The tipping point: when do you know it’s time to change?


Years ago, in another life, I listened to an audio tape discussing the process of undergoing change (it was probably related to trying to give up smoking!) Analogies were given related to the unendurable circumstances that ultimately lead to change. I can’t recall the author, but he gave the example of a young woman driving to a dinner engagement, along a winding road on a cold and stormy night, past a road accident. The car had run off the road into trees, and was very badly damaged, but the accident scene was well attended by emergency vehicles who were providing the necessary response to the seriously injured driver. The young woman decided not stop, knowing that her presence was unnecessary. It was a cold and wet night, there was nothing more she could do to help, so she decided to continue on her way to her dinner appointment in the warm car. There was nothing to be gained by her stopping, and a potential personal cost was involved (being out in the cold, wet night, and late for her appointment.)

Change the circumstances. Same cold and stormy night, same dinner engagement, same accident, same emergency response, but this time as she passes, the young woman sees that the car that has run off the road belongs to her grandmother. This time the scales of personal gain and cost have swung. Even though all emergency response is being provided, and she might be late for her appointment, were she to continue past the accident, the personal cost to her would be unbearable. She will be late, cold, wet and uncomfortable, but the pain and cost of not knowing, coupled with the personal gain of needing to be with her grandmother, necessitates that she change her plans.

My own circumstances, and those of others who have shared with me their stories over the years have often reflected that same experience. We go about our business, responding automatically to the situations in our days, making mindless changes as required, until something causes us to alter the way we view and respond to our environment. Sometimes it is because we just become aware of the need for change, other times because we are tripped up, sometimes daily, by the same troublesome conditions, other times it’s because life throws a hard ball our way and knocks us totally off our perch. But whatever it is, we reach a critical point where we can no longer continue to ignore what is happening around us, and where we have to choose a new way forward – there comes a critical point where we have to change.

There are tipping point in our lives, where critical internal and external factors can act as catalysts to a previously unimagined future. These crises – “ … the instrument of transformation  …trouble that leads to crisis … if this disruption to order is unable to be accommodated within the existing social structure, there may arise the legitimation of a new order …” (A. Nelson, 1994) – call us to make choices and conscious changes in some of our most deeply rooted behaviours, and through this, an altered sense of self can emerge that holds promise for progression beyond previous barriers.

What have been your tipping points, and how have they altered your life?

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