Embracing Uncertainty: The Challenge of Change
I’m not sure if it’s something in the air, in the water, or in the pulling of the tides, but the energy of change seems to be everywhere at the moment. As I observe my own experience and those of loved ones, as well as our current experiences at a national and international level, it seems change is afoot whether we like it or not. Perhaps you can feel the shift in your own life, too?
Whether you are driving change in your life or it’s being thrust upon you not of your choosing, we humans are notorious for being clumsy navigators of change. That phenomenal survival machine sitting inside our skulls is biologically wired to prime us to run or resist anything that seems uncertain or unfamiliar, because it computes unknown as being unsafe. Not exactly helpful for going with the flow, leaping outside your comfort zone, or any other change cliché you might like to add.
Even though we are wired to oppose change, one of the laws of life is simply that everything is impermanent. Good or bad, everything passes eventually. The challenge for each of us is how we traverse our journey when the landscape is reshaped. Here are my favourite tips for swimming rather than sinking through times of change:
When you are choosing change…
- Plan what you can.
All transformation requires us to cross territory that is unfamiliar. If it didn’t, it wouldn’t be transformational! But just because you choose to head in a new direction doesn’t mean that it’s easy. Your mind may still try to deceive you by telling you that it’s okay to “wing it,” that you’ll “figure it out as you go,” or that “what’s meant to be, will be.” And sure, for some parts of the process, you’ll have no choice but to live out these approaches. What I’m saying here is don’t risk your potential growth by leaving everything up to chance. When you are choosing change, you have the benefit of also choosing many aspects of the change. Optimise your results by investing just as much energy into your planning as you do into effecting the change. Plan your timing, your resources, your support system, your psychological readiness, your research…and anything else that you can think of.
- Know it’s okay to grieve and be excited at once.
I don’t know any way to get around this one so I’ll be blunt: It’s going to be an emotional rollercoaster. It’s okay to grieve for an end and welcome a beginning at the same time. You can miss what’s been and look forward to what’s to come in the same moment by embracing your feelings. Don’t judge or set limits on what you’re feeling. Change is a dynamic rhythm which requires us to feel it all…sometimes all at once!
- Listen to your intuition rather than your fear.
Unfamiliar territory means your mind will play all your fear records at high volume on high rotation. You know, the ones that start with “What if…” and end in various disaster scenarios, and the ones about how things aren’t going to work out, and about how you’re silly to even try, and about how something is bound to go wrong. Unfortunately we can’t remove that survival wiring from your brain, but you can choose to turn down the volume and instead pay attention to the voice of your intuition. Not sure of the difference between the two voices? In my experience, fear is the loud, bombastic one screaming for your attention. Intuition is the gentle whisper that speaks with quiet but clear confidence about what’s right for you. The key is to listen.
Fear is the loud, bombastic one screaming for your attention. Intuition is the gentle whisper that speaks with quiet but clear confidence about what’s right for you.
- Embrace new routines.
Change is the perfect time to let go of what’s not working for you and start doing those things that help you live more closely to your values. Those things that help you be more of who you want to be. There’s nothing like change for shaking up stale routines and habits that, if left to continue, are toxic to your well-being. Take this opportunity to start shaking and recreating!
- Don’t expect everyone to understand.
One of the most difficult things about choosing change is that not everyone will understand and support your new direction. You see, as humans we are threatened by change even if the change is not happening to us directly. Some people will be defensive because they are invested in staying as they are and your choice to change holds up a mirror they would rather not see. Some people will be critical because they are invested in the old version of you. And some people will simply fail to understand why anything has to change at all, ever, for anyone, full stop. Choose who you turn to for support during this time. Find one or two people who have got your back and lean on them when needed. And remind yourself that not everyone in your past will be right for your future – and then believe in yourself and move forward anyway.
When change is choosing you:
- Control what you can control and let go of what you can’t.
If change is choosing you, it’s going to be a shock. You may feel a host of uncomfortable emotions including overwhelm, fear, grief, anger, and confusion (not necessarily in that order, or on just one occasion through the process). Take a moment to catch your breath and use this strategy as your anchor: Direct your energy towards all the things that you can control (including how you respond to the situation at hand), and then practice letting go of all the things you can’t control. Worrying about things outside your control is not only futile, but it will tire your resilience muscles before you give yourself a chance to start swimming forward.
Worrying about things outside your control is not only futile, but it will tire your resilience muscles.
- Even if the change is against your choice, you can still choose acceptance.
Perhaps this change is the furthest thing from what you would choose for your life right now. If that’s the case, I get it. Sometimes, life is simply horrid. In times like these, the most effective approach for your well-being may seem at best paradoxical and at worst, impossible. I’m talking about acceptance. Stay with me because it’s likely that I’m using the word acceptance in a context that you’re not expecting. When change is choosing you, you usually have very few options. You can resist it, fight it with all your might, throw a tantrum, refuse to budge, and turn squarely towards how things were and refuse to see any other point of view. Or you can accept it. (In reality, most of us do a mix of both). Acceptance does not mean that you have to approve of, like, or want the change. I simply mean that you make a conscious choice not to fight the process or situation. Instead of struggle, you choose to practice staying open to the possibilities with curiosity, self-compassion, and willingness. Read this paragraph again and consider which option seems like it will be more effective for fulfilling living. Resistance requires effort. Acceptance requires effort. But only one approach moves you forward.
- Take it day by day.
Once you accept that the change is happening, or has happened, you’d be forgiven for wanting to get through it as fast as possible. We have evolved to avoid pain and I’m not aware of any form of personal growth that doesn’t involve discomfort, so it makes sense that you’d just want it over and done with already. However, taking this approach is a form of avoidance and struggle and may cause you to actually delay or interrupt the process and miss the powerful lessons waiting for you. Take it slowly. Give yourself time to adjust. Give yourself permission to take side steps and backwards steps every now and again. And most importantly, stop to reflect at what it is that you’re learning along the way.
- Find the meaning.
Perhaps change has unexpectedly turned your world upside down, leaving you with the feeling that nothing makes sense as it used to. Once your eyes have adjusted to see the new shape of your world as it is now, take stock. Spend time looking for the meaning in it all. You may not be ready to do this right now, but when you are, this period of reflection is where the most expansive and significant growth occurs.
- Ask for help (including from yourself).
Be courageous enough to ask for help when you need it. Change presents us with some of the greatest challenges we will ever face in life so don’t expect yourself to face it alone. And most importantly, don’t forget to help yourself. It’s during periods of transformation that we need to help ourselves by getting out of our own way, providing self-care, speaking kindly to ourselves, and above all else, believing in our capacity to meet life as it comes.
If you are going through change right now, may you approach it with much love for yourself. Change leaves us naked and raw emotionally, so please, extend compassion toward yourself and use this time to celebrate your courage and believe in new possibilities.