We all wish for interesting things to happen, but we also wish for things not to change. This dilemma is at the centre of many of our individual conflicts. The person who has affairs while maintaining a steady marriage is trying to retain interest in life, while also keeping it the same. The person who starts a radical diet, and then lapses, is trying to make interesting progress, but also has the urge to keep their comfort-eating habits.
Morally, we may well have a problem with the person who has affairs within marriage. The betrayal of trust can cause tremendous unhappiness. And we may criticise the person who ‘fails’ at a diet. Getting ‘out of shape’ can cause suffering to a person, damaging their sense of social acceptance, and potentially interfering with their general health.
However, it is worth taking some time to understand the interest/sameness conflict in our lives. If we comprehend what is going on, we can then perhaps modify our approach to take account of both needs in our lives. If we can feed both our wish for interest, and our wish for sameness, in healthy ways, then we might avoid resorting to damaging yo-yo behaviours which threaten our social stability and our physical health.
YOUR DESIRE FOR INTEREST/ADVENTURE
We all like to dream of radical change. It reassures us that we are in control of life – that we are not just victims of circumstance. If we can have an adventure, make a change, or succeed in a project, then we have in some sense triumphed.
YOUR DESIRE FOR SAMENESS/COMFORT
Equally, our bodies like to experience secure surroundings. That’s why we like to have a roof over our head, a front door that closes, and furniture that stays in the same place. Our sense of ‘home’ is profound and hard to shake. Even in our social lives, we like to know that our friendships are relatively stable and trustworthy, and that people are not going to disappear.
BALANCING INTEREST AND SAMENESS
When designing our change projects, we need to be realistic about the fact that we have bodies which like continuity. When planning our days, we need to build in elements of challenge and diversion, but also elements of regularity. Otherwise we will find ourselves swinging like a pendulum between the desire to break free from habit, and the desire to fall back into our habits.
Here are a few ideas which I have seen work while watching clients redesign and improve their lives:
- Give your week a framework. Even if you want change in your life, make sure your average week has a pattern you recognise. A tree needs a steady frame to grow in the spring, and a person needs a steady timetable to be effective. The framework provides the ‘sameness’ – predictable food, social and sleep patterns – in between your more exciting escapades.
- Be incremental with your changes. If you want to change something in your life, build in some of that change, and see how you go. If you turn your life upside down, there is a danger you will twang back to your old routine. But if you embed new things in your existing routine, there is a greater chance the changes will take.
- Have activities which ground you. Meditation is an excellent regular routine. You can do it anywhere, and it brings your mind and body back to a ‘home position’ which helps you to feel secure. Regular meetings with friends can have a similar effect. Regular exercise, whether classes or individually timetabled, likewise. Have two or three things, every day, which you do come what may.
- Build in healthy adventures. One way to catch yourself before you have damaging affairs, or break a diet, is to build in little excitements which feed the interest instinct before it gets out of control. You hold the key to your own cage. Let yourself out for the occasional walk, before you find your animal self breaking out in a binge.
We all experience a conflict: we want novelty, but we also want sameness. Both desires are natural to us.
We can be healthy in our approach to this. In particular, we can build in timetables which include both activities which ground us, and activities which excite us. And we can make our changes incremental and manageable, rather than biting off more than we can chew and twanging back to old habits.
Whatever changes you wish for, be realistic with both valuable sides of your character. You deserve to breathe freely, but you also deserve to feel secure.