Heractlitus famously said “change is the only constant.” We are surrounded by change in our daily lives. The rhythm of day and night, a flower growing, the seasons passing and one of our greatest measures of change, the growth of children. Change is natural, inevitable and part of the beauty of life.
Despite this, we resist change, we are fearful of change. To many, change represents death and in a number of ways change is death whether this be literally (the passing of a loved one) or metaphorically (death of a relationship, of a role in a job etc). Therefore we fear change as we would fear death itself.
This fear can lead to unhelpful habits of avoidance (filling our lives up to cope with emptiness, drinking, taking drugs and seeking out pleasurable activities at the avoidance of the pain) or struggle and control (trying to stop change by controlling others or events). Change can challenge us in more ways than we ever imagined.
During change periods we are stripped of old roles and if our whole sense of self worth was embedded within those roles we can feel a total loss of identity. Who am I? becomes a terrifying question, we feel unmasked, bare and naked.
At the same time these periods can be harnessed for some of our greatest periods of growth. Change is neither good or bad, change “IS”. Our emotional reaction is not inherent in the change itself, it responds to what the change represents. We experience grief, a total sense of loss around what was and what could have been, we feel resentment, anger, we try to bargain, we try to go back to where we once were, we make comparisons, judgements and we can feel helpless or hopeless. Alternatively the change period can be associated with a manic phase of doing everything all at once, feeling good ALL the time and only seeking good things to replace the bad.
These emotions and actions are part of the process of change and over time can become damaging if we don’t have a plan on how to effectively manage a change period. Here are 13 tips on how to harness the energy of change in the direction of growth. It may be useful to write some of your responses and thoughts down about some of the following points:
Be aware of avoidance, struggle and control. Notice and name your emotions and the effect they are having on your behaviour. You don’t need to do anything initially; awareness of the patterns in your life is the first and most important step. What is the change triggering underneath? (I am not worthy, I am not good enough) name the story or the thought, don’t try to change it, just name it, be aware of it. Has this story/ thought popped up in my life before? When? Is there a pattern?
If there is pain. Lean into the pain. Try not to avoid, struggle or control it. Let it be. Allow it and get to know it. This may not be your instinct, we are taught from a young age that pain is bad. But in many cases the pain is where the growth and learning is and you need to go through the valley to come out the other end. For example in a diving situation when faced with a shark, instead of swimming away like prey which is our instinct divers are taught to face the shark square on, this confuses the natural instinct of the shark to go after prey and they often just swim right past.
Ask yourself what can I learn from this pain? If I listened to it talking, what is it trying to tell me?
Get some perspective. In 10 years time when I look back on this time of struggle / hardship what do I want to see in terms of my behaviour and how I responded to the change?
Define your values: What are the values I want to uphold during this change period? What kind of person do I want to be in the face of this? Write 5 of your values down.
Act on your values. Make an action plan defining one simple act you can engage in to uphold your values, now today. Be specific and make it simple.
Get support when you need it. Friends / family / therapist – beware of friends / family that are personally involved in your change too, they may be speaking from their own feelings / experience.
Be mindful. Often change can lead to feeling overwhelmed or our thoughts can get caught up in the past (sadness/loss of what has now gone) or the future (worry about outcomes, the uknown). Mindfulness strategies help you to reconnect to the present moment. A 5 senses technique is helpful. Notice what you can see, touch , taste, smell and hear. Name the experience, do not use judgement words. For example, do this while drinking a coffee or having a shower or watching something in nature.
Problem solving. If you are faced with a decision some simple problem solving can help. Write down all of your options, break them down into positive and negatives of each option. Look over your list and usually one option will stand out for you.
To do lists. Life must go on and getting daily tasks done is helpful amongst the chaos of big changes. Make your lists manageable and realistic and break them down into small steps for larger tasks.
Self care. Do things to look after yourself that make you feel better. Bath, swim in the ocean, exercise, yoga, surf, read, watch a movie. Keep a list of self care activities and tick one off at least once a day.
Develop some mantras to support you on your journey, “this too shall pass” is a good one for feeling overwhelmed. Post these all over the place, on the fridge in the bathroom, keep one in your wallet and read as often as necessary.
Keep your sense of humour. Try and find the time to laugh, if nothing else it will lighten your mood and your day.