I recently had the opportunity to visit England. While there I was the designated rental car driver. That means I had to figure out how to safely drive on the left side of the road. To top it off, the rental was a manual, meaning I not only had to worry about cars moving in the wrong direction but I also had manage shifting with the wrong hand.
As I started out it was rough going. Not only did I have to focus on which side of the road to be on, I also realized that I didn’t really know where to look for oncoming cars. Every instinct I have from years of driving was suddenly wrong. Cars would come from places I didn’t expect. When I was turning into roundabouts or complicated intersections I had to pay attention to what lane to turn into.
What surprised me the most was how exhausting it was. All of the extra focus, the work that normally comes naturally, took so much effort! By the end of the day I was beat. I’ve always enjoyed driving so it had never occurred to me how much it would take out of me.
But each day I got better and it came more naturally. I wasn’t as clumsy. Somethings were starting to come naturally. But then something would happen…a car would come out of nowhere or we’d come across a different type of roundabout (yes, there are different types). And it was like I was starting all over again as I learned to navigate these new situations.
And then one day something happened that made me realize that what I was going through was the same process that I talk to clients about. I tell them that change doesn’t just happen. We are clumsy as we try to implement new behaviors. Everything is different than what you are used to. And just when you think you have it, a new situation pops up, causing you to have to learn more ways of doing it. Exactly what was happening to me as I got used to driving on the left side.
I also tell clients that even as they get used to the new way, under stress we revert to what we know best, or the old way. And that is what drove the point home for me. My sister and I were standing by the parked car. I needed to move the car and had been waiting for a spot down the street to open up. It suddenly did, unexpectedly. I told her to quickly get in the car so we could get that spot. What did we do? We both ran to the wrong sides of the car. We reverted to our best known behaviors under stress!
When we or others are trying to change, we need to be patient. Recognize that change doesn’t happen perfectly. It takes time and effort. And even when it seems change has happened, new situations might put it to the test. But the good news is that even though change can be hard, we can change. How do I know? The first day home when I went to drive to work, my foot automatically tried to push in the clutch on my automatic car…