“Change is inevitable, growth is optional” ~ John C. Maxwell
When we introduce change into our lives it is either voluntarily or involuntarily. When the change is involuntary, the pendulum of life automatically swings to the far left or right and we are desperately trying to reestablish equilibrium. The difficulty about the involuntary swing is we often do not even realize it has happened. Maybe we have taken on more than we can handle at work, overcommitted to our spouse or family, or failed to say “no” to a friend for fear of hurting their feelings. All of these situations are stress inducing changes that often sneak up on us mentally, emotionally, or physically.
The voluntary changes are life events we make the conscious choice to act upon. Perhaps it is moving, having your first child, or another child, ending a relationship, or starting a new job. In such cases, the mind and body are aware of the fact that change is coming, which tends to start the fear script. Have you ever felt sick to your stomach before starting a new job or suddenly had a mild panic attack when you found out you were pregnant? Have you avoided a conversation with your boss or stopped taking calls from a friend that you no longer want to have a relationship with? All of these physical warning signs, are the body’s natural method for protecting us. This would be a great tool if we were being chased in the woods by a bear. However, the body does not know how to distinguish actual threats from perceived threats, which results in a fear based response to change, even when the change is to our benefit.
If change is inevitable, why does it feel so bad?
If change is inevitable, then why do we often feel so bad when it is coming or upon us? How could something intended to be good leave me feeling overwhelmed, nervous, or afraid?
Every living entity from flowers, to animals, to the entire human race seeks balance or a state of homeostasis. In fact, each entity will find a way to make changes to find a place of balance mainly for survival but also for the greater purpose of growth. A plant not receiving enough light will often bend towards the direction of the sun for sustainability. The bears hibernate during the winter to accommodate the harsh cold and lack of food during the winter. Like the animals and the plants, humans also make changes to survive, such as getting a job to meet our basic needs of food and shelter. Humans, also have the added intellect to be able to make changes that enhance our personal growth. Such as, finding a life-long partner, starting an inspired new business, or adopting a fitness routine to become healthy. Whether the change is intended for survival or growth, there is an initial feeling of discomfort, worry, apprehension, and fear. Why am I irritable, why am I no longer sleeping through the night, why do I have butterflies, or why have I lost my motivation? BECAUSE change disrupts your body’s equilibrium and it is desperately trying to recalibrate. Adrenaline and cortisol hormones are released because the body senses the disturbance in homeostasis. Therefore, we lose sleep, gain or lose significant amounts of weight, and we experience increased bursts of irritability, depression, or both.
This is also the reason why we have an automatic fight (resistance), flight (run for the hills aka make excuses), or freeze (stay stuck aka procrastination) response when we try something new (voluntarily or involuntarily).
So now that I know that change is inevitable due to survival or growth, and leads to feelings of discomfort and fear, what do I do about it?!
Do not panic, the body was created/designed to adapt to change and heal itself.
The first time my pale, English husband and I traveled to Mexico he insistently stated, “I never used sunscreen in the UK and I certainly do not need it now!” He was willing to put a tiny dot on his nose claiming it was closest to the sun. After one day on the beach he burned himself to a crisp, rivaling the red lobster he ate for dinner the night before. He spent the next few 48 hours indoors unable to wear shoes and barely walking because he severely burned the tops of his feet. Despite all the heat running through his system, he felt cold because the body was trying to cool itself down. Eventually the layers of burned skin peeled away, and with a little help of aloe vera he was ready to restart his vacation. The body is acutely aware of when changes have occurred and it will naturally begin the healing process. With such intelligence, the body will initiate the same restoration in our personal and professional lives.
Step 1 – Identify the type of change taking place in your life
Search for the involuntary change that may have taken place in your life and ask for help of others as you navigate these waters. If it was a voluntary change, stay the course and take action daily. Do not allow fear to stand in the way of change; especially changes designed to pull you forward and help you grow.
Step 2 – Get prepared for the change
Have you ever seen a toddler burst into a fit of tears because the top block keeps falling off the tower? Have you seen a teenager storm out of the house shouting, “I hate Calculus and I’m never going to use it after high school !”? Or how about the friend who has been in a destructive relationship for years but refuses to leave because she is too old to start life over? From the toddler to the adult, all of these people are ill-equipped or skilled to handle the task at hand. When we are faced with situations for which we are not prepared, then toddler-like reactions manifest: tears, fits of anger, avoidance, and fear. When change is coming or in process, it is important to learn all you can to be prepared for the situation. Quick Lesson: one of the possible pitfalls is not moving forward until you “know it all”. It is impossible to “know it all”, perfectionism does not exist.
Step 3 – Accept the change
In the infamous words of the Star Trek Borg, since change is inevitable and will eventually happen, “Resistance is futile”. The more you fight the changes that are coming or happening the worse it becomes for you individually. This is where stress manifests and all of the energy used to mentally and emotionally resist change, corrupts the body – insomnia, headaches, anxiety, depression, and other health issues. It often creates interpersonal conflict among spouses, family members, and coworkers. You may not like the changes at hand, but peace comes from the decision to accept it and move forward.
Step 4 – Embrace the lesson or opportunity for growth
Change, especially involuntary change, invokes a victim mentality or blame response. Have you ever thought, “My life would be fine if he/she would not have argued with me, betrayed me, abandoned me, or hurt me”? Or maybe thought, “my life will never improve because ___(fill in the blank) – I don’t make enough, I am not skilled enough, I am not good enough, or I am not like her (comparison)”. This mindset takes away from the lesson to be learned from the current change and the immense opportunity for growth. One of the ways to begin to embrace change is to recognize “Everything in life is happening for you not to you” for the greater purpose of growth and living your life purpose.
The body naturally restores balance in the areas of our body that are experiencing change. The changes that occur are either necessary for survival or an integral part of life from which we are meant to grow (even in the most difficult of circumstances). You have choices: 1.) Embrace change or fight/freeze/run from change 2.) Get prepared for change or be stuck and ill-tempered due to a lack of skills and 3.) See change as an opportunity to grow or complain about the injustice of your circumstance. Change is inevitable – make choices that help you grow.