Handle Change When You Don’t Choose It
Change can be difficult. As humans, we are hardwired to want things to stay more or less the same. We know the status quo works, and we fear what disrupting it will do, so from a biological perspective, we cling to stability.
But change is not only inevitable; it allows us to thrive. Of course, not all change is created equal. Sometimes we choose change — like moving to a new city, starting a new job, getting into a new relationship, or picking up a new hobby.
And sometimes change chooses us.
Think reorganization at your workplace, having a partner leave, getting into an accident, or living through a worldwide pandemic. Not all change that chooses us has a negative connotation — maybe you get a promotion you weren't expecting — but in general, we have a more difficult time adapting when we don't see the change coming.
5 Strategies to Cope with Change
Just because we don't necessarily like change doesn't mean we can't get better at dealing with whatever comes our way. Here's how:
1. Start training for change now.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), once said, "Make sure you weave your parachute every day, rather than leave it to the time you have to jump out of the plane." It works the same way with change. The best time to build resilience is before you get into uncertain situations that are challenging. So practice pushing yourself outside your comfort zone and introducing change into your life now. It doesn't need to be significant. We are such habitual creatures that even sleeping on a different side of the bed or taking a different route to the grocery store can be a good way to mix things up.
2. Objectively evaluate the stressors related to change.
When confronted with a significant change, I like to use a stress formula to ask myself a couple of questions: What is the problem here, and how much salt am I adding to the wound (aka the situation)?
Let's say it's raining, and you think to yourself, "This is horrible weather. I don't like this weather. I wish the weather would be different." Or maybe you get a new boss, and your internal monologue is, "I don't like the new boss. Why is my company doing this to me? Why am I so unlucky?"
It's a good idea to take some time to acknowledge that a situation isn't great and allow yourself to feel your feelings — you don't need to be relentlessly positive. But adding that extra resistance in your mind ultimately won't improve things. Look at each situation and ask yourself, "How much am I contributing to making myself miserable by thinking negative thoughts?"
3. Recognize your resistance and focus on solutions.
Our attitudes toward change often create inner conflict, as if we were at war in our minds with not wanting things to change. You might find yourself spending more time and effort fighting it internally rather than using that same effort to develop positive solutions.
If people poured the same amount of energy into thinking of solutions and taking action as they do into thinking about what they don't want, they would be much happier, healthier, more peaceful, and more effective in the world. There isn't necessarily a solution to every problem, but don't let constant negative thinking prevent you from looking for one when there is.
4. Find factors you can control.
We can't control everything, but we can control some things. For instance, the pandemic is an uncontrollable phenomenon that's had huge implications on people's lives around the globe. Still, there are some small things we can control.
One is the amount and the type of social media we consume. If you notice that you feel more depressed or angry when you look at social media because you're comparing yourself with other people, you can hide or unfollow the accounts that don't uplift you or take conscious breaks away from the platforms.
Another thing that's usually in our sphere of control is the amount of self-care we practice: how much we sleep, what we eat, whether we exercise, and whether we meditate. Focusing on improving our well-being in these areas can make a huge difference in perceiving and handling challenging situations.
5. Be kind to yourself.
Change can be challenging to process, so that's completely normal if you feel burned out or don't have the energy you wish you did. Treat yourself with kindness and self-compassion as you navigate this new, unknown terrain. Believe it or not, it's this kindness — and not beating yourself up or expecting perfection — that will help you get through anything.
Changing Our Relationship to Change
Uncertainty is hard for us to deal with from an evolutionary perspective, given that it triggers the survival mechanism in our reptilian brain. When there's a life change we haven't chosen, we don't feel in control. We want the uncertainty to end. And for most people, it tends to be quite essential to be in control.
Instead of thinking of change as scary and unknown, consider all the exciting new possibilities.
Instead of saying, "I've never been in this situation before; how will I know what to do?" you can instead try, "I've never been in this situation before, but I've been in other unknown situations and navigated them with confidence — and I will do the same here."
Fear of the unknown is common, but gracefully handling unexpected change.
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