“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” – Charles Darwin
We are constantly negotiating with change. In the course of a day we can change our plans, change our clothes and change our minds on a hundred different things. Most of the time we are flexible enough to deal with the twists and turns change can bring and if nothing else it keeps things interesting.
But what about the changes that threaten to derail the course of our life — the changes we don’t anticipate, choose or can nimbly weave into the fabric of the day to day? Perhaps a significant relationship has ended or you’ve been made redundant at work. We aren’t simply inconvenienced by these kinds of changes. We are angry, sad, resentful and afraid. We feel a loss of control. Suddenly we are a spectator to the events of our life and not an active participant.
So how do you find your feet when you feel like your life has been turned upside down? How do you negotiate with changes you didn’t ask for and, quite frankly, could do without? Well, first you fall apart and then you put yourself back together again!
Get emotional — Working towards acceptance
There’s no way around it. For a while at least this will be a very emotional time. Give in to it and let it be what it is. Life has dealt you something you didn’t ask for and it sucks. Get angry. Be sad.
Vulnerability researcher Dr. Brene Brown suggests that as a culture we are losing our tolerance for vulnerability. We think that to be vulnerable is to be weak when really the opposite is true. While revealing our vulnerability does stir up the ‘dark emotions’ of fear, anxiety and shame it is also “the birthplace of joy, of love, of belonging, of creativity, of faith” (Brene Brown, The Price of Invulnerability, TEDx KC, 2010).
Every life affirming, positive emotion is born of our allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and exposed. So don’t numb your emotions or waste your energy pretending everything is alright. Feeling your pain, living it as it comes, is not a weakness but an act of courage. Your vulnerability right now will actually become the wellspring of a stronger, more resilient you.
Get moving – Taking action and moving on
While you have a perfect right to feel sad, disappointed or angry when major changes are made to your life without your consent, don’t make “I didn’t ask for this” an excuse not to move on. True as this may be it doesn’t absolve you from facing the consequences of the change in the long-term. You still have to deal with it no matter how begrudgingly.
At some point you are going to have to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and get back out there. You can’t wait for the emotional tidal wave to completely subside before you start to make a move and get on with it. There have been times in my own life when I realised that, for a little while at least, my sadness and sense of loss would always be there, somewhere, mooning around in the background. If I waited for them to move on so I could do the same I might never accept that my life had changed. I would always make excuses for the life I didn’t have and I would end up bitter and resentful.
Taking some kind of action, no matter how small, is the key to feeling like you have some control in your life. In his book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, Mark Manson calls this the ‘do something’ principle. Don’t wait to be inspired or motivated. Don’t wait to feel better or ‘ready’. Just do something, anything. The simple act of beginning will motivate you to continue:
“You can become your own source of inspiration. You can become your own source of motivation. Action is always within reach. And with simply doing something as your only metric for success – well, then even failure pushes you forward.” (Manson 2016, p. 161)
Rather than just allowing the days to roll into one another make plans and carve out specific chunks of time to do something you’d really like to do. Plan a holiday or weekend away, volunteer, do a meditation course or take up a new sport or hobby. Whatever it is, approach it with a sense of purpose and intention. While such things may seem like mere distraction to begin with purposeful activity will go a long way to help you work through and move on from feelings of helplessness. You will find that you can learn new things or make new friends, that you can feel better even in less than ideal circumstances.
When I began to struggle with a new job I started walking every day. The physical activity had its own obvious effects but the psychological benefit was the most interesting. Walking gave me the time and space to think about whatever I wanted to — or to not think at all. Either way there was a feeling of not being stuck any more. It was as if by moving my body, by literally not standing still, I was able to move my thoughts along too. In time I didn’t feel as trapped by my circumstances and I was able to work out ways to make my situation better.
Get help if you need it
Sometimes, though, no matter what we do we can’t shake the feelings of helplessness unwanted change can bring. There is no shame in this. Life is hard and some change can really throw us. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. It takes courage to admit when you’re struggling and it’s a smart thing to go out and get some help. Battling on alone is noble but futile if you aren’t making any progress.
Winston Churchill said, “When you are going through hell, keep going.” It doesn’t seem helpful to be told that in time you’ll feel better but it is true. In 3 or 6 months’ time you’ll be surprised at how far you’ve come just by putting one foot in front of the other and keeping going. When you look back you’ll see that you have established a new normal and are a little more resilient and confident for the next time change comes knocking.