you the happiest and what makes you the unhappiest, you might feel that changing the circumstances that cause you the most pain is simply impossible. The frame of mind that many of us adopt over our lifetimes is that, the older we get, the more difficult it is to pull out of our established patterns. Fortunately, though you may feel stuck, you don't have to remain that way.
Changing your life requires that you first change that stuck-in-a-rut mindset. Instead of perceiving your wish to explore alternatives as silly, impractical, or "just a phase," what if you undertook the exploration process? After all, you can think about change without actually changing -- or, more likely, you'll be able to change more than you thought possible once you initiate the process.
In my long-term study of 180 adults from college through midlife (Whitbourne, 2010), I observed many individuals following what I called the "authentic road" in which they made adjustments continually throughout adulthood in order to find a satisfactory fit between their identities and their daily lives. They were the most fulfilled and most able to handle life's challenges.
Right now you might be thinking -- "OK, so change is possible. How do I start?" For inspiration, I'd like to suggest you check out the book Agile Innovation: The Revolutionary Approach to Accelerate Success, Inspire Engagement, and Ignite Creativity written by Langston Morris, Moses Ma, and Po Chi Wu (2015). The innovative approach suggests that you don't take your present situation as a given but instead look for that one (or more) ways to take a step back and see what you could do differently.
These are the four basic principles of innovation in life that you can take from the innovative approach to business:
1. Develop ambitious but achievable plans. Where a business needs to figure out ways to outdo the competition, you need to develop plans that allow you to achieve what you want to in a quicker and higher quality manner.
2. Reduce your personal risks. A business needs to keep its risks in check and so do you. Innovation isn't the same as impulsivity.
3. Engage other people in your planning process. Morris and his collaborators refer to this as having others to "co-ideate" with you. You'd be surprised at what the people who know you best can help you achieve.
4. Take charge of change. When we talk about organizational change, we use the term "leadership." You need the equivalent of this in making personal changes.
Like large organizations that fail to innovate, we can all become so embedded in our lives that we think it's impossible to do things differently. The longer we continue along the same pathway, the more difficult it is to imagine going down a new one. However, once you take the "agile" approach to change, you'll realize that you can start something new without giving up completely what you had.
Morris and his collaborators bolster their arguments by taking the reader through a number of fascinating case studies contrasting the dangers of failing to innovate with the benefits of agile innovation. Just the gossip alone is pretty entertaining. For example, Netflix has a contest open to outsiders to see who could develop the most accurate prediction equation for determining what recommendations to make to customers. By drawing upon a global network of programmers, they could achieve far more than they could by relying on their own internal software engineers.
Perhaps this agile, innovative approach is best summarized in the words of Steve Jobs, to "Think Different," a campaign that ultimately turned the company if not the world around in an entire approach to technology. Psychologists often talk about the need to "think outside the box," meaning that we can benefit by experimenting with creative solutions.
The most important upshot is to imagine change as a possibility. If you're feeling stuck at work, get additional or alternative training in your own or a new field. If you're in a relationship that isn't going anywhere, similarly, don't be afraid to think about exploring alternatives because now "isn't the right time."
Change doesn't have to be major to accomplish the goal of making you feel better. It might be a matter of alternating your routine in some small way that gives you a different vantage point on the world. It may take longer, but even small adjustments can grow into truly innovative changes if you adopt the agile mindset.
Morris,M., Ma, M., & Wu, P.C. (2015). Agile innovation. New York: Wiley.
Whitbourne, S.K. (2010). The search for fulfillment. New York: Ballantine.