Life transitions such as moving, change of job, retirement, or personal changes in health or the health of a loved one often opens an emotional can of uncertainty. Change can shake us to our core. Feelings like anxiety and confusion that result from big life transitions can paralyze our efforts to move forward.
“What you are is what you have been,” said Gautama Buddha, the spiritual teacher on whose teachings Buddhism was founded. “What you will be is what you do now.”
Transitions push you from comfort to discomfort and dare you to adapt to change in new ways. Fortunately, wisdom from past experiences help serve as your internal compass. Change offers new venues to learn how to do new tricks with new tools – which opens new doors to new opportunities.
Easier said than done.
It takes time for our emotional center to adapt to changes outside of us and rarely do internal changes occur at the speed of external changes. When life transitions rattle your cage and force you to make changes in your life, you adapt by making internal and external adjustments to the changing circumstances.
William Bridges, author of Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change, explains that successful change takes place when you have “a clear purpose, a plan for, and a part to play” in the circumstances affecting your life. He describes three phases that allow us to successfully move through change:
1. Release old ways of doing things. Old habits may feel comfortable, even when those habits lost their effectiveness. Recognize there is a difference between what feels comfortable and what feels familiar. Time is needed to grieve the loss of old rituals and common practices for taking care of business that no longer serve you.
2. Move through the in-between time to prepare for change. Bridges calls this a “neutral time;” Jeff Bracken calls this a phase of “exploration;” a time to “creatively explore and discover new ways of doing things.” He adds that the chaos of uncertainty provides opportunities to experience new ideas, spark new interests, and experiment with new tools.
3. Adjust to new beginnings. When new ways of doing things replace old habits and common rituals, you forge a new identity. You regain confidence when you learn new skills and new ways of adapting to the changes around you. You feel more optimistic. This leads to a renewed sense of purpose.
When you consciously accept the change around you and focus on the positive opportunities that lay ahead of you, you begin to see challenges as opportunities. Circumstances that once seemed like roadblocks become important arrows that lead you in new directions and new experiences.
Mike Dooley, author of Leveraging the Universe: 7 Steps to Engaging Life’s Magic , insists, “Our positive thoughts are at least 10,000 times more powerful than our negative thoughts.” Positive thought motivates you to focus on positive outcomes and repositions you to explore new experiences you might not have previously considered.
If you want to experience greater happiness, consider these uplifting and proactive transition tips when you experience change:
• Begin a gratitude journal. When you feel uncomfortable thoughts creeping into your consciousness, recall those things for which you feel grateful. Gratitude shifts our focus from what we do not have to appreciation for all of the gifts in our lives.
I began a gratitude journal when I left my position as an instructional coach in an inner-city school district. I wanted to experience something new – even though I did not yet know what the next career move would be. I started a gratitude journal and committed to a daily writing practice of writing 10 statements about positive blessings in my life. Ann Voskamp’s book, One Thousand Gifts, provided wonderful gratitude journal guidance.
• Write positive affirmations. Put the positive in your affirmation by focusing deliberate intention on desired outcomes. Affirmations are always stated in present tense; they are personal and specific.
A constructive affirmation such as “Lucrative opportunities always come my way” invites prosperity and celebrates abundance. When I say “Spectacular ideas flow to me in a river of abundance,” I acknowledge creative opportunities are at my disposal whenever I am open to inspiration.
• Do something you love to do every day. It may feel more comforting to withdraw from others or postpone the work of adapting to changes in your life, especially if you are experiencing multiple transitions. Although it is important to take good care of yourself, especially during transitions, it is vital to stay connected to areas of your life where you feel confident, positive, and in control.
Transitions often make additional demands on your available time and financial resources. Set aside as little as 15 minutes a day to do something you enjoy. Focus on the time you have; not the time you do not have within your day.
• Find support. Find a group with members who are experiencing similar changes. Many groups have well-organized and detailed directories that promote meetings, sponsor special events, and attract new members. Local libraries, community centers, churches, and on-line networking groups provide information and resources that connect like-minded individuals in ways they can inspire and motivate one another.
Even when change leads to wonderful opportunities, you must often release and let go of something that was familiar. Bridges adds, “The failure to identify and get ready for endings and losses is the largest difficulty for people in transitions.”
Change is not easy, but it can inspire us to do new things in new ways. As you look back and examine the fabric of your life and recall how you adapted to change over time, you discover you actually evolved in ways you never expected. That is what growth is all about.
What new opportunities do you want to explore?