“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” ― Jon Kabat-Zinn
In my blog “The 5 most frustrating lessons in life” I talked about how frustrating it can be to feel powerless to change something. The war we wage against change can be draining; therefore, being able to accept or even welcome change could lead to a freedom that makes you feel more at peace. Afterall, the truth is bad stuff will happen from time to time. Spending your life trying to control what you can’t (like willing the person in front of you to go faster in traffic) will only prevent you from soaking up the good things in life (like focusing on a good song while you are in a traffic jam).
Change is a funny thing. People either want nothing or everything to change. We are either happy in our comfort zone or forging ahead wanting more and never content. On one hand, we fear change because it means our routine will be interrupted and we must adapt. On the other hand, we want change because there is hope for a better way of living.
When you worry about what you can’t change it is like being on a treadmill. You are working hard but getting nowhere!
Nature teaches us about change. The seasons are always evolving and adapting. So if you hate winter, you can complain, worry about how much it will snow, accept it, find the beauty of winter, or get out of Dodge! Therefore knowing what you can control and what you can’t can help you replace worry time for something more nourishing such as joy and gratitude.
When you find yourself on the treadmill of worry, get out a piece of paper and list which parts of the problem you can control. You can’t change the fact that it’s winter. If you are worried about the amount of snow that might fall, then how can you prepare instead of just worrying? For example, can you check around your neighborhood to see if there are any teenagers that like to shovel snow for a few extra dollars?
Problem solving is more productive worry. You are problem solving for the parts of the equation that you have control over rather than endlessly ruminating. It can also be helpful to expect and accept change as it comes. Knowing that you can deal with what life hands you comes with practicing these problem-solving skills.
Five facts of change (that may make accepting it easier)
Fact 1: Everything is always changing
In other words, change something we can count on. Like a trusted friend, it will always be there. Yet, we resist the very thing that is consistent in our lives. So the biggest thing we need to accept is that things never stay the same. Relationships evolve, people leave our lives, and we find out new things about ourselves. Endings happen but so do beginnings. To fight this basic fact results in a lot of wasted energy.
Fact 2: Change puts you in a “growth mode”
Often we grow most when we have struggles in our lives. Struggle means learning from mistakes and adaptation can change the way we think. For example, you may get laid off at work and have to search for new employment. This could be interpreted as a set-back or a great opportunity to find a new direction. The process of finding a new job can be painful, but when you learn a new skill it can slow time down. In fact we learn and grow more when we are pulled out of our normal routine. Even if a new job was not on your “to do” list, it could be just what you needed.
Fact 3: Change can be tricky!
We often think change is bad at first! Try not to judge change at first. Once you see the bigger picture you may think about it differently. Let’s take the previous example of someone getting laid off from their job and finding new work. Looking for new employment is painful in the short term. In some cases, the new job is a better fit or you learn how strong you can be. Looking back at the big picture, losing a job could lead to a chain of events that turn out to be positive. Could it be that change is a GREAT thing sometimes? Can you think of any examples of this in your own life?
Fact 4: Change brings feelings of fear and excitement
We wonder if the grass will be greener (or browner) on the other side. If we are facing change then things will be different for better or worse. It can also bring excitement if we are happy about the change or if we are the driving force behind what is going to be different.
If you feel fear about an upcoming change, remind yourself of these things:
- Change is something you can count on. Therefore if you are somewhere you DON’T want to be, you can decide to go in another direction.
- Everything is a learning experience, even if you are learning what is not working for you.
- If the road is longer than we originally planned to get to where we want to be, stop and take a look around. It may be that you need a break once in a while to enjoy where you are.
Fact 5: You can try to change something while expecting the unexpected
Paint this picture — you have a goal of getting in shape for 2020, you get your plan in motion, join a gym and start to make progress towards your goal. Then out of nowhere you get sick and are out of your routine before you feel it was even established. What you can’t control is getting sick. What you can control is how you respond to this event.
You have a million choices but here are a few common ones:
-> You might think to yourself “I always have setbacks so why do I even try” and then give up on your health goals
-> You can fight the fact that you are sick and try to continue to work out while sick because nothing is getting in the way of your goals. This could potentially lead to exhaustion and frustration.
-> You could let yourself rest and get better. Then resume working on your goals when you feel better.
Which of these thoughts feels the best to you?
Lean into change
If you realize that you can’t change what you’re going through right now, lean into the challenge and thank it for making you stronger.Try and focus on what makes a full and meaningful life in your present situation. Doing this may mean you have to adapt and adjust to present circumstances.
Avoiding difficult situations or focusing on what you can’t change will only frustrate you. Focus on what you can do about the situation. If you can’t change something, how can you heal or accept it? Healing can free up room for more.
Look for the positive spin in the events that bring change in your life. The ultimate end may not change but the process of getting there should be a lot more pleasant. Mark Twain once said, “I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.” This applies to what you can’t control because it often turns out better than you first anticipated!