Mindfully Adapting to Change
“The key to developing the courage to change is to first accept that change is inevitable.” Wallace Nesbitt
How do you feel when you think about change?
Whatever your feelings are towards change, we can guarantee that we will face change at some point in our life. No matter how many bottles of extra strong superglue we squeeze out to try to secure ourselves to our current way of being, change is inevitable. The extent of that change and whether it is positive or negative, depends on our life’s journey and also to a large extent, the neural pathways in our brain, telling us whether we like this change or not.
Here are five mindful principles that can help us to navigate changes, which may at first seem negative to us.
1. Change reaction
We all respond to change differently. For you, change may signify excitement, mystery and renewed energy in your veins. Or, it may mean lighting your backside with a Catherine Wheel and spinning away as quickly as you can, squealing as you go!
The change curve derived from the work of Elisabeth Kuber-Ross, highlights a series of emotional reactions we may experience to change, such as denial, resistance, acceptance and finally commitment. Practicing mindfulness (such as mindfulness meditation) helps us to become more aware of these reactions. With openness and gentle curiosity, we can observe our reactions without getting caught up in them, enabling us to move through the change cycle with more ease.
Mindful tip 1: Be aware of your reaction to change
Can you take a moment to notice your reactions arising? Try to be mindful and observe those reactions, placing no judgement on how you feel. Pay attention with gentle curiosity and kindness to yourself.
2. Full speed ahead and CRASH BANG BOOM
When we begin to imagine our life changing, the differences and new responsibilities can feel enormous and overwhelming. We can begin by thinking of the small impact the change may have, but this can very quickly escalate into a huge mountain we need to climb, gasping for air as we collapse on the first incline. This is just us thinking about it.
But therein lies the secret. This is just thinking about the change.
Our minds, whilst extremely skilled at keeping us safe and protected, have a habit of imagining the worst possible case scenario. Yes, it can be helpful to be prepared for the obstacles that lie ahead. However, it can be easy to get caught up in the what if’s, which can consume our time and energy. Awareness of our thoughts using mindfulness to be in the present moment, helps us to consider, are our thoughts facts?
Mindful tip 2: Challenge your thoughts, are they facts?
Challenge your thoughts. Are your thoughts facts about the change, or just what if’s? Are your thoughts helpful or could you focus your energy on other more constructive areas?
We may initially see the change as a hindrance, something that stops us living our life as it is now. However, once we are aware of our immediate reactions to change, this gives us the opportunity to see the change from different perspectives.
Positive Psychologists argue that if we practice noticing things to be grateful for, our brain becomes more skilled in doing so. We can in effect re-wire our brain to think more positively. Can you challenge your mind to see the change from alternative views? Perhaps with a more positive outlook?
Mindful tip 3: Change your perspective to a more positive outlook
Instead of thinking what you can’t do because of the change, can you put more energy into thinking what you will be able to do?
4. The Big Beast of control
Many of our stresses and anxieties come from a place of not being in control.
Think about the future. How amazing would it be if we all knew what was going to happen next in our life, so that we knew which turn to take, whether to say yes to an opportunity, knowing if our jobs, relationships, or environment would flourish?
But, would it really be so amazing?
Isn’t part of life’s magic, the excitement and joy we feel when we notice something beautiful that catches our eye, or when someone surprises you with an act of random kindness? How about all of the new learnings we have gained by riding through unpredictable changes in our life so far, giving us greater insight and understanding of ourselves, that we would not have realised if we had purely held on to what we could control.
Stephen Covey’s Circle of Concern can help us to visually consider what is in our control, so that we can focus our energy on these areas, I have added some examples in Diagram 1 below:
Diagram 1. Stephen Covey’s Circle of Concern:
Sometimes putting things into perspective in this way can help us let go of what we can’t control and get more comfort from that which we can control in this moment.
Mindful tip 4: Focus on the present moment, what can you control?
Could you create your own circle of control for change? What does this show you about where you spend much of your time and energy? Could you focus more on what is in your control?
Mindfulness teaches us to have patience. Change takes time to adjust to, to settle into new ways of working and living, so be patient with yourself. Show yourself some compassion and kindness. As you progress through a cycle of change, you may even experience changing emotions at different points along your journey.
Remind yourself that you have successfully been through many changes in your life to this date. Technology is constantly advancing, the way we work, our connections, our likes and dislikes. You have adapted, you have developed and you have grown, this may have happened without you even noticing. Recognising this, could even bring you more strength. There will come a point where you look back and say, wow look how far I’ve come.
Mindful tip 5: Be patient and remember that change takes time
Remember that change takes time, show yourself patience and kindness as you navigate through each stage of the change.
Using mindfulness to build our awareness, to challenge our thoughts and see different perspectives, to focus on the present moment and what we can control, all with patience and kindness to ourselves, can help us to navigate through life’s changes with greater ease and a more positive outcome. We may even be able to pause to admire the view and experience moments of joy along the way.
Sarah is an Occupational Psychologist and Mindfulness Trainer providing mindfulness training to Individuals, School’s and Businesses; sweetening life’s sours with a squeeze of serenity.