No, this is not an autobiographical preview. It is however a simple story, based on real events, that shines light on a key aspect of personal change.
Jonathan was a successful member of the management classes in his early 30s, originally from Australia but settled in the UK. With qualifications, experience, and a good, well-paid job in the City of London, he was doing fine. Personal life was populated with a small circle of friends and had not yet resulted in a lasting emotional relationship.
Each day for the past six years, Jonathan had taken the same route to work. Walk five minutes to the nearest Underground station, catch the same train at roughly the same time, and arrive likewise. It suited him. It was the quickest and most efficient way. Whilst on the train, he would do what most other commuters do. Read the paper, hang onto the bar, and keep himself to himself. These are the unspoken rules that all regular tube travellers learn.
And then one day something changed. It was an Underground strike that did it. Faced with little choice, Jonathan worked out the best bus route to work and proceeded to the nearest stop. Unsurprisingly many others had the same idea; when he got there, the stop was packed with people and it was raining. He stood next to a young woman and, in the long wait, struck up a conversation with her.
Evidently, she always travelled by bus. Sharing his umbrella, he learnt that her name was Amandine; she was from Toulouse in France, and was in the UK on some kind of management exchange programme. By the time they parted, they were on speaking terms. Next day, with the strike still on, he caught the bus again at the same time – and their conversation developed.
He became a regular bus user.
Two years later they were married…and still are. He no longer takes the bus, but that doesn’t matter anymore.
So what might this story tell us about achieving personal change? Well, making significant alterations to what we do is a challenge for many. We like consistency, patterns, regularity, and surety. For some, these behavioural routines can become a straitjacket; a comforting one, but nevertheless a restriction that may create internal conflict and dissonance.
As Jonathan found, the way to change the script is not necessarily by revolution. Revolutions rarely get off the ground and, if they do, they usually fizzle out or end in failure. For most, they’re just too big an ‘ask’.
Making small changes in what you do first is a way of breaking a habit cycle so that bigger things can then happen more easily. And, as Jonathan discovered, it can have unexpectedly enjoyable benefits.