Let's talk about change, I’m giving you some insights and some tips on how to deal with it with more grace, and how to get better at dealing with change when you really don’t want to, but you have to anyway.
This topic was sparked from a recent article I read about women who approach mid-life, all three of the women interviewed still have teenage or young adult children in the home, but they see the changes coming, and all they’ve known is being a mom, they’ve given their all to that endeavor, raising children and then they’re finding themselves feeling lost, and starting to feel kind of irrelevant as their children are gone all day and they have time on their hands, wondering what to do with themselves.
I think we have to be intentional about what we decide to believe about our roles as women, and our place in society.
I personally believe it’s never been more of an exciting time to be a woman in society. I see a lot of opportunity to go back to school, to grow our own businesses, to develop our creativity and contribution, to create a lot of goodness in our homes and communities, and to contribute.
But I also understand the tendency to worry. If we take in the messages from the media about mid-life women, we mainly see them in commercials for pharmaceutical ads, or we see them as frustrated with their wrinkles, trying to fix them, just all those messages that as women get older, it’s a problem to fix, and resisting the natural cycle of getting older, versus embracing the gifts of getting older.
This is really about resisting change.
Resistance areas most common that come up are about
Those are some of the common areas that can be hard to deal with when things change.
And change is hard because of the way our brains are designed, they’re designed to be efficient, to conserve energy and use the least amount of brain juice as possible to to function optimally.
I love how the brain easily memorizes things that it regularly repeats, and then delegates the steps of the process it repeats, it delegates all the steps to storage files so you don’t even have to consciously think about it.
Like driving, I don’t even think about driving, I just know how to operate the machine of my car, but when I first learned how to drive, my brain had to generate a lot of energy and concentration.
Or like playing Claire de Lune on the piano, when I first learned that piece, I worked so hard. It wasn’t like any other piano music I’d ever played. But now, I can talk to other people while I play it, my hands just know what to do, how is that possible?
Because my brain has memorized the roadmap, and then delegated all the steps to internal storage files.
And I think this is an amazing capability that human brains have. In most cases, we want to work with that capability.
But in regards to change and growth that is good for us, or that life forces us to face, then the brain's natural design to be efficient can be hard to manage.
Whenever change presents itself, our brains have to generate new effort. And it’s natural to resist this. I’ve heard people say, “it makes me tired even thinking about it. . .” like the prospect of moving for example, even though the move is going to provide more opportunities, just thinking about it is a lot.
So knowing that the brain is going to resist change, because that is how the brain is designed, I think that is just so good to know.
Because then, we can take a look at the parts we want to keep, and the parts we don’t want to keep when facing a change: and by parts, I’m talking about how we think about the change.
We want to take a look at our patterns of thinking, and pay more attention.
What things are we thinking on autopilot that maybe aren’t serving us?
When a change is coming up, when it is initially presented, your brain will always offer up sentences and ideas and thoughts that are most familiar, that have been thought of in the past, even if you want to think differently. Your brain will default to what it is already used to thinking.
And so the key is to start to think ahead of time, in anticipation of a big change, what you want to think, and then repeat the pattern of thinking until it becomes efficient.
You will literally have to reprogram a new pattern of thinking.
And if you’ve been listening already so far, you know that I teach the think/feel/act cycle, and the thinking will set in motion a different way of feeling about the change, which will then fuel different actions.
I’ve been practicing what I preach in the context of my own children growing up and moving out. A few years ago, when my daughter was applying to colleges and saying she wanted to go to school out of state, I felt grief ahead of time, just a deep sadness at the thought of her leaving. All I could think of was how much I loved having her in our home, her fun laugh, hearing her warm up on the violin, hearing her violin practice, and the way she would interact with her brothers. My kids are all really close and I didn’t want that to change.
I’m also doing the same right now with my middle son leaving in a few months for two years, he is so fun, his little brother looks up to him a lot, he’s such a helper around the house, he is the kid who asks me, “is there anything else I can do to help mom?” I mean. . .
Just the thought of the change in our home with kids leaving is a lot for me, as I know it is for many moms out there.
And so I’m taking the time to write in my journal and write out how I want to think about the changes, intentionally, and one of the main things, I guess the title of this chapter of my story, you could say, is : I’m so happy to share my beautiful children with the world and see what goodness they contribute. It’s not my job to keep my children to myself.
And that kind of thinking actually gets me in a better place, a place of acceptance and fighting for my own happiness and their future happiness.
So I want to talk about How to allow for change more gracefully.
But before we do that, I took from a few research psychology models, and put together a condensed version of four main stages we experience, the natural cycle of change, that I want to walk you through. I think these stages are helpful when looking at how we go through change. Here’s a condensed version of the stages.
Cycle of change:
1st stage - determination / maybe even a little excitement of possibilities / high hopes
2nd stage - reality hits / things take longer than expected / discouragement can set in
3rd stage - surrendering / breaking down and rebuilding, like a caterpillar in a cocoon. Lots of growth and going inward, realignment of what matters most
4th stage - experiment / try new things / looks a lot like stage 1, but different in that you aren’t the same as you were in stage 1, you’ve upleveled in some way / new information / different place.
I see those stages as a great Roadmap for how to invite some grace into change, having a roadmap is useful, knowing what stage you are in helps us assess why we are feeling the way we do and helps us see a bigger picture.
We start to see the stages, the cycle (it’s not a linear path) and that the cycle winds upward towards a pinnacle, like a beautiful path that winds up and up and up, like going up a mountain. But we aren’t going up the mountain from one side, we’re winding around it, gradually getting higher. I love this imagery, because sometimes it will feel like we’ve been here before, we’re back to square one, but in reality, we’re on the same side of the mountain, just with more experience under our belt, and a little more elevation because of the things we’ve learned along the way.
This imagery is a beautiful way to view change.
How to plug it into a real world example?
The thinking might sound like:
Circumstance of an adult child leaving the faith tradition you’ve raised him in, leaving your church:
Stage 1 - (determination and hope) you might be thinking: this is not my favorite, but at least my child is doing some critical thinking, wants to own his beliefs, wants to own his personal growth, it’s part of growing up, this won’t be as bad as I imagine.
Stage 2 - (discouragement, reality sets in, implications of what the change will mean) realize, oh - my child actually doesn’t even believe such and such? You see the consequences of lifestyle choices that you believe lead to no good, and the sadness starts to set in, and it can feel like the ground is falling out from under you, you question your relationship and it’s scary because you don’t know where it will land. This stage is similar to grieving, feeling sad for what is lost and how it won’t ever be the same, also feeling sad for what might of been, and realizing that it isn’t going to look the way you thought. It’s important not to judge yourself here, or you’ll make this stage last even longer. But allow for the sadness and process the emotion through without judging it, or else the sadness will go into hiding.
Stage 3 - (surrendering / breaking down and rebuilding) is where the most transformation will occur. So, rebuilding the relationship from a place of mutual respect, perhaps this is part of a bigger picture, starting to see this life is just a blip in the eternal scheme of things, seeing that connection is more important right now, holding space for all of the unanswered questions, believing they could be solved down the road, in time. Also, seeing how you are the kind of mom who honors agency and you don’t force or guilt or shame your children into things, that can be a really important part of the thinking, to decide on purpose that one of your jobs is to honor your adult child’s agency.
Stage 4 - (experiment, try new things) that could look like having engaging conversations around topics not normally discussed, for one mom, she told me how she and her son were able to build connection about parenting from love versus fear, realizing it’s not as bad as you imagined, seeing you have other things to connect with and can find common ground on, you start to see a whole new skillset and some gifts you didn’t see before, potential for the relationship to experience happiness, anyway even though it’s different than what you imagined.
If you can use this framework of the stages we go through when facing change, you will be able to take charge of how your brain thinks, in a more purposeful way.
So how to invite some grace into this process? I’m going to give you four tips. Are you ready?
My favorite ski resort is so different from the good ole days. It’s been discovered by foreigners with a lot of money, the price keeps going up, and I worry about how crowded it's become. I used to have ski days where I had the whole mountain to myself.
But see how my thinking is focused on how things used to be? It’s fine to notice. But it’s not fine to spend my energy trying to figure out how to get back to how things used to be. It would be more useful to think in terms of how I can still enjoy myself on my favorite mountain? I can carve out a weekday, Tuesdays or Wednesdays for skiing. I can get to know people on the gondola and ask them how they discovered my little corner of the world. I need to shift the way I think about it if I still want to enjoy skiing.
Another example is how I used to experience the holidays, the good ole days, Thanksgiving in particular, when the family had smaller numbers. I miss that. Now, the family is so big, it feels a little impersonal and there are so many bodies, I tend to get overstimulated. I long for the days when there was one table, we could visit and light candles and use the china and crystal, and it was a real dining experience. Nowadays, it feels like we should have Thanksgiving in the cultural hall, and we use paper plates. Not my favorite.
But I need to adapt.
One way I’ve been working on this is to view the change as an expected part of the human experience of how families grow versus focusing on the noise.
Instead of thinking about the noise and the paper products, the tragic loss of a quiet dining experience, I could think in terms of how amazing it is to see so many beautiful people together in one place, all because one couple, my dad and my stepmom, created a beautiful family together, chose to make their marriage work and look at their legacy. This family they’ve created is beautiful. I could focus on that.
I could focus on how happy they are to have their entire family together.
When I’m consumed by thoughts of “the good old days,” I struggle. Then my energy is spent trying to figure out why our extended family is so loud.
This really does come down to acceptance.
And so that leads me into tip number two:
Keep in mind, dealing with change doesn’t mean that we arrive as quickly as we can to a place where we don’t allow ourselves to feel what we need to feel.
For this mom, she needed to feel sad. And she needed to not put a timeframe on how long the sadness wanted to stay. But she worried that if she didn’t put a timeframe on it, then the sadness would last forever. And I told her that a part of the sadness probably would, but it would soften over time, as she intentionally wrote a new script for what her daughter’s life could look like moving forward.
Most of us imagine a dream life of how things are going to be. And it starts from the time we are young. I know I did. And I hear from so many of you, a version of the same.
This mom, she shared with me how she imagined motherhood would be. And she also thought about how people would react when they’d see her daughter, how painful it was to think about, the pity glances, and how she had just recently done the same at the grocery store when another mom who had a down syndrome daughter, a toddler, in the grocery cart, she quickly looked away and didn’t make eye contact. But here she was, that mom in those same shoes.
We talked about how she could imagine a hypothetical person, a mom - someone who handled Down syndrome the ideal way, what would that look like? And as she came up with ideas, we landed on becoming that mom, even if she didn’t know how right now, but fighting for that future version of herself as a possibility, and maybe that’s all that it will require, fighting for the future you want to create by imagining just the humanness of loving her baby in the moment, and as each stage would unfold, trusting herself to know that she would be the kind of mom she wanted to be.
Accept the past, and keep the part where you were excited to be a mom someday, and the hopes you had, but then don't turn it into something to use against yourself when life turns out different.
But fight for the future. And what this could look like, moving forward, is that you can develop a high, high level of compassion and unconditional love.
Okay, tip number three:
Reminding ourselves of what’s really important to us — loving our family, having friends, religious convictions, personal growth, creative expression, and so on — all of those things can create a surprisingly powerful buffer against whatever challenges we may be facing.
From having to move to a new school, to new relationships, or a new job, we can strengthen our brains by thinking on purpose and writing about a time when a certain value has positively helped you.
For me, I did this when my hips started to feel a lot of arthritis. I used to teach yoga multiple times a day, in a gym setting, and in studio settings, a lot of movement and being active. It was taking a toll on my body.
I value health and being active, but I had to intentionally get clear on what I valued most, which was WHY I was taking care of myself with fitness. My WHY is about having fun while I move and see the amazing things my body can do. And honestly, I do yoga so I can enjoy the other things I love, like skiing and paddleboarding, and being strong and flexible.
It became less about teaching handstands, and more about defining what being strong, flexible and fluid in my body meant to me, in a 40 year old body, versus how it used to be in my 20’s. So letting go of the idea I should always be able to move like I did when I first started yoga, helped me teach differently, and prompted me to adjust my students more and demonstrate less, it's made me enjoy my body and yoga practice more.
This technique of getting clear on what you value most works because reflecting on a personal value helps you face your worst fears. For me, it was the fear of not being as fit, but making sure I was intentional about my personal identity and not compromising what I value. By seeing how my body is changing, and by allowing for the challenging circumstance of arthritis in my hips, figuring out how to adapt based on what I value most, I value having a minimum baseline of fitness, strength and flexibility, so I can have fun doing the things I enjoy most. That’s what we’re talking about here, with focusing on your values versus focusing on your fears.
Last tip: I really love this one a lot.
I like to get specific here, like thinking of deciduous trees and their natural cycles of change through the seasons, or a rose bush.
Whenever I take the pruning sheers to my fruit trees or to the rose bushes, I kind of imagine what the rose bush might be thinking, and I bet it does not LOVE the idea that it’s pruning time.
Yes, I give non-human things, human characteristics sometimes. It’s fine.
But I also imagine the rose bush knows I have its best interest at heart. And in the spring, the rose bush thanks me with its beautiful blooms, and those blossoms are possible because the pruning, the change made it possible to send its strength to its root system, to its foundation. And the change is what made it stronger.
And so we can do this too, we can know and realize that the good will come back around in a new package and we can believe this on purpose if we want, if we make the effort to think this way, if we try.
Perhaps the rose bush goes through a little bit of a grief cycle in the fall when I prune it. That’s okay.
We have to allow ourselves to go through a gentle grief cycle too, because resisting sadness makes it want to fight harder to stay.
But once we see the bigger picture of what is possible, what could be going on when things change, we might be able to see that changes also have their gifts.
Some changes might be easier to see the gifts than others.
But overall, there will be gifts to find, if we can be open to seeing it.
And so that’s what I’m inviting you to do when life presents itself with changes and you don’t want those changes, try to direct your thinking to the possibilities of what the change will bring into your life that could be a gift.
All of this brings us full circle to the most useful skill of all - cultivating acceptance - when dealing with change. Arguing with change causes even more pain. But learning to accept it, that’s where the growth can really take root and yield some beautiful fruits. The process takes time. Inviting some grace into the process is powerful. I hope these tips -
Will help you allow a little grace into the process of changes you are facing. Subscribe to the newsletter here. I will continue to share tips on change and more.
Have a beautiful day my friends.
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