There is a reason fairy tales appeal to our human nature. “And they lived happily ever after” titillates our senses. Who doesn’t want a happy ending?
No one. That’s who.
We all yearn for happiness, joy, predictability, security, and a life relatively free of chaos and — especially — free of pain. The thought that in the midst of joy, suffering could, not only enter but also, ravage life as we know it, leaving in its wake nothing but destruction, terrifies us.
The fact is change is inevitable. However, growth is optional.
There are few guarantees in life aside from death and taxes. Now, you can add change to that list. Nothing — and I do mean nothing — remains the same.
Change does not have to equate to calamity, however.
Change gives us the opportunity to hide, stay stagnant, get angry, stay in denial, let fear win, be stuck, or stretch and grow. Change is a nudge to keep moving—even if our knees shake and our words tremble on our lips. Change whispers “keep going.”
If you are anything like me, you don’t cotton to times of transition—i.e. change. Even if our life stinks, at least, we become familiar with that stench. It’s the new, unexplored smells which have us running for the hills — yes, even the good sniffing ones. It’s not ‘fetid” which renders us feeble but rather “uncharted.”
The good news is this: it’s not because we are spineless that we favor familiarity — even if the familiar is sub-par. There are biological reasons for our lack of enthusiasm when faced with change. For one, our brains are wired to prefer stability.
Our brain’s job is not to ensure our happiness but rather, our survival and for this reason, it has a strong negativity bias.
Our craniums are enamored with predictability, ensuring we not only survive but also, that anything which takes us out of balance is red-flagged and labeled to ensure it never occurs again. Ever.
The human brain is remarkably efficient in its duties. It is a hypervigilant taskmaster.
Secondly, combine our grey matter with a honed and competent nervous system and our doom is sealed so to speak. We are designed to survive—not thrive.
Thriving takes mindfulness. If we want to grow during times of transitions, we must purposefully stretch outside our comfort zone.
I am well aware that in some circles mindfulness sounds woo woo. I get it. Nevertheless, there is power in the notion of presence. Jesus himself said, “as a man thinks so he shall also be.” Be that as it may, however, most of us go through life unabashedly unaware of our thoughts.
Unchecked thoughts mean that our biology is in charge — not us. We can tell our brain to stand down. We can learn to calm our nervous system. And, likewise, we can take our thoughts captive—sound familiar?
This begs the question, how do we thrive in times of transition?
My answer is simple — although not easy — focus.
Allow me to share some tips which I have found useful to overcome my fear of change:
- God is on your side: He is not up in the sky with a big stick lying in wait to whack you upside the head when you step out of line.
- Know your triggers: What stresses you out? What sends you in a tizzy? Which situations scare you?
- Practice self-care: Far from being selfish, self-care is an imperative. If you have ever flown in a commercial airliner — and listened with caution to the preflight spiel — you know that if the cabin depressurizes, you are required to don your oxygen mask before assisting others.
- Be patient: The Japanese have a word for this process “kaizen” — improvement through small changes over time. Tiny steps get us where need to go. We don’t need a major overhaul today.
- Know that change is not linear: It is normal to stall or take a few steps backward. Any forward movement, over time, is a win, growth won’t happen in a straight line.
- Let go of perfection: Perfection is a lie. Humans cannot do or be perfect, let this notion go.
- Be grateful and give thanks: It is a fact that being human means we are imperfect masterpieces. We can’t get hung up on the messes we make and go batty in the process. Or, alternatively, we can choose to focus on what is good and pure and lovely. Really, we can.
- Clean up your messes: Life is not about the messes we are sure to make, it is very much about taking responsibility for them, cleaning them up, and — to the best of our ability — ensure they are as rare as possible.
- Live in grace toward yourself and others: When we are wronged grace is the last thing we want to extend. Likewise, when we do the wrong, grace is the first thing we desire. Grace was given to us freely and it was bought at an unfathomable price. Let us liberally give grace and spread it all around.
- Remember the “okays”:
It is okay to not be okay.
It is okay to not have “it” all together.
It is okay to say no.
It is okay to ask for help.
It is okay to find our voice and speak up.
It is okay not to have all the answers.
It is okay to have bad days.
It is okay to cry.
It is okay to fail—we all have been there.
Transition times stretch us.
Transition times are also beautiful gifts that extend the opportunity to leave the familiar for something different. Transitions are the cocoons that beckon to the caterpillar with the promise of flight. Granted, this process is not always painless. In fact, it can be excruciatingly painful. Dark nights of the soul are abysmally bleak. Nevertheless, eventually, we do pass through and out. Not the same as we were once, that’s true. Never the same. Maybe not even better. But, always different. Different is neither good nor bad. It just is.
No amount of bellyaching will halt change from overtaking us. No amount of pixie dust will make change disappear. Transitions give our lives depth and color. They are the spice of life interspersed with quiet times.
Life is in the ins and outs of the tides. Life is about us learning to ride the waves. It is about changing with the seasons. It is about learning the secret to swaying in the wind, gently bending—on occasions, even violently so. But, the sway makes all the difference when the alternative is breaking.
Bend or break.
We can weather any storm. We can thrive during transitions.
The choice is entirely ours.
Author | Florence Witt