Balance stability and change

If life never changed, if everything was the same over and over again, we would be very unhappy, bored and far from contented. Same old same old is not a recipe for a life well lived. However, if everything was constantly changing, we would feel very insecure. Imagine getting up each morning and there is little or nothing you can count on to be the same as it was yesterday. We would no doubt feel disorientated.

People often say that the only thing that remains constant is change, as I have argued many times, that is not true. Life is a mixture of changes and constants, but we tend to focus mainly on the changes. This is for three reasons. First, as biological organisms we tend to respond to changes in our environment and will soon learn to take for granted those aspects that remain the same. This is partly a defence mechanism, in the sense that tuning in to changes in our environment helps to alert us to potential threats. In this respect, it is s survival mechanism. Second, changes in our environment bring not only threats, but also opportunities, situations that we can enjoy and benefit from. Third, the mass media, such a powerful influence on behaviour and feelings in this day and age, tend to focus on changes (it is no coincidence that we have the ‘new’ in news and newspapers (oldspapers would not have the same appeal).

So, what we are encountering once again is a need for balance. Too much change will overwhelm us, but too little change will underwhelm us. Of course, when it comes to change, much is beyond our control, but we should not underestimate how much control we do have, in terms of both what changes (or does not) and our reaction to any such changes.

What can be helpful is to think about what we would want to change and what we would want not to change (what we would want to safeguard or preserve). If you are happy with the (relatively)  stable situation you are in, is it safe to do nothing or do you need to take steps to make sure it stays that way (by anticipating what could change the situation in a direction you do not want to go in and ‘heading them off at the pass’)? If you are not happy with a (relatively) stable situation, what can you do to change it? What steps can you take? Who do you need to enlist to support you?

Similarly, if you are happy with the changes you are going through, is there anything you need to do to keep those changes on track and to get maximum benefit from them? And, if you are not happy with changes you are going through, what can you do to either prevent the changes or lessen the impact?

The key to this is what the textbooks call ‘self-efficacy’. It relates to how good (or not so good) we are at managing our lives and achieving what we need to. One of the major obstacles to self-efficacy is underestimating how much control we have over certain circumstances. Of course, there are many things we have no control over and a lot more that we can control only to a limited extent, but that should not prevent us from realising just how much we do have control over. The framework I have presented here can be summarised as:

  • if you are happy with the degree of stability you have, safeguard it; if you aren’t, make some changes.
  • If you are happy with the degree of change, keep any such changes on track. If you aren’t, do what you can to ameliorate the situation.

The framework is not a panacea, but it is a useful tool for working towards a helpful balance between stability and change.