Change is one of those things that you can rely on happening just when you least expect it.
Sometimes what seems stable one day has the habit of being turned upside down the next. It is so easy for us to take what we have for granted, whether it be our relationships, our work colleagues, our job or our health. Some people I speak to thrive on change, enjoying the excitement of the new opportunities or challenges, while others find the very prospect of change confronting and frightening. Ask yourself about your response to change. How do you respond? Do you respond with intense fear or do you find it exciting and motivating? Most people have a mixture of emotional responses but some are more directed one way or the other.
One of the things I say to my clients over and over again is that life is all about change and that we can either choose to stay focused and keep ruminating on the things that we cannot change or wish we could get back, or we can accept that life is full of things we simply cannot influence. This then allows us to put more of our energy into the areas where we have greater influence directly. For example, sometimes even if we focus huge energy on a relationship that we think has potential, the partner may not share the same vision for the future, or they may discover over time that the person is unable to meet their needs, thus recognising that to continue to invest in the relationship, although comfortable at one level may result in too big a compromise in terms of their own values. Walking away from a relationship or accepting it is over, is one of the hardest challenges we all face in our life, usually many times during a lifetime. Why is it so hard? Because the attachment we form with people has involved investing and taking risk and when we risk our heart being involved, we have the capacity to experience incredible intimacy and love, but on the other side of that we have the possibility of hurt and pain if it doesn’t work out the way we dreamed.
Sometimes people say to me that the experience of intense pain that comes from this loss has them questioning whether getting close to anyone is worthwhile and too often I hear “I will never trust again”. But I would ask you to think about this question, if you had to choose between a life without loss, grief and hurt but a life on your own with no love or a life where you loved deeply with the pain and challenges that come with that, what path would you choose for your life? Most people could not bear the thought of missing out on the possibility to love and be loved for the sake of protecting themselves emotionally, but next time you are faced with a loss, ask yourself that question. I would bet that most of you would choose the life with love and pain, rather than the solitary life with no risk. To experience all that life has to offer means learning to live with discomfort as well as comfortable feelings as part of that journey.
Next time something changes in your life, take a moment to reflect on these tips to adapt to change successfully.
- Accept the emotional responses that come with change and notice if you are struggling against it. Sometimes we hold on to things that we are better off letting go of and when we hold on too long, everything seems to start going wrong – we get more upset, we create tension in relationships as others give us messages to let go and we refuse. The first step of adapting to change successfully is to accept what was and give yourself permission to grieve what you had while being careful to embrace the potential for the future. Feelings of fear, trepidation and sadness are a normal part of the process of adapting to change for many people and it is important that we accept these as part of the experience.
- Be mindful of labelling the experience in a way that holds you back. Sometimes it is easy for our mind to create a story about what happened to us. It might be the “I’m not good enough story”, or the “I’m no good at relationships” story . When we listen attentively to what our mind says about these events, we sometimes find ourselves behaving in ways that keep us stuck. For example, if we were to get stuck on “stories” like this, we would find ourselves depressed, frustrated and anxious about taking risks to love again. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy teaches you to learn to let go of stories like this and take action in line with what you want for your life.
- Redirect your energy into taking action: Rather than getting stuck in the past, start to see the opportunity that presents with the change, learn from what happened and be proactive to do things that improve your situation. Learn to problem solve and break the problem down into manageable bits to allow you to more easily take action. For example, rather than being caught up with the feeling of loneliness, be willing to take the risk to reach out to new people and build trust with others over time.
Most of all, recognise that there are always new opportunities that come with change if we choose to see them and embrace them. So, what will it be for you next time a change presents? Acceptance or struggle? The choice is yours…..
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