You all know the cliché- nothing is constant but change. The reality is, it’s really one of life’s truisms. What’s interesting is that as inevitable as change is in our personal and professional lives, we still struggle with it when it hits us. Anyone who lives long enough will invariably encounter changes related to medical or mental health, intimate relationships, financial status, workplace dynamics, job and career stability, even one’s sense of identity. On a larger scale, we contend with profound shifts in the economy, politics, the weather, public safety, and international war and peace. There’s no question that there is a wide range of cognitive and emotional responses we can have to all of these changes, and many people will react differently to the same changed event. Since change cannot be avoided, and our lives are in a constant state of flux, it’s worth looking at why change is difficult, and what we can do to better navigate and manage change when it lands, often unannounced, on our doorstep.
Much has written about why people struggle with change. We don’t like things that are unfamiliar, challenge our core beliefs, disrupt a safe state of homeostasis, or force us to reconfigure aspects of our lives that have become comfortable and predictable. Some people handle change gracefully, almost seamlessly shifting into whatever “newness” has been introduced in to their lives. Others become angry, depressed, anxious or resentful, and strongly push back in an attempt to resist the change and maintain the status quo. Those who struggle more tend to have a lower threshold for ambiguity. They like things clear-cut and are less comfortable with shades of grey. They probably view change as an obstacle or even a threat. They may be fundamentally pessimistic and assume that change will lead to something negative. If they are inflexible by nature or always like to be “in control,” then change will feel very daunting and challenging.
We can all handle change more effectively if we approach it as an opportunity rather than something adversarial. It’s essential to see change as a new door opening in front of us. If we can accept the uncertainty of what it will yield, yet still maintain a sense of faith that the outcomes can be positive, even much improved from our current situation, then change loses its negative power and becomes something we can actually seek out and embrace. Even when unsolicited things change in our lives, if we focus on those aspects that are in our control, rather than obsessing about what is not in our control, we will do better. When things change, our power lies in how we think about the change, the meaning we attach to it, and most importantly, how we choose to react to it and the impact we let it have on our lives. The bottom line is, no matter how much we resist, certain changes will still occur. Accepting them with grace, courage, and an open-mind, and trusting that we can learn and grow from change is vital. If we validate our uncertainty and our fears, still believing in our capacity to weather the changes, and allow ourselves to lean on others and a sense of faith for strength and support, we will be able to meet those changes head-on and become stronger because of them.
Can you share an example of how a difficult change in your life actually made you stronger?