Making room for the new in life

Sunny island.
Even the most positive changes are rarely straightforward.

We’ve all heard the line about trying to look at the glass as half-full rather than half-empty, but I came across a different variant on it recently – one that may make you more open to the idea of making a change in your life.


Irish Times columnist Roisin Ingle recently wrote about a trip she took to Las Palmas in Gran Canaria, where she visited an old friend who had said goodbye to his life in Ireland and made a new one on the sunny Canary island.


Roisin Ingle writes that she admired her friend, that it takes ‘guts and imagination to drop everything at home and make a new life somewhere else in your mid-50s. To locate yourself elsewhere, to set off on a brand new adventure.’


And it was clear this adventure was working out. Swimming in February, avoiding the tourist traps and eating tapas in the best local haunts, having lunch in the palm-filled old town, laughing and socialising with new Spanish friends – he was enjoying his new life.


Of course, even the most positive changes are rarely straightforward. There is always a transition. Her friend ‘had to leave parts of his life behind, manage his ego, get used to a new version of himself.’ It was a challenge, she writes, ‘but the prize was profound. The prize was unfolding every day.’


Initially, her friend worried he was running away, only to joyfully discover that this wasn’t the case. Rather, he was ‘running towards something else’.


Roisin’s friend explained he had benefited from the wisdom of Padraig, a fisherman he knew growing up in Connemara. He related a story often told by Padraig’s wife, Mairin. One day, she returned home and noticed there was no sign of the family car. She asked Padraig about it, who explained he had loaned it to a friend who had to visit his father in hospital. A bit annoyed, Mairin asked how they would cope without the car, given the various errands they had to run for themselves and their four children.


Padraic asked her to come into the kitchen, where he poured a glass of water up to the brim. ‘What is that, Mairin?’, he asked his wife. A full glass of water, she replied. He then poured out some of the water. ‘And now?’, he said. Before she could answer, he added: ‘Now, we have room for something else. If you don’t take something out, there’s no room for anything new to come in’.


He was talking about a car loaned to a friend, writes Roisin Ingle. ‘He was talking about life.’


Her friend in Las Palmas thinks of his new life the same way, she says. ‘He has had to get rid of some things, in order to make room for this other existence. In order for his life to grow and expand’.



Instead of making a change, we often stick with the devil we know.

It’s a moving and an important story, one that I hope will make readers pause and think. Her story brings to life some psychological concepts that can seem dry, but are quite profound.


For example, psychological researchers often talk about status quo bias – our tendency to stick with the status quo and what’s familiar, as opposed to choosing something new.


Then there is what’s known as sunk cost bias – our tendency to continue with something we have invested time and effort into, even though it may not be working out.


When considering making a change in our lives, it’s human to think: what if it goes wrong? What if I make a change and regret it? As a result, we often persist with a bad course of action, to stick with the devil we know.


Unlike Roisin Ingle’s friend, you might not be thinking of going to a new country, but maybe you’re thinking of other changes – a new job, new relationships, new hobbies, whatever. I can’t say if you should or shouldn’t, but we do need to be open to change, to shake things up occasionally to avoid stagnation.


As she points out, ‘some of us would do well to remember Padraic’s full glass of water. And what might unfold when we are brave enough to pour some of it out.’