COMMITTING TO MAKE THE BEST OF CHANGE

Simone Biles, the highly decorated American gymnast from the 2016 Summer Olympics (gold medals in floor exercise, horse vault, individual all-around, and team all-around and a bronze medal in balance beam), competed in Season 24 of Dancing With the Stars (DWTS) which is a reality show where celebrities partner with professional dancers and compete against each other in weekly elimination rounds to determine the “Mirror Ball” winner.

On the semi-final episode of the show, viewers were given the opportunity to get to know each contestant through a brief biographical segment. Simone and her parents talked about her interest in gymnastics and how once she made a decision to be in the Olympics, she become totally committed to making that happen.

Have you ever made a commitment?  A promise to do something that obligates you to carry out a course of action?  Had a strong sense of intention or focus?  If you have then you, like Simone, worked very hard to fulfill that promise.  Working to fulfill a commitment influences how we think, how we act, and how we sound.  And this is exactly why when change enters our life, especially unexpected change, committing to make the best of it helps us successfully deal with the change.

Extraordinary energy, concentrated power and sheer will. This is the potent mix required to break barriers and reach the pinnacle of success.

OUR THOUGHTS

Just making the commitment gives us the desire to accept and work through the change. While we may not like what has happened to us, we tell ourselves that we will make it work for us; we will make the best of it. This mindset prepares us to seek information, ask questions, or shed some light on what has happened in order to appropriately deal with it.

Committing to make the best of the change gives us the confidence to deal with the consequences of the change.  We tell ourselves:  “I will do this.”  “I can do this.”  “I will make this work.”  This confidence helps us think positively about the change, about our role and actions in the changed environment, and about ourselves in general.

Our commitment will also help us think divergently and creatively when dealing with things in the changed environment. “How can I accomplish this?” becomes a standard way of thinking.

OUR ACTIONS

When we commit ourselves to something, we try harder to fulfill that commitment.  We don’t let much of anything get in our way.  Giving up is not an option – we persist; we persevere.  We become disciplined and focused in our pursuit of what we want to accomplish.  We are willing to make personal sacrifices for a positive outcome.

Our commitment gives us the courage to step outside of our comfort zone which is important because outside of that zone is where learning and growth occur.  Outside the comfort zone we may face challenges, but being committed to make it in the changed environment gives us confidence which helps us stand up to those challenges.  Because we are more likely to think divergently or creatively, we are also going to be better able to seek solutions to any challenges or obstacles we may face.  We will probably be more willing to take some risks in working through challenges or overcoming obstacles.

HOW WE SOUND

When we make a commitment to make the best of change, what we say and how we say it is upbeat and full of enthusiasm.  Our optimism shines through.  Positive words and phrases are frequently heard. This positive focus is also carried through to our thoughts and actions.

DISPLAYING COMMITMENT

According to Daryl Conner (chairman of Conner Partners, an Atlanta, Georgia USA-based consulting firm that specializes in transformational implementation) there are five ways we display commitment:

  1. Invest resources such as time and energy to ensure the desired outcome.
  2. Pursue the goal consistently over time, even when under stress.
  3. Reject ideas that promise short-term benefits but are inconsistent with the overall strategy for goal achievement.
  4. Stand fast in the face of adversity, remaining determined and focused in the quest for the desire goal.
  5. Apply creativity, ingenuity, and resourcefulness to resolving problems or issues that would otherwise block the achievement of the goal.

We know change will be a constant in our life’s journey.  Committing to make the best of change puts us in control of the change instead of the change controlling us. This is where we want to be. We want to be calling the shots.

So, the next time change comes knocking on your door, instead of slamming the door in its face, open the door, take time to understand what the change is all about, and then commit to making the best of it.  While we may not be Olympians or dancing stars, we will be the best that we can be in our changed environment.

ENDING THE STORY WELL

On March 6, 2017 I posted a blog titled BAD MOMENT VS. BAD DAY and on March 13 posted a blog on HAVING ONLY GOOD DAYS.  In late April, my friend and colleague, Jimmy Pickett, posted a blog (site is Coachpickett.org ) titled I HAVE NEVER HAD A BAD DAY which caught my attention.  The following are excerpts from that post:

Classrooms Without Borders, the Ciy of Wheeling, WV, and the Ohio County Public Library hosted a program featuring Aron Bielski and his wife Henryka on Thursday, April 27, 2017.  Aron is the last surviving Bielski brother. He, and three of his brothers  –  Tuvia, Asael, and Zus – living in Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe escaped to the Belarussian forest where they joined Russian resistance fighters and created a safe village for themselves and about 1,200 Jewish non-combatants whom they helped to escape.  Their story is captured in the 2008 movie Defiance which is available on YouTube, Amazon, and Netflix.

 Aron was the youngest of 10 children.  In 1941, at the age of 11, he witnessed his mother, father, and two of his siblings dragged from their house, forced into a wagon and taken to a mass grave where they and 4,000 other Jews were executed. Aron was hiding behind a tree.  Thereafter he and three of his brothers fled to the forest and organized a partisan group whose primary goal was to rescue Jews and offer them shelter.

 Eventually, after the war, he and his brothers fought in Israel’s War of Independence, thereafter living in many places before coming to the United States, settling in Brooklyn with his wife and brothers, and operating a taxi business. 

 His book, Caught Between Hitler and Stalin, chronicles his story.   Aron is now 91, vibrant, and still passionate about life.   

 The format for the program was allowing the members of the large audience to ask questions to which he, his wife, and the moderator from Classrooms Without Borders would respond.  It seemed as if audience members, many of whom were young people, were eager to hear how he managed to deal with what to them was a terrible and frightening experience.   True, lack of food, water, and the constant danger of being captured was the reality in which they lived.  Yet, when asked how he managed to keep a positive attitude, he kept responding that “I have never had a bad day.”   Both his wife and the moderator confirmed that, in fact, while obviously knowing that one must never forget the cruelness with which humans can treat each other, Aron is always positive and ready to embrace the day while doing what is possible, even at 91, to educate others. 

 While not denying the cruelness, he celebrates the gift of a sense of purpose, the opportunity to help others (even today he and his wife raise money to feed hungry children in this and other countries), and the knowledge that if today is difficult tomorrow will be better.   Aron mentioned sadness during the course of the evening. He did not deny that he had lived through events which were extremely sad and, yet, once again, he did not miss the joy of embracing a sense of purpose, the intimacy and joy, and of working others for a good cause. 

Aron and others like him – those who have dealt with and survived a seismic change in their lives – serve as role models to the rest of us when we find change challenging, overwhelming, and allowing negative emotions to take front and center.  Aron’s story is one of HOPE (a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen), PASSION (a strong liking, a deep interest, or a devotion to something a desire that creates commitment), and RESILIENCE (ability to absorb high levels of disruptive change, bounce back, and even excel in times of change and uncertainty, without acting in dysfunctional ways).

These three qualities help us maintain a positive outlook and know, as Aron says, “…that if today is difficult tomorrow will be better.”  Having a positive attitude – leaning to generally being optimistic and hopeful – does help us cope more easily with life by bringing optimism into our lives and by helping us avoid worry and negative thinking. With a positive attitude we see the bright side of life and expect the best to happen.

“Just because you had some bad chapters in your life doesn’t mean the story can’t end well.  Turn the page and never look back.”  I don’t know who said these words, but they are an apt description of Aron Bielski. Aron is one who does not let the negative of what is happening take control.  He understands that we all have choices.  He chose to react to his circumstance in a way that sought to understand, put and kept things in perspective, was helpful and purposeful, and moved him forward.  As a result, he has been satisfied with life, better able to deal with and handle what comes his way, less stressed, and has found more joy and happiness in life, and is less stressed.  When change is upon us, let’s all emulate Aron and choose to never have a bad day.

BALANCING THE EBB AND FLOW OF CHANGE

Sitting on the beach watching the ocean come in and go out over and over is most relaxing to me.    Ebb and flow – the recurrent pattern of coming and going. Just as the ocean’s tides have ebb (going) and flow (coming), so does our life.  And, along with an ebb and flow the ocean has natural high tides and low tides. Our lives, too, have natural highs and lows.  We seem to take the natural and expected ebbs and flows, highs and lows in stride.  It is when something unexpected happens and brings unwanted change to us that we seem to focus on the ebb and flow.

While we rarely question the ebb and flow process of the ocean, a process that brings continual change to the ocean and its shoreline, we often question and have difficulty dealing with the ebb and flow in our lives.  Why is that?  Well, probably 

because the ebbs in our lives take something away and create a loss.  This loss can lead to a low for us.  (This can be likened to going after a sea shell at the ocean that has been washed in with the flow of the tide. But, before we can pick it up, the tide’s ebb takes that shell out to sea again.)  Certain losses leave us with a sense of disappointment.  I really liked that shell and wanted it.  Why wasn’t I fast enough to get it?  I really like my job. Why did I have to lose it?  I really like the community in which I live. Why did we have to move?  And, let’s face it.  We usually devote more time, energy, and attention to the ebbs because they usually slow us down or prevent us from moving in a direction or they alter something we want.

The reality is things come and things go.  This is the rhythm of life.  The late American writer and theologian, Thomas Merton once said, “We cannot be happy if we expect to live all the time at the highest peak of intensity. Happiness is not a matter of intensity, but of balance and order and rhythm and harmony.” Oh, my, yes.  But the question is how do we manage the ebbs and flows in our lives so that we can maintain a sense of balance?

Reflect on the ebb.  Take time to review and reflect on what really changed; what really happened.  Get in touch with your emotions related to the change – anger, sadness, disappointment, frustration, etc. – and ask yourself why you feel that way.  When we reflect, we think seriously and consider carefully.

Accept the ebb.  What has happened may make no sense to us; we may not understand it all.  But, there is always a reason behind everything, even change we don’t understand.  New Zealand-born Australian country musician, Keith Urban said, “Life is a balance of holding on and letting go.”  Accepting the change means letting go of the past; of what was.  We cannot regain balance nor move forward until we’ve accepted what has happened; what has changed.

Keep things in perspective.  Keeping things in perspective means that we have to keep things in context; we have to look at things and understand them within the bigger picture.  For whatever is happening (worrying/bothering/causing you concern), how big a deal is it really?  What effect is the issue really having on your life?  Is it truly important or is it a “side” issue?  If truly important, stop worrying and just take action.  If insignificant, stop worrying, don’t give it any importance, and move on.

Set priorities.  Align what you do with your values then prioritize what you do in line with those values. This is especially important if the ebb makes it feel as if our world has been turned upside down.  Establish boundaries and limits.  These define how you take charge of your time and space, and help keep you aligned with your values.  It is okay to let go of some things, especially those not totally in line with your values.

Renew or reroute your purpose in life.  Ask yourself whether the ebb has affected who you are or where you are going.  Take some time to re-examine what truly matters to you.  If your purpose in life hasn’t really been altered by the change, give yourself time to accept the change then continue to move forward with your life.  If you feel the change has altered your life’s purpose or direction, then use the changed environment as a springboard to reroute your direction.

Maintain hope.  If the ebb brings darkness, one way to regain balance is to have hope.  Hope is the expectation of something beneficial in the future; it is a feeling of expectation and desire.  Hope helps us to keep going through the ebb’s tough times.   Hope lets us know that no matter how bad things seem at the moment, no matter how dark, the flow will bring something better and brighter.

Be flexible.  Adopt the philosophy that anything can happen at any time.  If this is your mindset, when something unexpected happens in the ebb, it is less likely to throw you way off balance.  When stuff happens, roll with it.  There are some things over which you have no control.  You can only control your response to stuff.

Keep moving.  Einstein said, “Life is like riding a bicycle.  In order to keep your balance you must keep moving.”  And, just like when riding a bicycle, if you fall off you need to get back on and continue the ride.  The same is true when the ebb enters your life.  While it make knock you down (knock you off the bike), you need to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and get right back on and pedal on.  The rest of the ride may be different.  You may have a different outlook.  But, the important thing is you keep moving.  And, the more you move, the more you will regain your balance.  And, who knows, your balance may be better and stronger.

Take it one day at a time.   Don’t impose a time limit on yourself and feel that your balance needs to be “back” right away.  Give yourself time.  While the ebb may have happened in an instant, the recovery from it may take time.  Give yourself whatever time is needed. As long as you are continuing to move forward (and don’t let the change get you stuck), it doesn’t matter if you take 10 steps forward and three steps back. The net result is still forward movement.  So, take things one day at a time.  Before too long your life will be back in balance.

Look for the positive in the ebb.  There is a positive aspect in everything although it may not always be obvious. We have to look. No matter how terrible the situation might seem, you can always find something good if you take the time to think about it.  Concentrate on what is right with the situation, not what is wrong with it.

Concentrate on positive thinking.  Replace negative thoughts and words with positive ones, words that make you feel happy and in control.  Concentrate on positive thoughts and positive results.  Positive thinking helps us cope more easily and brings optimism into our lives.  Positive thinking can go a long way in bringing balance and constructive changes into our lives (which might be so needed with the ebb).

 

Our life is like the ocean – there will be flows and ebbs, highs and lows.  As Doe Zantamata (writer, author, photographer, graphic designer, teacher and student of life) says, “Everything in the world has a natural ebb and flow. The tides move out but flow in again.  While the flow is much more comfortable, the ebb has great meaning. When time and resources are stripped away, you can see clearly what and who truly matters to you and who you matter to in return. When your flow returns, you’ll know exactly with who and where your time will be best spent, with a brand new appreciation for it all.”    We need to remember that the next flow is never far behind the ebb.   Working to maintain balance during the ebb will help us appreciate each flow more.

MOVING BEYOND THE FRUSTRATION OF CHANGE

Have you ever applied for the perfect job and not gotten it?  Tried out for a part in a play and not gotten it?  Been stuck in traffic which made you late for an important meeting or appointment?  Gotten what you considered bad news from a doctor?  Had something change suddenly or unexpectedly in your life?   I am sure we can all relate to one or more of these situations.  A commonality to each of these is that they are events external to us and beyond our control.  Also common is that all of these situations can make us feel frustrated (or upset, annoyed, angry, disappointed, etc.).  While it is important to acknowledge what we are feeling, to move forward we can’t dwell in a state of frustration (or any other negative emotion/feeling).

We need to move beyond frustration or any other negative emotion/feeling and can do so by:

CONTROLLING OUR REACTION.  It is our choice how we deal or react or respond to situations. There is no right or wrong reaction.  But, how we react determines what happens to us.  We can choose to allow the circumstance to paralyze us.  We can hole up somewhere and do absolutely nothing.  We can choose to allow the circumstances to get us down, blanketing us in negative emotions (sadness, anger, fear, etc.) turning us into unhappy people.  Or, we can choose to make the best of the circumstance, finding the positive in it, and moving onward and upward.

LOOKING FOR THE POSITIVE.  Laura Ingalls Wilder (an American writer known for the Little House on the Prairie series) wrote, “There is good in everything, if only we look for it.”   There IS a positive aspect in everything. In every person, in every situation, there is something good. Much of the time it may not be obvious. We have to look. And sometimes we have to look hard.  When faced with a frustrating, difficult or challenging situation, we need to ask “What is good about this?” Consider Abraham Lincoln’s (American politician and lawyer who served as the 16th President of the United States) thoughts:  “We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.”

REMAINING OPTIMISTIC.  When we are optimistic we have a tendency to look on the more favorable side of events and to expect the most favorable outcome.  If we believe an outcome will be good, we have a better chance of putting frustration in its place when we are dealing with change.  Being optimistic gives us hope, the hope that everything will turn out for the best.  That sense of hope which is fueled by being optimistic can trump negative feelings such as frustration and allow positive emotions such as happiness and joy to come to the forefront. BEING OPEN TO POSSIBILITIES.  No matter what frustrating events we may be experiencing, there is a purpose behind each event.  The ancient Greek philosopher and scientist, Aristotle, believed everything happens for a reason and that whatever we are dealing with has come into our life to:  move us in a direction in which we need to go, better define us, provide us insights into ourselves and our situation, help us become our best self.  So, it is important not to dismiss what may be frustrating us, but rather, stay attuned to what is going on, look for the lessons in what is happening, and learn and grow.  We need to make those possibilities work for us.  BELIEVING EVERYTHING WILL BE OK.  You can’t always see it in the moment, but in the end, everything is really going to be OK.  Someone said, “If you align in any moment with the flow of life as it presents itself, all will  unfold in the right way at the right time with a certain spontaneity and ease.”  We are all going to have times in our lives when we struggle with something and are frustrated. We need to accept what is happening and we need to let what we are dealing with follow its natural course. We need to believe that everything will be OK in the end.

  ACTIVATING OUR SUPPORT SYSTEM.  When we are dealing with frustrating situations/events, it helps to have encouraging and supportive people around us – our touchstones; our friends and family.  Those who know us best will be able to listen, calm us down, and help us get back on track.

REFUSING TO QUIT.    It is important not to give in to our frustration with what has changed.  We need to ride the wave of change to see where it will take us.  Refusing to quit means that are persistent.  We need to keep on going no matter what we may be facing or how we feel about the situation.  If we are going to get a handle on the change and not be frustrated by it, we need to be able to continually move forward despite the difficulties created by the change. Refusing to quit helps us become resolute in doing this; it gives us the resolve to go on; it provides the drive.

If frustration begins to take hold when we are dealing with change we need to not let it stop our forward movement.  We need to call upon our strong self to help move us beyond frustration.  We need to control our reaction, refuse to quit, believe everything will be OK, be open to the possibilities in whatever is creating the frustration, and remain optimistic.  We also need to activate our support system, talking things through with them. And, if we focus on the positives in the situation we will be able to see ‘the beauty of the roses despite the thorns on the bushes.’

HOW PLAY DEVELOPS SKILLS THAT HELP US MANAGE CHANGE

My nephew just finished his college sophomore year.  He talked about how it was a great and satisfying year but how stressful and intense it was with the pressures of balancing his academic life, social life, and the leadership responsibilities he undertook this year.  He said he was looking forward to having time this summer to unwind, relax, and have fun. That led to us reminiscing about fun things we used to do when he was younger and when having fun was the norm.

This got me to thinking how easy it is for adults to put having fun on the back burner and let the responsibilities of work, family, and life in general overshadow everything else.  Throw in a sudden or unexpected change and it isn’t hard to see aspects of life getting out of balance.

When fun gets displaced by other things in our life, our inner child gets frustrated.  Our inner child is that part of us that takes us back to a time when: we were free spirits; our imaginations would run wild; we were creative beyond reason; our days were filled with laugher, fun, joy, and play; we were wildly happy about anything and everything; curiosity drove a lot of what we did; we weren’t afraid to take a risk or make a mistake; we bounced back from any type of daily disruption; we lived in the moment.

Our inner child is the fun loving part of us and instead of frustrating him/her, we should be doing everything to keep our inner child happy and content.  Why you ask?  Because the components that make up inner child, especially the love of play, are exactly what we need to balance life’s stresses and pressures and to manage and deal with change.  So, this week, let’s explore ways play can make a difference in how we approach change.  

PLAY CAN RELIEVE STRESS AND WORRY.  Play is fun and when we are having fun “feel good hormones” (endorphins) are often released in our system.  With endorphins in our system we usually have a sense of well-being which makes us feel as if we can handle anything.  This sense of being able to handle anything is most helpful when change throws us off center and makes us anxious and worried.

 

PLAY CAN BE A SOURCE OF RELAXATION.  Laughter is a byproduct of play. With laughter comes a feeling of relaxation and when we are relaxed, stress and negative emotions and feelings (such as fear, anger, frustration, panic) that change can evoke do not peacefully co-exist.

PLAY CAN FIRE UP OUR CREATIVITY AND FUEL OUR IMAGINATION.   Change makes things different and moves us out of our comfort zone which can lead to having fears about the unknown.  Thinking creatively allows us to overcome the fear we might experience with change. It also helps us deal with change because it challenges us to put aside comfortable habits and try something new.  When we play we are creative, we think “outside the box;” we use our imagination.  Our creativity helps us turn our imaginative ideas into actions which can help us deal with the change.

PLAY CREATES LAUGHTER AND JOY.  Laughter is an integral part of playing and having fun.  If we can laugh at the craziness of life and changes life brings, we can better deal with life’s challenges (and change certainly can bring some challenges with it).    Laughter adds joy and zest to life and improves mood and feelings of well-being.  Laughter and joy refresh and recharge us.  In creating laughter and joy, play helps us lighten up, find inner peace, and be happy all of which are important in helping us not get overwhelmed by change.

PLAY OPENS A PATHWAY FOR US TO TAKE RISKS.  When change and transition alter the course of our journey and a new route must be tried, there is a certain amount of risk involved when traveling down the unknown route.  When we play, we explore, we experiment; we naturally take risks without having a second thought.  If we can do this when we play, we can integrate that exploration, experimentation, that risk taking when we are dealing with change.    Play sparks our curiosity and that curiosity allows those pathways for us to be risk takers.

Sudden and unexpected change brings enough frustration to our lives. We don’t need to add any frustration by denying our inner child “time to play.”    When we give ourselves time to play our inner child is fueled and gives us the energy to deal with change with unbridled joy, a free-spirit nature, a wild imagination, resilience, stamina, laughter, curiosity, happiness, creativity, a sense of wonder and enthusiasm.   All of these are effective tools in helping us deal with the changes in our life.  As Ron Olson said, “My childhood may be over, but that doesn’t mean playtime is.”

MAINTAINING PERSPECTIVE NO MATTER WHAT

Someone said, “Ships don’t sink because of the water around them; ships sink because of the water that gets in them.  Don’t let what’s happening around you get inside you and weigh you down.”  When you are hit by a sudden or unexpected change, do you let it overwhelm you?  Feel paralyzed by all that is going on?  It isn’t hard to let all that is going on around us, especially in times of change (change we don’t want or weren’t expecting), get to us and weigh us down.  When we feel like this it is easy to overreact.  It is easy to:  blow things out of proportion, hold on too tightly to what was, and focus on the negative of what is happening.   In times of change, we need to learn how to replace our old ways of reaction with new ways of perspective especially keeping things in perspective.

This week, let’s explore some ways that might help us keep whatever we are dealing with in perspective:

SEE THE BIGGER PICTURE.  We need to take a deep breath and take a step back.  We need to not be overwhelmed by the situation, but rather try to see the bigger picture.  For whatever is happening (worrying/bothering/causing you concern), how big a deal is it really?  What affect is the issue really having on your life?  Is it truly important or is it a “side” issue?  If truly important, stop worrying and just take action.  If insignificant, stop worrying, don’t give it any importance, and move on.

RELEASE WHAT IS BEYOND OUR CONTROL.  If our situation is beyond our control and there is nothing we can do that will change or help it, then we have to release it; let it go.  If we can’t fix or deal with the situation, worrying about it or letting it stress us won’t help or solve anything.  In order to keep things in perspective, it is important to realize what is in our sphere of control.  Whatever isn’t let that go.  Don’t let the situation be an energy vampire.  As Shantideva (an 8th century scholar and yogi of India) says, “If the problem can be solved then why worry? If the problem cannot be solved, worrying will do you no good.”   Either take practical steps to deal with the problem/issue or don’t waste time worrying about unnecessary things.

DEVELOP THE MINDSET THAT IT’S NOT THAT BIG OF A DEAL.  In times of change/stress/unexpected occurrences, it isn’t unusual for our minds to “blow things out of proportion.”  The Geico (Government Employees Insurance Company,  an American auto insurance company)  commercial where the gecko has a flat a tire and very dramatically (while holding his head in his hands) says, “Somebody help me!  I have a flat tire!”  is a wonderful example of this.  Blowing things out of proportion may garner sympathy in some corners BUT it doesn’t help the situation at all.  We need to shift our line of thinking to “this is no big deal.”  We need to focus on the positives in the situation and try to eliminate the negative chatter.

TAKE ACTION.  When we worry about things we can become paralyzed by fear. Rather than just worrying, think very carefully about what practical steps can be taken to deal with the situation.  Knowing that we can do something about our situation is a wonderful way to keep it in perspective. The practical steps become our plan.  Our plan moves us to action, and action is power; power to keep it in perspective.

BE PATIENT.  Step back a moment and put some time between what has happened and making any major decisions.  Letting a little time pass can help us respond in a more objective way than in an emotional way.  And, being objective can help us gain perspective.

EXPECT TWISTS AND TURNS.  Life is unpredictable and unexpected things are bound to happen.  Melissa Chu (who helps people live better and build good habits at Jumpstart Your Dream Life) advises, “…if we learn to expect the unexpected, we’ll spend less time resisting life’s inevitable curveballs and more time proactively dealing with them.”

LEARN TO RELAX.  Relaxation techniques are a great way to reduce anxiety and worries. They can also increase our ability to self-manage stress.   Practiced regularly, relaxation techniques can counteract the debilitating effects of stress. When we are more relaxed, we will be able to keep things in perspective, looking at the situation a little more rationally.

HAVE A STRONG SOCIAL NETWORK.   Friends and family provide a measure of stability that is most helpful when dealing with change.  They listen, they encourage, they provide suggestions and advice, and they are just there to provide whatever support may be needed. These ‘touchstones’ can help us put things in perspective and help us stay focused.  Sharing with them what we’re going through, venting to them, or just having them listen to what is going on will go a long way in helping us keep things in perspective.

Keeping things in perspective is a key to making it through any rough spots life or change may send your way.  Self-help author Karen Salmansohn offers some wonderful advice, “PLEASE keep in mind that whatever you’re going through, this challenging time in your life is merely IN your life.  It is NOT your WHOLE life.  So be sure to keep this SLICE of your life in perspective and don’t let it overwhelm you.  REMEMBER:  Nothing is everything.  The part is not greater than the whole.”

 

IN AN INSTANT

Two months ago, while visiting with my godson, his wife, and their seven-month-old twins something unexpected happened.  While the twins’ grammy and I were playing with them, their mom received a phone call which had her running to the front door and looking out.  Their neighbors’ garage, which was only 30 yards (27.4 meters) from their house, was on fire!  Orange flames were dancing toward the sky as were plumes of black smoke. Fortunately, there was no wind, it had rained earlier in the day, and the fire department arrived quickly and had the fire under control in no time.  Most importantly, no one was hurt.  Unfortunately, the neighbors lost everything.  In an instant, their lives were hit with a seismic change.

We hear, “Change is constant.”  “Change is inevitable.”  And, indeed, it is both.   Minor changes go on around us all the time, most without notice – we just take them in stride.  It is the major and seismic changes that grab our attention; that throw us for a loop.  And when those major and seismic changes come without warning, in an instant our lives can take on a whole different look.  Since unexpected change happens without warning we have no time to prepare for the loss.  This loss of time to prepare, to get ourselves ready, or to get ourselves in a position to be able to deal with the change can make unexpected change very challenging.

When unexpected change occurs, the first question that most of us ask is, “Why?”   This why is usually the prelude to us wanting to bring meaning or to gain an understanding about what happened.  But, often, this question is unanswerable and will not help us move on and move forth.  Instead, it is better to ask, “What do I need to do to move on?”  “What do I need to do resume living my life as meaningful as possible?”  “What can be learned from this change?”  “What is the blesson in this change?”

Controlling our reaction, our attitude, and our view of events can help us deal with unexpected change.  Remember, there is only one thing we can control in life and that is ourselves.  It is our reaction to events, to the change, to the loss that makes the difference.  If you can focus your energy on making the best of things in situations over which you have no control, you won’t waste energy fighting what has changed.  And, if you can make the best of the situation, you will have greater control over that situation.  As Jonathan Lockwood Huie (author and “philosopher of happiness”) said, “You don’t have the power to make life “fair;” but you do have the power to make life joyful.”

 

When any change happens, there is always a sense of loss:  in the example above, the loss of one’s garage and all possessions in it.  In general, the loss of a loved one; loss of a relationship; loss of the familiar; loss of sameness, the comfortable; loss of the certain; loss of a tradition; loss of our comfort zone, our sense of security; loss of our sense of purpose and perhaps even direction; loss of control, space, power, social/role identity, or influence (add your own).  And, anytime we lose something, it is important to take time to grieve over the loss.

 

While everyone grieves differently and more like being on a roller coaster than in discreet stages, the stages in the Kübler-Ross model are a helpful guide. Those stages are:  denial (where we refuse to accept the facts; the reality of the situation; this isn’t happening to me!; I can’t believe he is gone!); anger (where we are emotionally upset and sometimes feel a sense of helplessness; why is this happening to me?; I don’t deserve this!); bargaining (where we seek to negotiate a compromise or postpone the action; what if I….; I promise I’ll be a better person if only…; let’s study this idea and see if there is a different solution); depression (extremely sad over what has happened; realizing there is no way to change what has happened; I don’t care anymore!); and,  acceptance (the goal of the grieving process; coming to terms with the reality of the situation in a healthy way; OK, me: what is next?  I am ready for whatever comes my way).  Work through these stages and give yourself the time to come to terms with the change.

 

With unexpected change it is important to keep your “touchstones,” your friends and family, close.  Many say that the single most important factor in dealing with and healing from unexpected change is having the support of others.  Sharing your feelings about the loss makes it much easier to deal with the loss.

 

There is no doubt that dealing with unexpected change is painful and difficult.  But, it is important for us to work through the pain and the difficult moments.  Robert Frost reminds us, “In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life:  it goes on.”   Indeed, life does go on.  Beyond the unexpected there is always something waiting for us.  It will be different since that is what change does – it makes things different.  But, it is up to us to make something good and positive with the new, the different.  In the days following an unexpected change, it is our response that is important; it is what we make of what’s left that is important; it is learning from the change, and living life in a meaningful way that is important. Change can happen in an instant, but life does go on. There will be a new beginning after the unexpected change.  It is up to all of us to make the new beginning the best that it can be.

LIVING WITHOUT LIMITS

The February 12, 2017 edition of Parade magazine, which is a supplement to many Sunday newspapers in the United States of America, had an article “Life is Good.”  The story focused on astronaut Mark Kelly and his wife, Gabrielle Giffords.  In 2011 Giffords represented the state of Arizona in the U.S. House of Representatives. While meeting with constituents outside a Tuscon Arizona grocery store she was shot through the head.  She survived and despite all she’s been through, she still feels that life is good. Giffords says, “Instead of focusing on the things that I can’t do, I’ve tried to focus on things that I can do and live without limits.”

 Certainly, getting shot changed Giffords’ life.  However, instead of letting the change dictate her life, she took control and, as her mother says, “She manages to turn every negative experience into something worthwhile.”  The things that Giffords did to move forward, despite seismic change trying to do its best to derail her, are things we all can do when a tidal wave of change tries to overtake us.  To move forward in the wake of change we can:

PRACTICE ACCEPTANCE.  Acceptance is coming to terms with the reality of the situation. Accepting that things are what they are isn’t a weakness; it doesn’t mean that you are giving up or giving in.  Instead, “Acceptance simply means that you recognize and understand your current situation.  Acceptance allows you to be free from the shackles of denial and move forward in life, creating a new path and a new life for yourself.” (www.idanceintherain.com)  Accepting what the change has brought means letting go of what was, adjusting, making sense of what happened, and coming to grips with ‘this is the life that I’ve now been given.’  Getting to acceptance is not easy; however, it is necessary if we are to move forward with our lives.  As Giffords tells her mom, “That was then, this is now.  Moving on.”

THINK POSITIVELY.  Louise L. Hay, author of The Power is Within You, tells us, “The thoughts we choose to think are the tools we use to paint the canvas of our lives.”    If you think in a negative way, your life’s “painting” will be negative.  If you think you can’t, you won’t be able to.  If you think you can, you will be able to.  If you repeat positive thoughts, your mind will begin to focus on what you want you want rather than on what you do not want.  Your life’s canvas will be positive.  Remember, if you feed your mind positive, it will weaken the negative.  Giffords’ husband, Mark Kelly, says of her, “She pops up every day looking ahead and trying to figure out how to be a positive force in the world.  She doesn’t get down; she realizes we can’t go back in time and there’s no undoing this.  There’s no point in feeling sorry for yourself; all you can do try to do the best you can with what you’ve got.”

REMAIN FOCUSED. No matter what change brings about, it is important to remain focused on our goals; give them the attention they deserve.  How can they be accomplished in the changed situation?  What can we do with what we have to move toward and reach those goals?  The change may alter how we reach our goals and if we keep them in our sight; we stay focused on them, we will reach them.

STAY CONNECTED WITH FAMILY AND FRIENDS.  Giffords says, “The best part of my life is the people.”    In times of change, our family and friends can serve as our biggest support system.  They are there to listen, counsel, challenge, help, and do whatever it is we need to help us deal with the change and move beyond it.  They will provide shoulders to lean on, words of encouragement, hands to hold, and ears to listen. They can help put things in perspective and keep us on the forward moving path.  It does take a village to help us get through life, especially the challenging times.

Self-help author, Brian Tracy, tells us, “Between you and every goal that you wish to achieve, there is a series of obstacles and the bigger the goal, the bigger the obstacles. Your decision to be, have, and do something out of the ordinary entails facing difficulties and challenges that are out of the ordinary as well. Sometimes your greatest asset is simply your ability to stay with it longer than anyone else.”    Living without limits means that we face difficulties and obstacles head on and that we don’t give up.  The next time change makes you want to give up, think about Gabrielle Giffords and how she refused to let a seismic change interfere with living life to the fullest and without limits.

FEAR SETS THE LIMITS IN OURSELVES

 Have you ever been afraid of something?  Did that fear of whatever prevent you from doing something – something that looked like fun or something that would have moved you forward in your professional or personal life?  If you are or have been afraid of something, you know how that fear sets limits in what you do and how you do it.

Fear is an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.  Dale Carnegie (American writer and lecturer and the developer of courses in self-improvement, salesmanship, corporate training, public speaking, and interpersonal skills; author of the bestseller How to Win Friends and Influence People)  said, “You can conquer almost any fear if you will only make up your mind to do so.  For remember, fear doesn’t exist anywhere except in the mind.”    Mr. Carnegie is absolutely right; fear doesn’t exist anywhere except in the mind.  However, the mind is a powerful thing and it is sometimes difficult to rationally deal with something that gets planted in our mind, especially fears.  And, no matter how excited we may be about the new opportunity each change may bring about, we likewise have moments of doubt, fear, and unease all caused by the move out of our comfort zone and not knowing what may happen.

We are creatures of habit and we feel safe with predictability, sureness, and the routine. Change is like opening a door and not  having any idea of what is on the other side; we step into the unknown. We lose that comfortable routine, that comfort zone, and that is scary and frightening. Certainly change brings about a lot of “not familiars” about which we may feel threatened.  With the unknown we don’t know what is coming.

Is this how you sometimes feel?  Well, know what? All of these feelings and thoughts are natural and normal no matter how major or minor the change is. What isn’t natural or normal, though, is letting our doubts and our fears take charge of us; of paralyzing us with inaction; of putting us in a holding pattern.

There is no way that we can stop change from entering our lives.  However, we can stop fearing change and the unknowns that it might bring.  This week, I’d like to explore some ways we can better deal with the fear of change and the limits that fear set in us.

ASSESS THE RISK.  What is the real risk factor in the unknown variable?  Try to quantify the risk.  For example, if there is less than a 1% chance of something awful happening to me then that might be worth it for me to take the leap of faith and step into the unknown.  If there is an 80% chance of something going wrong, I might want to reconsider my options to deal with whatever I think I am facing in the unknown.

DEFINE THE FEAR.  Take some time to reflect on what is truly making you uncomfortable about the unknown.  Be objective in your reflection.  Sometimes in objectifying a fear it is easier to overcome it.  Name your fear.  Ask what is it that you truly fear about the unknown (e.g., being alone, failing, making a fool of yourself, being insecure, etc.)  Eleanor Roosevelt, former first lady of the United States, said: “You gain strength, experience and confidence by every experience where you really stop to look fear in the face.”  Defining your fear will go a long way in helping you overcome it.

GET CURIOUS.  Bring out your inner child and replace the fear with a sense of wonder; a sense of fascination. Be inquisitive.  Explore the possibilities. Push the boundaries.

SEE THE OPPORTUNITY IN THE FEAR.  Just as mistakes are nothing more than learning opportunities, so to can be the fear of the unknown. The fear is telling us that something needs attention.  Perhaps we need to get to know the situation better.  Instead of accepting things at face value, ask questions and seek information that may help in overcoming the specifics of the fear.

TAKE SMALL STEPS.  Rather than trying to tackle something in the unknown all at once, break things down into smaller portions.  This makes it easier to deal with things, focus  our attention, and  gain a sense of accomplishment and forward movement.  LaRae Quy (an American author, executive coach, and leadership consultant) offers the following strategies behind taking small steps, “Asking small questions does not create fear.  Expecting small answers breaks down resistance.  Taking small actions guarantees progress.  Solving small problems provides confidence.  Recognizing small moments is the key to moving forward.”  Looking at the issue in “small doses” may help you better understand the mystery in the unknown.

TAKE IT ONE DAY AT A TIME.  Avoid thinking about how you are going to get through the days ahead.  If you take things day by day, you may gain a little more strength and courage each day to tackle and deal with the unknown.  Each day provides another day of learning and growing.

WANDER IN THE “WILDERNESS.”  Between letting go of the unknown and starting a new beginning lays the “wilderness” or the neutral zone.  This is a good place to face your fear for it is in the “wilderness” that you can engage in activities outside of your comfort zone.  Only when you step outside the comfort zone will growth take place – growth in better identifying and dealing with your fear.  Charles F. Glassman, MD (an American medical doctor known as Coach MD whose mission is to help people achieve total wellness—having more control over life than one could ever think possible) said, “Fear and anxiety many times indicate that we are moving in a positive direction, out of the safe confines of our comfort zone, and in the direction of our true purpose.”

TALK IT OUT.  Family, friends, and professionals (if the fear is paralyzing) are there for you.  Talking through what you are fearful of will help put it in perspective. Those with whom you speak may be able to offer some guidance that helps move you beyond the fear.

PROCEED WITH CAUTION.  Earlier I said that fear is an emotion that arises when we feel threatened by something.  Oftentimes, we use that emotion as an excuse to stop something.  But fear is quite the opposite.  It is an emotion that is telling us to proceed with caution; to be careful as we move forward.  It reminds us that we are about to step out of our comfort zone.  But, take that step cautiously; take it with awareness; and, take it with a sense of attention.

American therapists Phil Stutz and Barry Michels propose the idea that on the other side of fear is our limitless potential.  Rather than letting fear set the limits in us, we need to break through the fear so we can move forward toward our limitless potential. The next time you become fearful of something change brings about instead of letting the fear paralyze you, view working through the fear as an opportunity to broaden your comfort zone and work on your limitless potential.

GRANDMA PALFY’S ADVICE ON DEALING WITH CHANGE

 

I have known Grandma Palfy since I was five years old.  Her son, Jack, was one of my dearest childhood friends.  Jack and I went from kindergarten to college together attending the same schools for 18 years of our lives.  Jack then married my husband’s sister, Sue, so in addition to dear friends he became a dear brother-in-law.   Jack and Sue both lost battles to health issues way too early. Their deaths propelled me from aunt to their son to the role of aunty mom.  In this latter role, the bond between me and Grandma Palfy became even stronger because of the quality time we spent together, in person and on the phone.

Grandma Palfy 2015
At her grandson’s high school graduation

Grandma Palfy will soon be 88.  She comes from the no-nonsense generation of folk who grew up during the Great Depression (which was the 1929-1939 economic slump in North America, Europe, and other industrialized areas of the world) and World War II.  The first 16 years of her life were spent during times where monetary and other resources were scarce and life was tough for many.  She learned early how to make the most and best out of what one had.

So it comes as no surprise to me that when her dearest and best friend, Gerald, recently passed away that she dealt with this sudden change in a most positive and healthy way.   She has her own four-stage process for dealing with grief and change:  denial, sadness, acceptance, and adjustment.

Denial is a common first stage of dealing with loss of any kind.  For Grandma Palfy this is where her mantra was, “I can’t believe he is gone.  I just talked with him this morning.”

Denial of the passing was quickly replaced with profound sadness and a heavy heart.  All of her emotional responses were natural, normal, and healthy.  The one thing Grandma Palfy did not do was wallow in these emotions; she refused to neither give in to them nor allow them to control her.  Instead, she allowed these to be a springboard to open up space to allow all the wonderful memories of Gerald to take up residence in her heart replacing the feeling of overwhelming sadness.

Acceptance, which is usually the final step in recognized grieving models, is only step three in Grandma Palfy’s.  She quickly came to terms with the reality of the situation.  She knows Gerald will never be around physically; however, his legacy of friendship, love, caring, and concern are there to help with the new beginning this change brings.

Most of her time will be spent in her final stage, that of adjustment.  Adjustment involves getting used to the new or different situation.  Adjusting to change, especially change brought on by a personal loss, takes time.  For some, it happens quickly.  For    others, it can take weeks or months.   Think about how people acclimate to water when they go swimming.  Some just jump or dive in, get totally immersed, and they are ready to go.  Others enter the water slowly, body part by body part.  Usually it is the toes and feet first and when they adjust to the water temperature, one ventures in a little further getting the legs and maybe up to the knees wet.  When that feels comfortable, thighs to waist to chest to neck (with arms going along for the ride) follow.  By the time one is into the water neck high, they are usually adjusted to the water temperature and ready to go.  For those who acclimate to water body part by body part, the process can take a few seconds or several minutes (and several minutes can extend into double digits).  And so it is with adjusting to change.

The adjustment to any change is a very personal process that takes time.  I cannot quantify how long it will take.  I can tell you to take it day by day (and even hour by hour within each day if need be).  Things can’t be rushed.  So, while I can’t offer a definitive time frame for adjusting to change, I can offer ideas on how to deal with the stage of adjustment:

Creating familiarity in the changed environment.  One way to do this is to surround ourselves with known and loved items (pictures, articles of clothing, cards…). These will help create a comfortable space and will help when dealing with emotions like sadness.

Reflecting on past coping skills.  Most of us have dealt with personal losses in the past.   It is often helpful to think back and reflect on how and what we did to get us through those losses.  This can help give us the strength needed to deal with the current loss.

Continuing to acknowledge feelings.  Any feeling we may have is normal.  We may feel worried, sad, stressed, lost, confused (insert how you are really feeling).  Those are all typical and normal reactions.  The key is to recognize them; acknowledge them, but don’t let them take control of us.

Adopting a positive mindset.  It is very easy to slip in a negative mindset when dealing with change:  I don’t like it here.  This is so different from what I expected.  I just can’t do this.  Nothing is going right.   Letting our optimistic side come to the forefront will help in putting the negative mindset in perspective.   Look for the bright side in things.  Focus on the positive.  Being positive will turn into being happier.  We need to look for the “blessons” (blessings within lessons) that come our way.

Talking things out.  We need to stay in close touch with our “touchstone;” our friends and family.  Let them know what you are thinking and feeling.  Work through options with them to deal with whatever adjustment issues you are facing.

Taking it one day at a time.  In my example of how people get used to water temperatures, you might be a jump right in type of person.  But, depending on what has changed in your environment that approach may not work for you.  Since change makes things different, it may be best to take things one day at a time.  Get through one day and then to how you will deal with the next day. 

There is no doubt that dealing with unexpected change is painful and difficult.  But, it is important for us to work through the pain and the difficult moments.  Robert Frost reminds us, “In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life:  it goes on.”   Indeed it does.  Even with change and loss, life goes on.  Grandma Palfy’s four-stage process for dealing with grief and change – denial, sadness, acceptance, and adjustment – may just be what we all need to  help us move forward to a new beginning.  Gerald will always be with Grandma Palfy in spirit.  If we can all keep the spirit close, especially the good and positive parts of what was lost, the influence of the spirit will be most helpful as we move beyond the change/the loss.