How to Change Your Life with One Small Move

How to Change Your Life with One Small Move

Written by Neil Hughes

Topics: Productivity

Recently, the principles of Feng Shui—an ancient Chinese art which advocates a system of placement within a space to harmonize various energies—became incredibly important to me. (By sheer coincidence, there was an unpleasant job I didn’t want to do, and spending the afternoon rearranging my office seemed preferable.)

After some time browsing Feng Shui websites, I ended up rotating my desk 90 degrees. From now on, I would sit in what one of the websites referred to as the “position of command.” (Basically, my desk would face the door instead of the wall.)

To my astonishment, it helped: as soon as I sat down, I felt more in control of my life.

This was during a period of great suckiness in my life, and I think there’s some interesting lessons to be drawn from it.

My aim isn’t to convince you that Feng Shui is important (after all, a potentially valid conclusion from this story is that human brains are extremely silly and perhaps we’d be better off with the dolphins in charge). It’s simply to illustrate that change begets more change.

And sometimes, when we’re stuck, any change will help.

Proving to Yourself that Change is Possible

My brain is always convinced that whatever’s happening at this moment is going to go on happening forever.

When I get a lucky break—a job opportunity, an exciting new client, a booking, a new project—I am subconsciously convinced that the good times are here to stay. Equally, when something goes wrong I might sink into a deep malaise, instantly convinced that doom is eternal and my earlier optimism was misplaced.

Clearly, both of these are equally wrong.

Progress—whether positive or negative—is never a straight line. It just feels that way.

And that’s where making a small change comes in handy. It proves to our silly monkey brains that change is possible. Rotating your desk won’t solve your actual problems, but it might just give you the emotional boost you need to solve them yourself.

A Small Change Can “Rewire” Your Brain

I’m no neuroscientist, but let me grossly oversimplify some neuroscience anyway. A couple of decades ago, scientists weren’t sure whether the adult human brain was capable of much change. But nowadays they say it’s “neuroplastic”—that it rewires itself constantly.

However, the brain is also super lazy, so it avoids rewiring unnecessarily. And so we end up with habits and repeated patterns of behavior… and we get stuck.

You might think it’s strange to advertise change to multipotentialites, of all people. Aren’t we addicted to novelty already?! But we’re just as prone to getting stuck as anyone else. Making even small changes to our routine or environment opens up new neural pathways.

Putting It All Together

In the light of all this, my reaction to the little change in my office makes more sense.

My perspective had gotten stuck. My brain had almost forgotten what it was like to experience anything new. Sure, my actual work was varied, but I’d become used to that variety. Making a small adjustment to my environment got my mind flowing again. And this opened me up to new possibilities. Suddenly, bigger changes seem less scary and more enticing.

Try a Little Change Yourself

A new route to work, a different lunch, a furniture rearrangement… small changes can bring us a mood boost and a sense of greater control, which we can then use to make bigger changes.

Of course, change isn’t always great. When things are going well, I become very scared of change. I grasp tightly to everything, hoping that I can just keep the entire universe the way it is right now.

Naturally, I can’t prevent the universe from changing around me. But making my own little changes helps me manage my own corner of it a little better.

Your Turn

Has a small change ever made a big difference for you? Share your story with the community in the comments.

neil_2017_2Neil Hughes is the author of Walking on Custard & the Meaning of Life, a comical and useful guide to life with anxiety. Along with writing more books, he puts his time into standup comedy, computer programming, public speaking and other things from music to video games to languages. He struggles to answer the question “so, what do you do?” and is worried that the honest answer is probably “procrastinate.” He would like it if you found him at walkingoncustard.com and on Twitter as @enhughesiasm.

23 Comments

  1. Hey Neil
    Thank you for your article. Wow I never understood it so direct which influence the human aversion of change has. “My brain is always convinced that whatever’s happening at this moment is going to go on happening forever.” Is very nicely said.
    I do not have a change story here but I just had an epiphany why my not multipotentialite friends have so little understanding of all the different things I’m doing all the time. They think when I do something new I will do it forever. And they sometimes get afraid that I’m different now and that they lost me.

    • Neil Hughes says:

      Ooh, that’s an interesting angle which I hadn’t considered, thanks Patrick! Yes, it makes sense now you say so: when someone changes it’s easy to fear our relationship with them might change too. But without embracing change we get stuck. I guess it’s important to hold onto important relationships even during times of change.

  2. Maryske says:

    You know, my desk is facing the wall, too. Two, to be precise: historically, I like having my tables/desks in a corner. To my left is the door, to my right the window. What do you think: would your Feng Shui thing approve of turning the desk to stand in front of the window instead of the door? Seems more interesting to me. ;-)
    Especially since having it face the door just creates another problem of control: my desk is pretty full on the three sides where I don’t sit: papers (lots of it), postcards, two piles of notebooks, pens (actually lots of pens and pencils, and not all of them neatly in a stand), a Christmas pyramid, a bunch of toy bunnies, a small portable DVD player + remote, a plastic flower in a pot, a small pencil sharpener slash globe, a few snow globes, dictionaries… If I turn the desk to face the door, I’m afraid they’ll just come tumbling down every time I push back my laptop a little! So much for control… :-D

    As for the dolphins, considering what a mess humankind is making of it, we could hardly be worse off with the dolphins in charge. Maybe we should try it?

    • Neil Hughes says:

      I for one welcome our new dolphin overlords!

      I wanted to face the window too, especially as I have a stunning view from my home office. But the blog claimed I would be too distracted, and that you feel more in control this way. I’ll probably try rotating the other way soon, just for an experiment…

      • That’s interesting Neil. I have a stunning view also, and my desk faces the window. But I get so involved in what I am doing that I actually don’t look out that much. If I do, it’s a nice ‘brain break’ and reconnects me to the natural world. With feng shui I have also read not to sit with your back to the door, but to have a wall somewhere behind you to ‘back you up’. In the end I think we know what configuration feels right with our study, office or other home furniture.

        • Neil Hughes says:

          Ooh… reading this comment made me mentally reorganise my office yet again. There’s a configuration I’ve not tried, but it’d give me my back to a wall, AND the stunning view outside. You’ve set me thinking now…

  3. Zara Pradyer says:

    What a lovely, transcendingly useful post! Thank you so much, Neil.

    And, I can do this – one small change – without too much effort (spaghetti head but frozen).

    May any future periods of suckiness in your life be short-lived.

    Kindest regards.

    • Neil Hughes says:

      Wow, I’m not sure I’ve ever been accused of being “transcendingly useful” before, thank you so much! :D

      Exactly, small changes feel so much more achievable when we’re stuck, and then once we’re unstuck the bigger changes feel slightly smaller than they once did. Even with a frozen spaghetti head..! I hope you also stay free of sucky periods in your life – thanks for sharing!

  4. I will try this. I thought something similar for why my work desk faces a window. Facing a wall felt like a dead end. Seeing and feeling light and seeing the outside probably helps mentally to see a larger world of what I want to connect to to move forward. But I haven’t tried the door yet. So I will have to try this to see how it feels. Would be a good change as you say in this post. Thanks.

    • Neil Hughes says:

      I’m pleased it’s inspiring you, Obinna! I’m getting visions of people all over the world rotating their furniture and it’s oddly pleasing. (For a few days after the desk I wondered what else in my home I could rotate. So far, nothing.)

      Of course, it’s not just about furniture rotation but any small change. Hope you find some inspiration and novelty and that it inspires you further :)

  5. Andrea says:

    Hi Neil,
    I am going to give this a try in my small, one woman business office. Thank you for a great post!

    • Neil Hughes says:

      Genuinely let me know how it goes! I think changing our environment has a huge impact on getting our thoughts and emotions flowing in new ways. Hope it works well for you :)

  6. Via says:

    Hi Neil,

    Great points – especially about how small changes help “rewire” our brains. This is what I did when I wanted to change how I viewed exercise/working out. Instead of seeing it as a chore, I took tiny steps to help introduce me to the idea of working out. Last year, I got guest passes to different gyms and went a few times a month. Then, I decided I would get up 30 minutes earlier than usual 2x a week and follow free workout videos online at home. Then, I did this 3x a week. Fast forward to now, I’ve joined a gym, can squat almost twice my bodyweight, and happily go 6x/week.

    It’s automatic now. It’s like brushing my teeth – it’s just something I do every day. And all of this started with small changes to my day, and tiny decisions that built up a habit over time. And it worked!

    • Neil Hughes says:

      YES! That’s exactly it! I don’t always live up to this ideal myself, but it’s exactly the sort of habit-forming that has worked for me sometimes, and that I want to develop into a habit itself :) Thank you so much for sharing, this story is going to inspire my developing exercise habit all this month :D

  7. Joe says:

    As a person who changes jobs and addresses like other people change their socks (biological research tec) my advice to y’all is to move the desk outside. We spend too much time indoors and it recharges our mind body and soul to be in nature. Our little monkey brain needs to be stimulated by the forest. We need time to remember we are not in control and a walk in the woods with the bears and wolves and the squirrels reminds us that the world changes around us all the time. Control of our lives is a fleeting butterfly that dances in the meadows. As for the dolphins, they move through an environment that is in constant flux, ever changing and moving, they would tell you leave the desk in place and walk out the door… find the nearest stream and swim to the ocean.

    • Neil Hughes says:

      Ah, absolutely, if at all possible changing up our environment totally is very healthy for us. Of course it’s not always possible due to circumstances and responsibilities, and those of us who have to work in the same spot have to do the best we can for now. But yes, getting into nature is so good :)

  8. Erna says:

    This is a timely post. I recently moved an item of furniture out of my workspace (at home) which allowed me to shift the cupboards and add a table. This table protrudes somewhat from the wall but faces windows. I now have a large work surface, a view, and above all, a much happier environment for creating. These small changes have increased the joy of my environment a hundred-fold.

    • Neil Hughes says:

      It’s amazing what difference a change makes. Our brains are so used to ignoring our environment that we have to make it different to notice it again :) Enjoy the view, and I hope you find ways to keep it – and your thinking – fresh.

  9. Kathleen says:

    This is so timely and true! I just rearranged my bedroom – in particular the orientation of the bed – and literally my entire life feels refreshed. I will have to keep in mind the “position of command” for future office configurations!

    • Neil Hughes says:

      The times I’ve rearranged furniture in my bedroom have often felt like whole new chapters in my life, so I know exactly what you mean. Human brains are so strange! We live with them all the time, and yet they have these little quirks that seem so alien :D Thanks for sharing, Kathleen :)

  10. vavaly says:

    It s so true! Sometimes we are stock in our activity, life or habity and ye forget to change the angle. If we step back for a moment, adjust the angle and take a deep breath, everything can look diferent :).

  11. Pagan says:

    I laughed out loud while reading this post. I’ve done so much furniture moving at times that my husband is never quite sure what he will find when he walks in the door! I also find various routes to get from one place to another. He shakes his head every time I take a left and he’s expecting a right, but it’s how I found our beautiful house on a river in Texas. We’ve since moved, but we lived there for 10 years–longer than we’ve lived anywhere in our lives. Being unable to stick to a straight line has brought many “happy accidents” into our lives, and now my husband perks up in his seat when I zig instead of zag, because he’s interested in seeing what may be around the next corner.

  12. Emily says:

    I recently tidied our silverware drawer and put the forks in a different compartment. My wife is still adjusting. Changing furniture is much too big a deal for her, so I try to be content with small achievements.

    My little home room – I have many names for it, office, sewing room, art room, room to hide stuff if people come over… but it is MY own room, and it’s crowded. You inspired me to think again about looking at feng shui principles to make it work better as my – dare I say it? – multipotentialite space.

    One small change? Yes, just now. I am stuck on a work project in a new job that I am not sure I like. I really need a nap, a walk outside, and I can’t leave the office yet. So I searched on getting unstuck at work…and soon was immersed in these blog gems. Lots of ideas flowing (even for my work project) and I feel better! I still need a nap, of course, but that’s typical for me.

    Thanks for sharing your POV!
    Emily

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