Change feels like walking in the dark.

You know generally the direction you’re going, and you know you’re making progress. But you’re not sure how much further you have to go. You can’t judge the distance. And you can’t predict what each step will be like. You stumble. You get a few tree branches to the face.

The darkness keeps you guessing.

You’re doing something you know how to do (walking!), it feels uncertain and risky.

Big change feels like running in the dark.

What makes a “big” versus a “little” change? It’s all about how the change makes you feel. That’s usually related to the level of unpredictability and the potential impact of the change:

If you’re in a change that’s full of unpredictability, but has limited impact, it may not be as scary as a change that has less unpredictability but more impact.

Also, it’s not really about the impact a change will or does have; it’s about the impact that a change might have.

It’s about potential impact.

You don’t know—until you’ve gotten to the other side, change complete, ding!—what the impact will be. The more “important” the area of the change, the greater the potential impact.

So, small changes to your health or work or relationship with your partner might feel bigger than big changes to your house or hobby or relationship with a friend.

The combination of high unpredictability and high (potential) impact creates change that is especially big. In emotional terms, it can feel so overwhelming that you don’t even know how to talk about it.

That sucks, because you need to talk about it.

The less you talk about it, the more overwhelming it feels. The more you keep it inside, swirling in your head, the bigger it seems.

When a relationship is changing, it feels like holding hands with someone while walking in the dark.

You’d think this would make it easier—support, togetherness, less scary, less alone facing-the-dark! But the effect can be different.

Imagine how much you stumble when you’re walking in the dark. Now you have to recover from your own stumbling and tripping, plus deal with the push-and-pull of the other person as they stumble and trip and try to find steady footing.

Sometimes it seems like you’re holding each other up, but sometimes it seems like you’re knocking each other down.

When someone you love is changing, it feels like being dragged behind someone who’s running in the dark.

It’s all the fear and discomfort of running in the dark, with an added element: complete lack of control.

Terrifying is too weak a word for this feeling.

It’s the kind of terror that can paralyze you, shut you down, consume you entirely.

The greater the unpredictability and the greater the (potential) impact, the more terrifying the experience.

Ok, so: we’re in the middle of change, we’re trying to keep all our shit together, it’s not fun, there’s no pause button, what can we do?

We bring in the light.

Walking isn’t scary, is it? But walking in the dark is unpleasant and risky. Running is fine. Running in the dark is dangerous.

We need light. If we can bring light to the experience of change, it takes away a lot of the discomfort and pain. It reduces the risk. It re-establishes a sense of control. It helps us avoid things we’d stumble over in the dark.

More light means fewer tree branches slapping us in the face, and that’s a good thing.

In fact, if we’re able to add light to the process of change, we can change the entire experience without changing either the unpredictability or the potential impact of the change.

Some ways to turn on the light:

Photo by Marek Szturc on Unsplash

July 26, 2019