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Feel happier by clearly distinguishing between ‘change’ and ‘outcomes’

You may recall the video we sent a couple of weeks ago. If you have not seen it, I would thoroughly recommend you watch it.

It is my experience that much of the unnecessary suffering that my clients report is due to unrealistic expectations.

Often is the case when a client worked hard to implement a change and then becomes deeply frustrated by the lack of results. Sometimes this frustration can be high enough to derail the client’s efforts.

More subtly, I also notice that clients often berate and punish themselves for allegedly making a lot of effort and seeing “no change in my circumstances”.

Today I want to share my ‘billiard ball in outer space’ analogy to illustrate two very important points:

  • Change happens immediately

  • Patience tends to pay off in the long run

The Billiard Ball in Outer Space

Imagine that you and I are in outer space, peacefully floating, standing shoulder to shoulder with our eye sights perfectly parallel to each other.

Suddenly, from our left, a billiard ball is approaching, travelling at constant, frictionless speed at a perfectly perpendicular trajectory to our eye sights.

As the ball reaches my eye sight level, I give it the tiniest of tiniest flicks in the direction of my eye sight.

The flick is so gentle that by the time the ball reaches your eye sight, it’s trajectory appears unaltered.

At one point, however, I nudge you and invite you to look to our right, 10 years down the line.

Suddenly the ball appears to be on a noticeably different trajectory.

Applications to everyday life

When people set a goal for themselves, they envisage certain outcomes. For some, these outcomes are clearer than for others. Regardless, most have a sense of the positive expectations to come once the change has happened.

This vision feeds the motivation mechanisms in the brain that keep us going through the inevitable challenges that emerge when we enact change. However, I find that most of my clients think of the ‘change’ as the visible differences at the end of the billiard ball trajectory.

A simple example may help to illustrate the point.

Jane Doe comes to see me because she wants to lose weight. One month ago, she modified her diet, joined a yoga studio that she attends regularly, and addressed her sleep routine to get better rest.

Despite her being fully committed to this new routine, Jane is deeply stressed and anxious when she first meets me, because “despite my effort I am seeing no change. I have worked really, really hard to create new habits, but nothing has changed!”

What Jane actually means to say is that despite the changes she has already implemented, she has yet to see the outcomes she expects.

This is a subtle, but important distinction. Realising that a lot of change has already taken place, but that outcomes may take more time to mature, puts us in a mental state that is more realistic and constructive; allowing us to accept that we have indeed created significant change, but it will take time to mature.

There is some overlap with this analogy and the one I previously wrote about “You Are Both the Gardener and the Plant”, whereby one has to focus on doing their best in the present moment to create the conditions for the plant to thrive. Once that part of the work is completed, we must stand back and allow the outcomes to manifest at their own pace.

And so, in the billiard ball example, the ‘change’ actually happened when I flicked the ball in a direction perpendicular to its trajectory, but I was only aware of the outcomes of my actions 10 years later.

Final reflections

If you are the type of person who uses the change narrative to mean the end-outcomes and get regularly frustrated by the seeming lack of ‘change’ despite your efforts, it may help to remember that every single action you take in pursuit of your goals constitutes a change in its own right.

Stand back and witness the outcomes unfolding as you continue flicking billiard balls along the way to continuously shape and design your life.


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