At certain transition times, it’s tempting to make a move — a big, game-changing power tweak — to the who, what, when, where or why of our lives. You learn something about what does and doesn’t work for you any longer; you go through a breakup, lose weight or start a business, and all of a sudden you want to change jobs, move towns or fire friends.
In 12-step programs, they call this "pulling a geographic:" making external changes, like moving, to solve internal problems.
Pulling a geographic is often thought of as the province of the addicted and the disordered, a way to avoid doing the hard internal work. But I think people who are doing the work, making the changes, shifting their behaviors and otherwise getting out of their comfort zones are equally, tempted to pull geographics in an effort to get back to some semblance of internal comfort.
Doing this won’t get you back to your comfort zone for more than a moment, unless you also use it to unravel the growth and development that made you uncomfortable in the first place. At the extreme, major life moves made during times of transition can even create more discomfort, in the form of upheaval to your finances, your family and your entire lifestyle. In the ever-wise words of Martha Beck, “Any external thing we depend on to make us feel good has the power to make us feel bad.”
The answer is not to become timid about moving forward in life every time you have a transition. Rather, the answer is to approach any major life moves during times of transition very deliberately, slowing things down to make sure your decisions are sound before you proceed.
Three strategies that work for me:
1. Do a trial run.
Rent the country house first, or take a lease option. Rework your obligations to spend a month or a summer in a new city before you sell the house and move your whole family. Take a sabbatical or a side job to try out your new career before ditching your current position.
2. Fast forward to the feeling.
Get clear on what exactly it is you think this big move will do. What feeling are you trying to generate with it? Understand these two things:
You have complete control over how you feel at any given moment, regardless of your circumstances.
Sometimes, you can actually, simply decide to feel that feeling without making a single change at all. Try it. Be happy. Now.
Other times, there are far less serious circumstantial changes that can get help you tap into that feeling, so you can take your time and make the bigger change when your thinking is crystal clear. I wanted a country house because I feel deeply relaxed in the country, when I can be outdoors and disconnected from technology for long stretches of time. Before I bought a house in the country I decided to optimize the outdoor spaces at my current home and spend much more time exploring the trails and regional parks near my house. No mortgage necessary.
3. Make the internal change first.
What is the internal change are you trying to avoid with the geographic? The gut-wrenching work of ending some long-term relationships? Facing the realities and little daily pains of being a responsible grown-up or leader? Before you make the big move, do this: make that much-needed internal change anyway.
That way, you ensure you’re not pulling a geographic to substitute the external for the internal. And if you do make the move, buy the house or change jobs anyway, you’re much more likely to be happy with that change. More importantly, you’ll be much less likely to recreate the same circumstances you’re trying to get away from in your next company, home or city.