It’s February, the month of Valentine’s Day, the month of love. Most of the time when we think of February 14 we think of hearts, and flowers, and sexy underwear. We think of romantic love. However, love arrives in many shapes and sizes, and even more forms of its expression. One way to express our love is in the willingness to change.
Whether that change is staying on a diet or new health regime, taking steps to start a new business or job, adapting to changes in a personal relationship, volunteering to advance a cause, or supporting others through change, beneath every action for change is the reason that answers the question, “Why am I making this change?” Why are you?
We all have needs for survival. The motivation towards securing food, water, shelter, belonging, and safety will always take precedence depending upon how hungry, thirsty or in danger you are. But, beyond the primacy of the urgent reasons for survival, the biggest reason I do what I do, and the reason you do what you do, is on behalf of love. Love of another, love of self, love of nature, love of country, love of beauty, love of spirit, love of words, love of food, love of body, love of the gift of life. Even if you’re fighting, you’re fighting on behalf of what you love.
It’s interesting to shift your perspective in this way. Rather than being motivated by the avoidance of pain or the severe consequence of not taking an action, when you recognize that what truly motivates you to make change or to meet change is to protect, preserve, or advance what you value and love, it opens up your world. You can experience much less resistance to the changes that come your way; there’s much less grumbling and complaining when the “have to” is in service to what you cherish. You may not want to change your eating habits to avoid a heart condition or diabetes; the foods you’ve come to love give you comfort. But if it means living longer with and for your family, you do it because of love. I may be avoiding tenting my house for termites because of the extreme hassle, but when I think about how much I love this house and want to preserve its integrity, my motivation overrides my opposition.
For the most part, humans are conservative creatures; we don’t make a change unless we have to. Even then, we usually first exert only the smallest, most convenient effort toward change. If that’s not enough, only then do we incrementally bring in more. In every action movie you’ve ever seen the hero attempts two or three plans that fail to thwart the bad guy until finally he or she brings out “the big guns.” Think about it. We get comfortable in our habits, in our social circles, and in our beliefs. We won’t make a change unless there’s a reason, and a good reason at that.
Even if the reason is “I have to,” the more difficult the change, the more compelling the reason must be in order to overcome the inertia or fear that would like to talk us out of it. Phrases whispered to self like, “this is too hard,” or “that chocolate cake sure looks good, what could it hurt this time?” can erode your resolve unless you have a compelling reason to stay the course. The more resistance you have to a change, the stronger your compelling reason must be. The voice of your compelling reason needs to speak even louder than the luring voice of chocolate. Most likely, that compelling reason is going to need to be renewed again and again as you meet the incremental challenges that can shake your faith and your goals when the course is just too difficult. The best way to renew your reason is to remember what and who you love above all else.
Being motivated on behalf of who or what you love is not always altruistic. People can be compelled to make change motivated by the love of power, the love of money, and by the covetous love of what you have and the desire to make it theirs. Still, their compelling desire is a strong indicator of what they value and are willing to work hard to achieve.
So many people I speak with believe that their change is motivated by fear. They’re going to save money each month from their paycheck because they’re afraid they won’t have enough for their child’s education. But fear doesn’t motivate us to action. Fear actually locks down action, biologically speaking, until some sort of surge propels you through the lockdown of fear into action. What I’m saying is that the surge that propels you actually comes from love, or care, or concern. It’s what activates a mother to enormous strength to be able to lift up an entire automobile that’s crushing her son, or it’s what compels the neighbor to run into a burning home to rescue the family dog. It wasn’t fear that surged the neighbor to enter the flaming building; his surge of concern shoved the fear completely to the side.
Think of a change you either need to make or want to. Why will you make this change? Can you reframe your reason for making this change to, “because I love…?” Does it make your reason more compelling or more interesting? What happens to any sense of anxiety or fear?
The word courage comes from the Latin root cor, which means heart. That’s where courage is centered, in the heart. Physical courage and moral courage animate a fire in the heart that compels action, even in the face of fear. We see it in Olympic athletes as well as religious martyrs. Courage is not the absence of fear, but taking action in spite of it. The great South African leader, Nelson Mandela, said, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. A brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers fear.”
We all need courage to be brave in the face of fear and to take action in the face of change. Sometimes the courage is simply to face what the change is: the willingness to see the change and to accept it. Whether it’s changing schools, changing jobs, changing towns, changing mates, changing destructive habits, changing the way you view something, or changing the policies of the larger culture; they all require that you overcome your fears and act anyway. The most compelling and consistent reason for facing your fears and acting anyway is on behalf of who or what you love.
There are those who show their love through the courage of their convictions: people who will make personal sacrifices and face known danger in order to stand for what they believe to be right. We admire war heroes, emergency first responders, and people whose job it is to face danger in order to protect others; social movement leaders, new thinkers, and innovators who face tremendous opposition and risk; and so many others who knowingly have risked their lives and their way of life in order to expose the truth of what they know. Today, the Native American water protectors are fighting for the land and the values they hold dear; women and men are taking to the streets on behalf of women’s rights and the freedoms they cherish. What are you willing to fight for in the name of love?
Passion is the heat that can burn through fear. When you turn up the flame on an interest, we call that passion. Whether it comes from desire, urgency, lust, or zeal, passion is the spark that creates both the impulse and the fuel for the fire of change. Without it, we’d just sit on the couch and channel surf the TV.
Some people know their life’s passion from an early age. For others, what genuinely inspires their life eludes them. People truly suffer from not knowing what to do with their lives, or what would give their lives purpose, aliveness, or compelling reason. At times, the desire to pursue a particular passion, especially if it’s off beat or controversial, may carry too severe a risk or embarrassment, and so you’ll suppress your passion. Be aware, passions don’t like to be suppressed, and so the heat that drives the passion may show itself in other ways—sometimes in destructive behavior.
In locating your passion, it’s not just by asking the pressing question of what do you want to major in college, but asking how your life can serve you and others towards utilizing your greatest gifts, the ones that you value and love. Rather than asking, “What do I want to do?” why not ask, “Who or what do I love above all else?” And then of course, ask, “What am I willing to do to express and sustain that love?”
Moving your life more in the direction of your passion doesn’t have to happen all at once. You don’t have to quit your day job right away. Rather, find what you love and do a little bit towards it each day. Maybe just ten to twenty minutes each day. Start now. Eventually you’ll find yourself filling more and more of your time with what you love to do, led by the excitement and nourishment of the feeling of being with what enlivens you.
Giving up your weekends to watch every one of your child’s soccer games, driving long distances and enduring long lines of impossible traffic to attend your favorite music festival, delivering meals to senior citizens, or working for less pay at a non-profit organization that furthers your values shows your resolve. Some might call it sacrifice; I like to call it dedication. One of the ways we show our love is through how we give our time. If you want to see what’s truly important to you, look at how and where you spend your time. It’s as simple as that. How and where we dedicate ourselves shapes our priorities. That means that some things might have to be put to the side in order to give our full attention to what we value more. Those things set aside could be your comfort, higher income, or personal play time, but your dedication to who or what you love will give you greater satisfaction and make up for what you might be missing in the moment.
People often have a greater ease in dedicating themselves to others than they do to themselves. They will literally do things for another person that they won’t do on their own behalf. You can make excuses why you’re not attending this sore throat or checking out this lump on your breast. But, if someone you loved—your child, your friend, or your spouse or partner—had a lump, you bet you’d be seeking medical attention, immediately. Can we love ourselves that much? Can we love ourselves as much as we love others in order to motivate and sustain the changes we need to make? How can you grow love, care, and concern for yourself so that you’ll take care of yourself as tenderly as you would your loved ones?
When making a difficult change you’ll need to refresh yourself, rekindle your fire, and renew your hope with something that gives you pleasure, something that you love. Watching sports, playing sports, walking in nature, dancing, laughing, cutting loose with friends: we all need to refresh in order to carry on with our dedication to change. For me, I get refreshed by art; for others, it’s cute animals; for yet others, it’s sexual play. All work and no play isn’t the best way to get the job done. Our periods of concentration need to be relieved by periods of pleasure so you can rest before you renew your purpose and your compelling reason. Refreshment allows you to bask in the sensation of what you enjoy. Being led by pleasure rather than the avoidance of pain is a radical act. Being renewed by pleasure helps us harness our dedication to stay the difficult course of change.
Change is a constant. Change is a given. But, your ChangeAbility—how and why you navigate these changes—is not a given, and not always easy. When you reframe your reason for change to be on behalf of who and what you love, your reason becomes more immediate and far more compelling. When you need to strengthen your reason, strengthen your love. Your compassionate concern or your passionate fire will carry you through the doubts, obstacles, and setbacks that are par for the course of any change journey.
So on this Valentine’s Day, in addition to the sumptuous chocolates, the red roses, or the seductive play you offer, make a small change, make a bold change, but make your change in the name of Love.
Sharon Weil is the author of ChangeAbility, How Artists, Activists and Awakeners Navigate Change (Archer/Rare Bird Books 2016), a book designed to help readers navigate all the changes of their lives, drawing upon the collective wisdom of twenty-five change-innovators across many fields. She is the author of the novel, Donny and Ursula Save the World, “the funniest book about love, sex, and GMO seeds you’ll ever read.” (Passing 4 Normal Press 2013) She is also the host of Passing 4 Normal Podcast, conversations about change, available on iTunes. sharonweilauthor.com