How To Thrive During Huge Life Changes
Change is hard, we're told. But it's also a constant, they say. Inevitable, they add. These are all words of advice we've heard countless times — beliefs we've learned to swallow whole and pass on with little forethought.
But when we listen more closely, we may discover a decidedly bleak outlook on life. If change is hard, as well as inevitable and constant, we're essentially asserting that life is always, and inevitably, full of challenges. And sure, no one will deny that life isn't characterized by some degree of challenge at most times.
But the bigger question here becomes this: are these beliefs about change helping us, or conditioning us to resist a part of life we can't avoid?
While not all change is created equal — some seems like an obvious blessing, other may take time to become so — it seems to me that these conventional ways of talking about change gives it a bad rap from the get go. And after all, without change, there would be no new love, no seasons and no "best ever" experiences.
So how can we turn change, especially big change, into something that we initially look at as an enriching aspect of life?
It's a question that's been on my mind a lot recently, mostly because in the early days of 2015, my family and I moved from the West coast to the East coast. With so much changing so quickly, I've been taking a deep, long look at my own relationship with change.
Here are some simple reminders and practices that have helped me to thrive during this period of widespread change:
1. Like oil and water, change and control don't mix.
Having been taught that change is "hard," we resist it by creating elaborate roadmaps of the future, whether out loud or in the silent comfort of our own minds. Unfortunately, these mental roadmaps lead to suffering when our expectations don't mirror our experience.
Whenever you catch yourself trying to predict the future, stop what you're doing, take a deep breath and visualize or do something simple that gives you comfort, whether it's your daily walk or cuddling up with your coziest blanket. Bring all of your senses into the experience and let yourself get carried away in the feelings of safety and enjoyment it brings.
Over time, this simple practice will help to train your brain to feel safe, instead of fearful, in times of uncertainty.
2. Unknown ≠ Bad. (NEVER forget this).
By now, most of us are old pros at surviving. Since it's a habit that's most easily accomplished by maintaining the status quo, we tend to view the unknown as bad, if not downright threatening. The actual truth, however, is that the unknown has delivered every one of us immeasurable amounts of delight, love, light, laughter, joy, abundance and fulfillment over the years.
When you find yourself spiraling down the rabbit hole of future doom, stop and force yourself to focus on times when your negative expectations were disrupted in wonderful ways. Remember the interview that went better than expected, that call you got out of the blue from a dear old friend, the fact that you woke up to sunshine this morning. Each of those gifts came from the exact same unknown that you're now facing.
3. Yes, you CAN freak out now.
We're often told that the emotions we experience during times of change — emotions like fear, anxiety, frustration, sadness and anger — are "bad" or "negative." The problem with these emotions, however, isn't that they exist; it's that we were never taught how to release them.
Since it's only by experiencing the full force of your emotions that you'll be able to let them go, at those moments when they're swelling up inside you, it's crucial that you let yourself feel them fully. Whether you do this through journaling, yoga, meditation, running, hiking, howling at the moon, or a mix of these and more — figure out what works for you and use it. Constantly.
Turning big change into big progress isn't about doing any of these things perfectly, or all of the time. It is, however, about making a conscious point of moving forward — in ways big and small, seen and unseen — each and every day. When you do that, you eventually have the moment I had when I sat down to work this morning — in our new office, in our new town, finally without a box in sight. Ahh.