Why It’s Not Always Good to Adapt

Allison Fallon

My dishwasher broke recently. The stopper on one of the tracks just broke off, so now if you pull that top rack all the way out, the whole thing just sort of falls.

It happened about seven days ago at the time I’m writing this, but I don’t really think about it that much anymore, because by about day three, I had already adapted to the situation. I know exactly how far to pull that top rack out without it falling, and I know that if there are too many dishes in there, I have to put my second hand underneath the rack to support the weight.

It’s funny because I could just fix the thing. But no. Instead I adapted.

We’re remarkably adaptable creatures, us humans.

Our ability to adapt is one of our greatest assets and also one of our greatest vulnerabilities. When it comes to a dishwasher, it’s not that big of a deal. I mean, I could order the part for three dollars and have it shipped to my house and probably repair the thing in about two minutes, but instead, I just figured out a way around the problem.

Photo Credit: Joe St.Pierre, Creative Commons

Photo Credit: Joe St.Pierre, Creative Commons

Sometimes it’s easier to learn to live with a problem than to fix it.

And although it’s great for us to be able to adapt to less-than-ideal circumstances, especially for those problems in life that don’t have easy fixes, the real issue comes when we adapt too easily or too quickly to a situation that could absolutely be solved.

Or worse, we adapt to a circumstance that shouldn’t be tolerated at all.

We might not even notice we were adapting.

  • We adapt to a boss who overworks and under-appreciates us.
  • We adapt to a relationship that is abusive or cold.
  • We adapt to a friendship where we have to do all the work.
  • We adapt to telling lies—first small white lies and moving onto bigger ones.
  • We adapt to eating foods that do not make us feel good or fuel our bodies.
  • We adapt to a physical pain without exploring what is really wrong.
  • We adapt to unhealthy environments, patterns, behaviors

There are all kinds of ways we adapt

And not all of them are good or healthy for us.

Here’s how Henry Cloud puts it in his book Necessary Endings:

You might have become acclimated to the misery in some way. You have gotten so used to it that you no longer feel it as pain but view it as normal. Pain by its very nature is a signal that something is wrong and action is required. So pain should be driving you to do something to end it. But if you are not making moves to end the dull misery of something going nowhere, then you may have told yourself nothing is really “wrong”—it is just the way it is. You are stuck with a chronic ache and it feels like the new normal.

I think the real reason we adapt is because it’s easier.

If you have a sprained ankle, it’s easier, in a way, to sort of limp around in denial than it is to go to the doctor, take the necessary time to rest, to wrap it properly, to really heal.

If your boss overworks you and under-appreciates you, it’s easier—at least in this exact moment—to just do what he says and keep him quiet, than it is to confront him, to stand up for yourself, or to quit and find a new job.

If you’re in an unhealthy relationship, it’s easier, for the time being, to stay and put up with the drama than to face the reality of what it would mean to be alone.

Adaptation is easier. But of course easier doesn’t mean better.

I’m learning to see that there are just some areas of my life where adaptation is not the answer. I won’t adapt my character to keep the peace, for example; I won’t adapt my creative intuition, just so I can make a few extra dollars. I won’t adapt how I deserve to be treated, just to keep a relationship.

There are just some areas where it’s better that we don’t adapt.

Oh, and don’t worry. I went ahead and ordered that part for my dishwasher.

Allison Fallon

Allison Fallon

I'm not a guru or a therapist or a life coach. I just think you're remarkable and I want you to think that, too. For daily inspiration, follow me on Twitter (@missallyfallon) or check out my blog: AllisonFallon.com.

  • Tim Turner

    This was an excellent reminder for me. Thanks for sharing.

  • Allison,

    Thanks for the great article!

    Your dishwasher illustration reminded me of my own adaptation story. When I first got married we had an old hand-me-down refrigerator. The inside plastic liner of the door was cracked so you had to push the door shut using the handle and then kick the bottom to make sure it was sealed up tightly.

    We had that refrigerator for several years and when we finally got a new one, guess what? I still kept kicking the door shut.

    Sometimes adapting is like that; it becomes our new normal even if it is unhealthy.

    Thanks for the reminder to keep looking at things clearly and remembering that some things shouldn’t be adapted to. They should be addressed and fixed. Even if it is difficult, taking care of the problem is so much better in the long run.

    Take care,

  • Jeff

    Love what you said, Allison. I especially resonated with these lines: “I won’t adapt my character to keep the peace, for example; I won’t adapt my creative intuition, just so I can make a few extra dollars. I won’t adapt how I deserve to be treated, just to keep a relationship.” Great reminder that adaptability isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be and that easier isn’t always better.

  • Jon

    Great advice; but how to determine which situations are OK to Adapt, and which are not?