Change is the only constant in life. Whether you want to change your life, or it happens on its own, change is inevitable. We often shy away from change because we fear the negative outcomes it sometimes brings, or we shy away from the adjustment that comes even with positive outcomes of change. Whatever the nature of our resistance, we’re often unsure of how to work with change – or if we even want to.
It is natural to crave constancy in life. It seems like it would make things easier. The truth is that when we stop changing, we stop growing. And when we cease to grow we lose our mojo. We feel flat and wonder what the meaning of life is, anyway.
To live life to its fullest, we need to learn how to work WITH change – to adapt, flex, and even roll with the punches life throws our way. When we embrace change we get more of what we want from each and every moment.
This week’s article is about how you can work WITH change and not AGAINST it.
Over two years ago, I left my marriage and with it the home I lovingly restored and the consistency I had developed in my relationship and in the rest of my life.
At first, I struggled. But then a curious thing happened. After I got through all the challenging emotions that come with a situation like that, my life opened up before me.
There’s a saying: “freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.” While this is true, I’d like to put a positive spin on this idea.
Because, in truth, my life opened up before me not simply because things changed, but because I WELCOMED the change.
Of course, there was some part of me that wanted to hold onto how things were “supposed to be.” I’d come to view my life and my future in a particular way and I didn’t want to let go of that vision. There was a part of me that wanted to assign a meaning to my divorce so that I could protect myself from future heartache and loss. Another part of me wanted to play the victim. I can tell you that none of these inclinations were helpful.
Acceptance Really is Your Greatest Ally
We come up with notions about what our life is supposed to be like. I call this the proverbial “white picket fence” syndrome. With “white picket fence” syndrome, we attach our ideas about what will make us happy to a particular thing, person or scenario. For me, this meant being in my relationship for the rest of my life and all that came along with it.
Yet, the more that we cling to this image of what our life should be like, the more we suffer. The fact of the matter is that right now, your life looks exactly as it’s supposed to look. The uncertainty and doubt, the joy and passion, the tedium and boredom – these are all necessary sensations that make up the life you have in front of you. These feelings are, in a sense, information. And you can make a lot of decisions about what you want to do next with the information you have at hand.
When we look at the life we have before us – and not the one we trick ourselves into thinking we have – we’re able to see what truly serves us. This perspective allows us to increase our happiness in infinite ways.
Change Calls for Brave Hearts
Unfortunately, most of us are entranced with the false idea that we’re destined to “have what we want”. We’ve mistakenly come to think of “having what we want” as a guarantee for enduring happiness. Sadly, this is not how things work. “Having what we want” is the net result of an ongoing and evolving effort through which we bring into our lives what works for us and strip away what no longer serves us.
There are times when life throws us a curve ball and we lose something we want or value. It’s easy to clench up in these moments. It’s understandable that we’ll do just about anything to prevent uncomfortable feelings such as loss or grief. When unexpected change or loss occurs, we tend say to things to ourselves like I made a bad choice, I’m never going to do that again, or – worse yet – I’m not meant to have this thing I really want.
But what if you grew your tolerance for difficult emotions? What if you actively built your ability to shift into positive emotions? How might you respond differently to change with these skills at hand?
It’s likely that you’ve noticed that even in the most painful moments of your life you’ve seen glimmers of potential happiness.
When we embrace change we also embrace the trust that we’ll be able to withstand the pains that can come with change. The only constant in life is change. And yes, some of that change will be painful. But if we put courage in our heart, we can move confidently into change with the faith that even the worst of it can be traversed.
Freedom’s Just Another Word for the Ability to Choose
Blame is many people’s favorite way to deal with the loss of what they want. People who blame others feel that if they hold someone else accountable they will somehow retain their sense of power.
However, this is not power, but rather a false sense of control. True power is the ability we have within ourselves to take charge of our own life and our own emotions.
This is the opposite of blame. This is accountability.
A wonderful thing happens when we know that we have the ability to make choices in our life. When we don’t like something – whether it’s momentary or more chronic – we can change it. When we know on a deep level that we have the ability to make a new choice, and change our situation, we feel empowered.
This is why I get so excited about teaching personal development work. Because once people have a sense of their own power and gain the skills to navigate life, their life never looks the same to them again.
Change can feel overwhelming at times and there will be moments that challenge us like we never believed possible. But we can learn to embrace the changes that come our way. When we do this, our hearts, minds, and bodies feel lighter as each day passes. I help people achieve this lightness and empowered state every day through my Personal Breakthrough Intensive. Ready to transform your life? Click here to learn more.
Recently, I was asked in an interview: do you have any advice for people who struggle with fear?
The interviewer pointed out that everyone struggles with fear as they move towards what they really want.
And I have to agree. Whether it’s a fear that stops us in our tracks or a low-level feeling of anxiety, our ability to deal with fear can make or break us.
So, for this week’s article I’d like to start a conversation about what fear is. At it’s most basic level, fear is a biological response. When we feel afraid, certain chemicals flood our brain and, in turn, motivate our behavior. When we’re able to understand our fear at a cellular and bodily level, we’re better equipped to manage it’s effect on our everyday lives.
If you struggle with fear, I highly recommend that you check the book, Rewire Your Anxious Brain. It’s one of the resources I used for this newsletter.
How You Can Break the Spell of Fear
Let’s be clear here – fear is a response to an actual threat. Anxiety is a response to an assumed or possible threat. So, check in with your feelings. If you’re truly afraid, listen to your body. Maybe you’re headed in the wrong direction or maybe you need to take extra measures to protect yourself. If you’re anxious, this is a different story.
Skills that help us deal with anxiety most often effect the frontal cortex of our brains. This is important. When we change the way we think about a given situation, we can feel more confident and less fearful. Recently, neuroscientists have concluded that the amygdala – an almond sized part of our brain involved with our experience of our emotions – plays a vital role in the way we respond to our environment. And because of this, new approaches to working with fear are emerging.
The amygdala causes a very quick physical response to certain stimuli. It drives you to be hyper-attentive to your surroundings and provokes a fearful response when it sees a potential threat. This has a powerful effect on our feelings of anxiety. Yet, it should be noted that the amygdala has helped us survive throughout time by attuning us to potential danger.
However, the amygdala can sometimes produce unwanted symptoms. The most noticeable of these being panic attacks. The chemicals released by the amygdala influence the way our brain works. When your amygdala is hyper-active, you may experience a feeling of chronic anxiety and changes to the way you think.
So, if you’re feeling stuck and unable to move forward in your life or business, if you find all sorts of reasons not to do things you know you should do, if you overwork yourself to the point of ineffectiveness, or if your avoid important steps forward, you’d benefit from cultivating a greater understanding of how your body’s response to anxiety might stymie your efforts towards success.
There are two main components to clearing up this primal fight, flight or freeze response. The first is learning to relax the body and the second is building new neural pathways around certain stimuli.
Relaxation can take the form of deep breathing and meditation. This is best done on a daily basis. Research has shown that a meditation practice of 15 minutes a day can provide quick, measurable and positive change for those suffering with anxiety. When you learn to relax the body and quiet your mind, you’re able to reverse the effects of an activated amygdala. This process supports our efforts to change our thinking when we’re triggered by things that happen in our personal or professional lives.
Building new neural pathways can include efforts to eliminate established pathways that lead to anxious thinking, to train the body to have a different response when exposed to a triggering stimulus, and to create a positive connection to a trigger rather than a negative one.
Eliminating the connection between a trigger and an emotional reaction is the purpose of therapies such as EMDR and EFT. Both therapeutic modes work to create new associations in the brain. To do this, a therapist will ask a patient to recall something that triggers them. Then the therapist provides the patient with an alternate stimulus to break the connection between that stimulus and the anxiety response.
Peter Levine is responsible for much innovation and growth in our understanding about how anxiety can be treated somatically. Levine believes that traumas are locked in the body and may not be available to the conscious mind. This means that the process to free ourselves from anxiety begins when we recognize where we’re holding our traumas and assist the body to release them.
Positive associations to triggering stimuli can be made through guided imagery, imagination, and real time exposure to triggers with a deliberate focus on a positive outcome. Because it takes time to develop new neural pathways, the more ways that we can approach a trigger and build new connections the better.
I leave you with a parting thought about anxiety. The most important thing you can do to help yourself overcome anxiety is to deeply care for and affirm all of who you are. The act of doing this doesn’t just change the brain and alter the chemicals in your system that allow you to feel better and less anxious. Self-care and self-affirmation supports the essence of who you are. And this makes you stronger and more resilient in all aspects of your life.
This week I made the bold move to move to a country farmhouse outside of Providence. This has been part of my plans for the last 10 years and is the first of many steps forward. I always knew that when my son went off to college I’d decide what I’d do next.
Yet, this is easier said than done.
My life is changing in major ways now that it’s no longer organized around raising my son. I’m responsible only for myself for the first time in years. At times, this has left me feeling like I’m 20 years old and trying to figure out what I want from my life all over again.
Rather than coming up with a concrete plan, I’ve decided to explore different options and leave the door open to opportunities that feel right to me. I have no idea if I’ll spend my next 10 years on a farm or if I’ll quickly recognize my move as vestiges of a long-past dream.
One thing is for sure, though: open space and nature connects me to my spirituality and ultimately awakens my best self. So, one way or another, I’ll build the natural world into my plan.
Reconnect With Your Spiritual Self
There are times in our lives where the spiritual aspect of our experience moves to the side-line. And, for some of us, spirituality may not be part of our lives at all.
There are many reasons why this happens.
For some people, the religion they subscribed to ceased to make sense to them. In the process of putting down their religion they put down their spirituality as well. Many people who do this cannot see how spirituality and religion can exist separately.
For others, the day-to-day is so overwhelming that there is little room to attend to the spiritual aspects of their lives. As Maslow clearly outlined: we cannot begin to address our higher needs until we address our base needs for food, shelter, and water.
Some people have never had a connection to the spiritual. They were raised in an environment that did not honor the spiritual and so they did not learn how to connect with their internal sense of spirituality.
Spirituality means many things to many people. Some people might associate it with a magical feeling, others a state of inner calm, and others a sense of being connected. Personally, I define it as the knowledge that there is a consciousness to all things.
People often tap into their spirituality when in a specific state, such as how they feel after meditation, yoga or a sermon. They link their spiritual experience to an event and then seek that event with a measure of satisfaction. Yet, spirituality is not so much a goal as it is a process.
With this in mind, it becomes easier to reconnect with our spirituality in an everyday way, especially if we feel we’ve lost touch with it.
Let go of what doesn’t work so you can let in what does work
You’ve got something to learn from the disconnect
Hit the pause button
Remember, spirituality is a process and it doesn’t come with dogma. So, open up, explore and find your own pathways to your spiritual connection.