In the state of Connecticut where I live, change is in the air… literally. The air has turned crisp and there are colors being reflected all around me. Frankly, it is stunning, and I feel lucky to have the chance to enjoy it. I even put up a video of me driving through town over on my Twitter page. Whether or not you live in a place that experiences the four seasons, change may be in the air for you, too.
Driving around this season has had me considering change, and I’ve come up with a few conclusions:
Change can be exciting and beautiful.
The change of seasons isn’t the only beautiful change. How about the birth of a baby, the beginning of a marriage, or even a new hairstyle? When things around me are changing, my mind and energy are turbocharged. New stimuli and challenges keep me on my toes, and I have the chance to be learning and growing.
Change can be unwanted.
As someone who loves routine, change is often something I avoid. I like everything to be predictable. When things are good, I want them to stay that way. A few things I never want to see change are strong relationships, warm weather, good conversations, and positive experiences for my children.
As it happens, change is inevitable. In some cases, that will mean a change away from a situation I am enjoying into one that I don’t like.
The anticipation of change makes me anxious.
A funny thing I’ve observed in myself (and others) is how hard it is to manage our emotions when we are approaching a planned change. In fact, this period of anticipation often ends up being more unpleasant than the new event or situation itself. Waiting can be brutal, as fear of the unknown overtakes us.
Change can be something I crave.
When things aren’t going particularly well, I can feel like I’m just trying to hold on until a desired change arrives. A few examples:
- Spring after a long winter
- Health after an illness
- Reunification with loved ones after an absence
- Potty training after years of diapers
- A raise after a period of scraping by
- A promotion after unrecognized effort in the trenches
There are times in life when change feels like the sun finally emerging after days and days of rain.
Some changes are unwanted and beyond my control.
On the other hand, when I’m content with the status quo, the last thing I want is for things to change. When we finally feel like we have things figured out, that is frequently the moment when change comes rushing in. The vote goes against us, the job is pulled out from beneath us, a spouse walks away, a loved one passes.
These changes can catch us by surprise, and periodically shock us so deeply that we have a hard time finding our footing.
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If change is inevitable (and it is!), what can we do to enhance our enjoyment of the good and soften the impact of the bad? Are there ways we can better prepare for change?
A few thoughts come to mind.
Whether a change is good and wanted or difficult and unwelcome, it is likely to usher us onto a road that is a bit bumpy. In modern society, we tend to highly value comfort, and strive hard to maintain it. I personally am constantly trying to avoid being cold, moving from one heat source to another all throughout the winter. [My new car has a heated steering wheel, and I know it is going to be my new favorite thing!]
At the same time, progress and triumph will probably require that we walk through some unpleasant spaces. We might need to alter the way we are accustomed to doing things, a process that can be rough.
- Do I want to have an organized home? I will need to spend time walking around and putting things away.
- Do I want to feel better physically? I will need to eat healthy foods and exercise.
- Do I need to get a new job? I will probably have to persevere through a lot of rejection.
- Do I want to get a promotion? I may need to do the task that no one else will do.
- Do I want to have more friends? I might have to put myself into potentially awkward situations.
- Do I want to find a way to prevail through an emotionally crushing experience? I might need to seek counsel or solicit some other support.
In the midst of change, it is easy to get discouraged. We can second guess ourselves, regret decisions, blame ourselves and/or others, feel insufficient, or worry that things will never improve.
Everybody needs a little hope in unsteady times. Hope is critical for forward progress because it gives us a reason to stay focused and not succumb to negative voices.
If you are feeling hopeless in the midst of change, find something positive to hang onto. This might be a person, a food, a song, a mantra, a visual, or something else.
Years ago, a friend told me that she was a big believer in lifelong learning. I had just left college at that point and learning was the last thing on my mind. However, as the years have passed, I’ve realized that the aquisition of knowledge and wisdom is what makes life rich. No time is better for learning than in the midst of change. Unfamiliar circumstances, new challenges, fresh perspectives, and unusual trials all require that we wake up, pay attention, and think.
When change is in the air, so is the opportunity for me to stretch, grow, and learn new things.
Embrace writing things down
Change can test our ability to focus and remember. One of the reasons for this is that our pre-frontal cortex, the part of our brain that handles decision making, is under duress. We can’t rely on habits and familiar patterns, but rather have to keep thinking, processing, choosing, deciding, and otherwise “figuring out.” It can feel like the equivalent of running a cerebral marathon.
Even if you’ve never had to write things down in the past, you will likely find it helpful to write things down during periods of change.
For example, you may want to start using a more formalized planning approach. Or you may find it helpful to journal about your feelings. Maybe you want to start using checklists to keep yourself on track.
Writing things down (either on paper or in digital form) allows your brain to offload some of the cognitive overload that your brain is managing.
One of the hardest aspects of change can be its intensity. Unexpected calamity can turn our world upside down, and even changes we desired and sought can thrust us into periods of exhaustion and overwhelm. Whenever change is in the air, it is wise to be mindful about giving ourselves the chance to pause, breathe, and periodically think about something else.
There are endless ways to take a breather, including:
- Going for a walk
- Working on a puzzle
- Taking a bath
- Playing a game
- Serving someone else
- Watching a movie
- Playing with children
Find something you enjoy that takes your mind off of yourself and the challenges before you. The human brain can only handle so much. Every now and then, it needs a break; a chance relax and recharge.
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Whether wanted or feared, change of some form is in your future. How do you experience change? What do you do to help steady yourself as you work your way through?