Many of my blog posts have been loyal to the enormous importance of change as a mechanism for getting the life you want. Change is vitally important when you have become dissatisfied with certain aspects of your routine, such as if you eat too many sweets at night, and they are the culprit that causes your insomnia; or if you’ve tried to stop countless times, but you’re still good for a pack of cigarettes a day.
In order for things to get better, they have to be different from what they were. That necessitates change. Therefore, one of the most vital coping mechanisms we have in life is the flexibility to make changes in ourselves and our circumstances.
Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.
Even if intellectually you recognize that some of the routines that you exercise are getting you nowhere, you may still struggle to let go of them because they are familiar and often automatic.
As an intelligent human being, you surely know that sugar and nicotine are not the best choices for you – but that doesn’t mean you’ll automatically stop craving them. Thus, we remain attached to the familiar long after it has stopped serving us.
Change asks you to stretch beyond your comfort zone in order to achieve a better situation. It is a process that can require a consistent and sustained effort, even over a long period of time.
Coping with the discomfort of this period is as big a challenge as whatever constitutes the change itself. It’s not just about enacting whatever new thing you’ve invited into your life, but about adjusting to a new reality.
Let’s look at an example
When you’re young, sometimes you create patterns without realizing it. These patterns can be very simple. Suppose, for instance, that your mother or sister always wears bright colors. All of your childhood, people extoll the virtues of their bold choices, commenting on how recognizable and unique their style is.
The truth is, you also love color. But just the idea of wearing it feels wrong. It’s as if it would put you into competition with them, and that could be interpreted as trying to steal the limelight. That’s the last thing you want.
So, no matter how much you love color, you just don’t have the mindset to swathe yourself in it. You feel safer sticking with black. Colors are for them; black is for you. In fact, you wear so much black, it becomes your signature. Everyone knows that you can always be found in dark colors, head to toe: blouses, sweaters, trousers, skirts, even socks and shoes.
However, one fine day, a colleague at work makes a comment about your monochromatic look. For some reason, this gets you thinking about how you’ve always wished to be more colorful.
You think to yourself: Why am I a person who loves color but never wears it?
You decide to try adding a colorful scarf and socks to your outfit the very next day.
When you come into the office, this change is noted by several colleagues. And this is where the problem starts: You’re not sure whether they’re complimenting you or simply noticing, but either way, it doesn’t feel right. You didn’t do this because you were looking for people to talk about the way you look, the way they always did about your mother and sister. You’re uncomfortable and quickly decide: I’m not doing that again.
However, one thing to remember is that our inner voice is not always a good friend. Our inner voice can and should be a cheerleader, encouraging us to go on, make the effort, live with the setbacks, and keep going forward; but it can also express our internal shame and blame.
Indeed, while the shameful voice shies away from the discomfort, the cheerleader voice points out that if you were to keep wearing color now and then, it would stop being worthy of comment. This voice reminds you how healthy it felt to add a little variation to your wardrobe and not be imprisoned by your past image.
Is it worth the effort it would take to give it another shot?
Making it through
When implementing a change, you must be prepared for it to be arduous at first.
This is why some people are open to the proposition of change, genuinely curious and willing, but in the end, go along with it only briefly. They quickly come up with enumerable justifications for resorting back to the easy and familiar. They tried something new, but it was unpleasant, and that was the end of that.
They aren’t prepared to persist through the initial discomfort. Therefore, they never get to experience the exhilaration of exercising their bravery muscles and pushing through to the other side.
If you’re struggling with a change, try to be honest with yourself about what’s holding you back. Don’t cut yourself too much slack.
Don’t talk yourself out of something worthwhile before you’ve really given it a chance. Trying it once isn’t enough; making a change is about taking on a whole new way of living.
For some of us – the lucky ones – establishing new routines that are comfortable is just an issue of time. If you’re steadfast, things that initially appear daunting soften up as you continue to face them.
To get there, you just need to remind yourself that you can do this; you can cope with this. Eventually, you’ll find the experience easing.
However, if you are even open to hearing about the value of change, consider yourself lucky. Not everyone is. Some people, even with time, really struggle to adapt to change. They have serious anxiety that does not fade with continued exposure. Unless they learn how to deal with it, they are unable to appreciate the development of any new habits.
In fact, there are people who won’t even consider new habits. They can’t bear to leave their old ones behind, and all they want is to be left alone. Any suggestion otherwise will cause them to become defensive or drift into panic mode.
If, heaven forbid, this describes you, perhaps facing such challenges alone is more than you feel you can cope with. You might want to seek the help of a spiritual, emotional, or medical professional in working through this issue. I pray you get the help you need and allow yourself to enjoy your life.
Additionally, there are some techniques you can learn to help train yourself to accept small changes. Show yourself that you can meet, head on, a challenge you heretofore never thought was possible and was to be avoided at all costs. Congratulate yourself for baby steps. In this way, you can gradually entertain and eventually carry out larger, more significant alterations.
I specifically recommend an exercise called alternate nostril breathing. First, close your mouth. Then take your thumb and hold it over one of your nostrils. Breathe in and breathe out through the nostril that remains open; then switch over and do the same thing on the other side.
Do this ten times. An achievement! Next say, I’ll do this for a whole minute. Pulling this off is another achievement. It’s not dramatic, but it might give you the confidence to believe that something as basic as breathing can be worked with.
If you can do that, what else can you do?
Remember, inevitably, there will be opposing voices in your head, cheering you on and intimidating you. Please give more space to the positive, sympathetic figures of tenderness and encouragement. After all, don’t you want to be the best you can be, inside and out?