Shake It Up

There are times when our work and our lives are going great, and times when that’s less true. But difficult times need not be all bad. They often present ripe opportunities to shake things up and make them better long-term.

This seems obvious to me, and there is ample logic supporting this notion. Here it is:

You may have heard the maxim often attributed to Napoleon: “Never interfere with your enemy when s/he is making a mistake.”

I think that’s smart. And the opposite is equally smart: “Be ready to interfere with your friend when s/he is making a mistake.”

From there, it’s only a small step to recognize the simple truth: what’s sensible and supportive with respect to your friends should also apply, maybe even more so, with respect to yourself. In other words: If you’re making a mistake – which is usually part of what’s happening when things are not going well – it’s nearly always sensible to “interfere,” which in this case boils down to “making a change.”

But what changes should you make?

Fortunately, there are some systematic ways to shake things up in ways to help you identify some useful changes to make, at least as a first step:

Think About It

Before you can properly shake things up, you need to understand what you’re going to shake, and why.

When things are less than optimum, you’ll want to think about why you’re not happy with your current situation. For example, you might want to ask:

  • What problems and difficulties are cropping up, and what’s causing them?
  • What makes them so tough to remedy or eliminate?
  • How do these problems and difficulties relate to my long-term goals, dreams, and values?
  • Are these goals, dreams, and values still leading me in the direction I want? If not, what updates would make them better?
  • Do enough of my daily actions support and lead me toward my goals, dreams, and values?

In general, think about the details of what could be going better in your work and your life.

Analyze It

Having thought through your situation and problems, you are in a position to identify where changes are overdue, how you might make improvements, what to leave in place and what to shake up. Analyze all this in terms of:

  • What are you doing that’s failing to work out well for you?
  • What are you not doing that might improve your work and your life?
  • Where are you finding meaning and purpose? Where could you find more?
  • What experiences would you want more often? Less often?
  • Were things ever better for you? How can you restore at least some of that state of affairs?


One common reason people feel reluctant to shake things up is a fear any new arrangement will prove worse than the existing one. You can eliminate or reduce this fear by treating the shake-up as an experiment, not a permanent change.

Because your shake-up is only experimental, you can:

  • Try several different changes and see which one(s) you like best.
  • Set a time limit for testing a change, and cancel if you’re not happier with the experiment.
  • Take bigger risks in making changes because you need not commit to the experiment until you’re sure you prefer it.
  • Make follow-on changes to your experiments if early tries don’t work out well enough.

Accept Challenges

You can fruitfully shake things up, of course, simply by rearranging the existing elements of your work and your life. But you might obtain even more benefit if you replace some of the less important or less interesting parts with new challenges.

You can find, develop, and accept new challenges with the potential to:

  • Expand your skills, knowledge, and abilities.
  • Help you meet new people.
  • Bring you new experiences.
  • Position yourself better for important tasks, projects, or goals.

My main point here is this: when things are not going well, making adjustments to the old and adding some new elements – I call this “shaking things up” – at a minimum creates opportunities for your work and your life to start going better.

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