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Can't Change, Won't Change...
Is your emotional response to change holding you back?
We blow very hot and cold about change. If we choose something - like a new house with more space, or that second baby we’ve longed for - then change is wonderful.
But if forced on us - like when our partner’s promotion means relocating or our best friend moving away - we’re not so keen on change after all.
On top of this, the longer you’ve lived somewhere, been friends or done a job, the harder and often more frightening it is too uproot.
So if there’s change on your horizon, or if you want to change something yourself, how do you embrace the future but still hold onto what you cherish about the past?
The first step to grasp is that whatever your feelings are about change; change is actually inevitable and constant. However hard we might try, nothing stays the same for ever.
The children grow up and their needs change; the relationship with our partner matures and changes too.
In fact the real problems come when we try and freeze time. What could be sadder than a forty year old who’s “failed to launch”? Why hold onto old school friends who might have been fun when we were seven but make us miserable today?
The “neutral zone” and why we fear it.
So why do some people hold onto something way past its natural ‘sell by’ date? The problem is that between turning our back on the old and discovering the new, we have to pass through a Neutral Zone.
This stage between the past and the future is full of unanswered questions and at first sight can be overwhelming - especially as at this point we have no idea whether the change will be for the better.
For example, my partner’s work at one stage meant a temporary move to France. On one hand I was excited about the romance of living in Paris, the pavement cafes and wonderful delicatessens, but what about the dog, and how would I cope with the language?
The neutral zone might be a chaotic time but it can also be a very creative one too. With a bit of lateral thinking, the Eurostar, and a neighbour looking after the dog, I began to adapt and enjoy the change that was forced onto me. I’ve improved my French and I definitely benefited from all the new experiences.
If you’re currently in the Neutral Zone, it can seem impossible to move forward because so much is up in the air. However, as nothing stays the same, the Neutral Zone will change too and you’ll be presented with a series of new challenges - some of them scary but most of them exciting and all ultimately rewarding if tackled properly.
My podcast interview with spiritual teacher Richard Paterson on “No More Overthinking” is a great resource if your anxiety about change feels overwhelming.
What is YOUR attitude to change?
I’ve devised a simple test to give you some idea of your responses to change, and also ideas about how best to travel through your neutral zone and make the most of new opportunities.
Just read through the questions, and note whether your responses are mostly A, B, C or D.
Your twelve year old daughter has been invited out on her first date. You know the boy and he comes from a nice family. What are your thoughts?
She is far too young and you put your foot down immediately.
You remember those first teenage passions only too well and worry that she’ll get her heart broken
It’s proof that she’s growing up. Where did all the time go?
You’re looking forward to this stage and all the new experiences she’ll be sharing with you.
Your youngest is about to start school. What is your reaction?
Maybe I can convince my partner that we should have another baby.
Nothing will really change, the school day is actually quite short.
This is my chance to spread my wings and have more time for me.
At last, I can start the business I’ve always dreamt off, train for the marathon or start on the house renovation.
A promotion for your partner will mean more time away on business, more responsibility, more pressure and more stress for everybody else in the family. What is your overriding thought?
Maybe I can talk him out of it.
How will I cope when he’s away?
The extra money will be useful.
What took him so long?
You hear your children’s school is planning to merge with another neighbouring school. What is your first reaction?
Join the campaign to stop it.
Find out exactly how much disruption there will be and how it will affect your kids.
We could get the best of both schools.
It doesn’t worry you that much as you were planning on moving the kids anyway.
Your sister or a close family member decides to emigrate to Australia. What do you think?
I must remind her of all those poisonous spiders and snakes.
Our relationship will never be the same again; I’m going to miss her so much.
It’s what she wants, so I must support her.
Next Christmas on the beach - how wonderful.
The group that you share your hobby with - like dancing or cycling - is in danger of splitting up. How would you react?
I could take on a key post on the executive and keep the group going.
What am I going to do with my Tuesdays?
Things weren’t working that well anyway; and you’re aware of another similar group that you might try out.
What a great opportunity to try something new!
Which is closest to your personal motto?
If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.
Gently does it.
Always look on the bright side
Variety is the spice of life.
Your best friend has a new man in her life and this mean less time for you. What do you think?
I’m always there for her.
We had so many wonderful times together.
This is an opportunity to broaden my circle of friends.
Who needs her?
🐤 MOSTLY “A” : Ostrich
You’re comfortable with your life just the way it is and see no reason to change. You’re also probably the last person for innovations - you might have been the last to buy a smartphone - but when you’re convinced, you will stick at something and make it work. You’re a loyal friend, too.
However don’t you sometimes wonder that with your head in the sand you risk missing out on opportunities?
Top Tip: Because you fear change, you see it as something bad. However change is actually neither intrinsically good nor bad, it is all down to how you look it. For example, we think of rain as bad, but in a desert rain would be wonderful. It’s all down to our attitude. So the first step is always to look for the upside of something new.
If you can’t see one immediately, try looking a bit further into the future. How might it look in three months time, a year, two years? Secondly, ask what would happen if you didn’t change? What is the downside of staying where you are?
🐭 MOSTLY “B”: Mouse
You know that change is inevitable, but you’d rather things stayed the same. You think of yourself as really timid, however once started on a project you can be surprisingly brave and cut even elephant-sized problems down to size. When you look back at previous upheavals, you often wonder why you made such a fuss at the time.
Top Tip: Scientists have discovered that when we’re under stress –like at times of change - our brain operates differently. With our very survival under threat, we use the less sophisticated parts of our brain inherited from our reptile ancestors.
Yet this is the very time that we need to think something through rather than just act instinctively. So next time you’re stressed by change, find ways to relax and calm down. For example, take deep breaths, go for a long walk, or spring clean the house.
Later think back to times when you successfully dealt with change– there will be plenty of examples as you’re better coping than you think. Now look at what worked last time and what skills can be used today.
🐻 MOSTLY “C”: Bear
You are happy to embrace change and see the upside when many other people see only the downside. Another bonus is that you generally take your time to make a decision and seldom leap into the future without first knowing all the facts. Your main problem with change will probably be getting everybody else in the family to have the same positive attitude.
Top Tip: How do you persuade your partner to change? If they change at a slower rate, it is very tempting to keep on at them. However there is a fine line between encouraging and nagging. All nagging achieves is getting your partner to dig in their heels; instead of discussing the proposed changes, you become locked in a battle of wills and nothing changes at all.
So remind them calmly what change you’d like but add: ‘I promise I’m not going to mention it again but just because I don’t say something doesn’t mean I don’t want it.’ This will give your partner the opportunity to change at their own pace. An alternative strategy is the trade-off, for example: ‘I’ll stop doing something you dislike, if you do something in turn for me.’
🐝 MOSTLY “D”: Bee
You flit from project to project, place to place, always hoping that the grass will be greener and the flowers sweeter on the other side of the fence. In fact you are easily bored and often enjoy change for change’s sake. Although brave and ready to see the upside of everybody and every situation, you sometimes don’t give things a chance to bear fruit before you’re off again.
Top Tip: Next time you feel the urge to move on, experiment and see what happens if you stay a bit longer. Working at something can be hard, but the more we put in the greater the rewards. You will be surprised by just how satisfying this can be.
Some people keep changing because they are afraid of conflict and find it easier to slip away. If this is you, consider seeking out an assertiveness course, or some individual therapy. Finally, remember, too much change can be as bad as too little.
What if you want to change but can’t?
Ask yourself if you really want it? Sometimes we try to change something – like get fit, give up smoking or start evening classes – because we feel we ought to, because someone else is putting pressure on us, or because we like the picture of us doing these things. However deep down inside we don’t really want to change.
What are benefits of staying where you are? If you are stuck, there is probably some hidden benefit to not changing. It sounds strange, but this is often the case. A classic example would be a parent half-heartedly chasing a promotion, but in reality feeling they’re needed more at home with the kids right now. Once you’ve truly understood the obstacles to change, you will be better placed to identify and plan the change you really want.
Break the change up into smaller parts. Getting from today to the future can seem an impossibly long journey. For example: moving house involves a million and one choices and plenty of opportunities for disaster. However when broken down into smaller chunks–like researching schools in the new area or finding an estate agent - everything seems more manageable. Once those tasks are achieved, you can move onto the next ones and pretty soon you’ve arrived at your final destination.
How can you make the first step? It is very easy to put off change until tomorrow and then the day after, and then forever. So choose one small job that will get the ball rolling today.
Keep going. There are always setbacks. But remember, nothing lasts forever and these difficult times will pass too. Even the most successful people face dead ends and sometimes failure. What makes them different from everybody else, is that they are not discouraged.
In other news, this week’s podcast conversation with Karla McLaren on “What is this Feeling Trying to Tell Me?” is already looking very popular - Karla shares thoughtful, practical advice on making a place for both positive and negative emotions in your life.
As always, if it feels like the right time to start marital therapy, send an email to Tricia (email@example.com) for a virtual or in-person appointment with one of my team of therapists in London, or with me here in Berlin.
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