Curious Compassion: It’s okay to change your mind and change your course in life
Updated: Oct 4
Have you ever realized you were headed in the wrong direction and needed to turn around? This can happen when we’re physically trying to get to a specific location, but it can also happen metaphorically in relationships, workplaces, and life aspirations. We can stay dedicated to long-term goals despite it clearly not working well or not feeling like a good fit any longer. It’s hard to change direction as it can feel like we’ve wasted our time. However, doing so might be the best thing for us as we will open ourselves up to that which is right for us.
The process of ‘turning around’ is called rethinking and Adam Grant discusses the benefits of it in his book Think Again. According to Grant, rethinking requires an open mind, psychological flexibility, and being anchored in our values rather than our beliefs or opinions.[i] It also requires curiosity and compassion as you need to be willing to question what you believe to be true and be okay with being wrong.
I was reminded of the importance of rethinking recently when I discovered that every route to the Toronto Zoo was blocked. My kids and I had registered for the annual 'Zoo Run' months in advance and has been excitedly anticipating it for weeks. I had read all the emails, packed the night before and we were all (shockingly) ready to leave the house at 6:30am. What we didn’t know was that all the roads had been shut down a few hours in advance for the first run of the day. We saw people parking haphazardly on the side of country roads and then walking in. A kind police officer recommended that I not do the same, as it was a 5K hike from that location and most of those cars would be ticketed and towed. He instead suggested that we park closer and then walk in. We followed these directions and had already been walking for 15 minutes before it appeared that the road we were following was curving in the wrong direction, so we turned around. This was not an easy feat with five kids, two of them small enough that they needed to be pushed (uphill) in a double stroller. I’m glad we did turn around as my gut was right, that road was not going to lead us to our destination and by the time we got back on track one of the roads to the zoo had been opened. We remarkably made it on time for our run and enjoyed a lovely day at the zoo.
Turn around or not turn around, that is the question
The decision to turn around is not an easy one and it brings up a lot of complicated and contradictory emotions. I’ve had the experience of needing to rethink my course of action in small events (like the Zoo Run or hiking in a forest) and big events, such as ending unhealthy relationships and leaving a secure job that no longer fit my circumstances or goals.
When we rethink our path or plan, we can feel frustrated, doubtful, hopeful, uncertain, excited, and sad. The latter often happens as a grieving of a previously held idea, goal, or relationship that we need to let go of to move forward. Research shows that most of us will not rethink our plans when needed, and in fact, we tend to work harder and have an ‘escalation of commitment’.[ii] Grant calls this ‘grit’ and I call it ‘stick-to-itiveness’, but whatever you call it, it is often our dedication to being right and remaining in the familiar.[iii]
This is where compassion comes in—we need to recognize that all human beings make mistakes and sometimes we need to learn from experience. Our curiosity allows us to be open-minded and consider, “new solutions to old problems and revisit old solutions to new problems”.[iv] (p. 12) It also allows us to keep gathering information along the journey so that we're aware when situations change and we need to take a different path.
If you’re on a path in life that doesn’t feel right for you, this doesn’t mean that you should give up and try again. Or it might mean exactly that. To determine if you need to change your course, reflect on where you are, how it makes you feel and if it fits with what you value in life. If it’s a relationship, consider whether you’re the only one working on it. Get curiously compassionate about why you’re doing what you’re doing. Is it your fears or insecurities stopping you from creating change? Is it the advice or expectations of others? To rethink, you need to get in touch, compassionately, with your true self and have the courage to rewrite your opinions, beliefs, habits, goals, and the next chapter in your life story. Sometimes in life we need to patient and remain committed to our valued goals, relationships, and work, AND (this is the dialectic again) sometimes we need to turn around and start again. I wish you the wisdom to know what is right for you!*
*This process of rethinking and potentially creating radical change is hard. Talking it through in therapy can help, as it is your therapist’s role to help you connect with yourself.