Creating Change:
Inspiration through Desperation

Ever watched It’s a Wonderful Life or watched/read Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol? Whichever you are more familiar with, the stories are basically the same: Each main character changes for the better only after they experience something that was missing for each: The right kind of leverage.

In these stories, the power of leverage is what was missing for both George Bailey and Ebenezer Scrooge. Leverage is about discovering what will specifically compel and drive someone to take positive action. Remember the scenes at the end of their stories when Scrooge & Bailey, in their own respective stories, realize that they can changes the shadows of what is yet to be? How did they create the motivation to change? For them, it was about going on a journey where they experience desperation and see what life would be like for others if they didn’t change. Take Scrooge for example. He was quite content living in the type of world he had created for himself until three ghosts paid him a visit and scared the heebeejeebees out of him. He only changed after he was able to see and feel the weight and desperation of what would happen if he stayed on the path he was on. For Ebenezer, the path he was on was a self-centered one that would end up hurting others and ultimately cause anguish and even contribute to the death of Tiny Tim.

It is this kind of desperation that I think we need to sometimes tap into. How’s that for uplifting? No really, stick with me here.  Feelings like frustration, disappointment and fear are all great motivators in that if we heed the reason we are experiencing those negative emotions, they can actually compel us to take positive action. We all have negative emotions, and so what I’m encouraging is to use desperation to catapult us into action. Treat these negative emotions simply as flags, or signals, telling us that we must take action. Yes, I know these feelings don’t feel good, but the key is to experience them, get the message behind the emotion, and then take action.

Behavioral study after study has shown that psychologically we humans will do more to avoid losing something than to gain something. It’s called Loss Aversion. In other words, the pain of loss is sometimes a greater motivator than the potential gain of doing something. It seems counter-intuitive, but sometimes we are not compelled to take action until we experience the discomfort, even emotional anguish, of what we might lose from our inaction.

But here’s a big distinction; it can’t be just any type of loss. Think of someone that has been told by their doctor that they need to change some of their bad habits or else they’ll die. Perhaps the patient smokes, never exercises, has a poor diet and does everything and anything that maybe feels good but ultimately isn’t good for them! Rationally we would think that the likelihood of death would inspire someone to change, but time after time research and experience has shown that even when facing their mortality, folks don’t adopt the healthy habits needed to save them. It is only when a person can create the right kind of desperation that they then actually change. For some it might not be death itself that inspires them to change, but what their death might actually mean. For example, perhaps the patient realizes that they won’t see their children grow up, get married or see their children have children. Their own death may not motivate them, but missing their child’s wedding might! That’s the power of leverage and the power of desperation.

Here’s a 3-day challenge for you to begin exploring the power of inspiration through desperation:

  1.  Watch It’s a Wonderful Life or A Christmas Carol in the next 3 days from the lens of how the both Ebenezer and Bailey were “coached” to change. Ebenezer was coached by three ghosts and Bailey by his guardian angel.
  2. After you watch the movies, think of something you want to change in your life. It could be a desire to finally deal with a conflict you’ve been avoiding or anything else you’re not happy about in your life.
  3. Then, here are a few questions that I invite you to think and feel the answers to:
  • If things don’t change right now, how would you feel about that reality?
  • Can you picture yourself continuing to be in this situation six months from now? A year from now? How about five years?
  • What will you give up if you or the situation doesn’t change?
  • What is the one thing you are most afraid of happening?
  • What are you no longer willing to tolerate?
  • What are you willing to do now to create positive change?

These questions are just a starting point in getting uncomfortable and ultimately inspiring change in your life. These apparent negative emotions can be powerful motivators. They are a call to action.

As always, feel free to reach out to the resources we have here at Tech if you’re struggling with processing some emotions during this season and/or have a challenging work/campus matter you’re working through. If you’re an employee and covered by the university’s health insurance you can reach out to the Employee Assistance Program. If you’re a student, the Cook Counseling Center would be the resource to connect with. Finally, if you’ve got a challenging work situation don’t ever hesitate to reach out to a trusted resource like a friend, manager, Employee Relations, Office of the Ombudsperson for the Graduate School or the University Ombuds Office.

As the year and semester comes to an end, may the New Year bring with it the same hope that Ebenezer Scrooge or George Bailey felt when they woke up from their journeys of desperation and realized they could still change their lives for the better.