It’s time to talk about change. I’m not talking about national campaign agendas or world peace or equality or restoration of the constitution or any of the pressing issues that are featured in the tabloids and news websites. I’m talking about the changes we experience on a personal level throughout our lives. Change is undoubtedly hard. Our human nature encourages us to maintain an inertial groove that we have established for ourselves. We hardly discuss the mechanisms that are necessary to deal with change, and especially the methods that we use to deal with change that can actually optimize our lives during change.
We often experience change. Throughout our entire lives we move through school, changing grades every year with new teachers, new material, and possibly new classmates that we see everyday. Some people may have experienced more profound changes, like moving schools, houses, or even states. We experience change when we switch jobs, learn something new, or gain failure or success. Our lives are constant waves of change, sometimes small and unnoticeable and other times crashing, extraordinary waves. I think our reactions to change largely determine what we gain throughout the experience.
I speak from a very personal experience with change right now. Nothing in my life right now is as it was this time last year. For the first time in 17 years I had to leave my family vacation early, I flew home alone and stayed at my house alone washing my clothes and packing myself to move away for the summer, I am not being in my hometown for the summer (for the first time in my life), I am living with people I have never met in a place I have never lived doing something I have never done. I am experiencing one of those crashing, extraordinary waves of change. I have learned a few things about change that have really modified the way I both approach change and deal with it.
The first thing involves perspective and the second involves emotions. When it comes to change in life I feel there are many ways to view it. The two most important ones for me personally are terms I have identified as reflective perspective and progressive perspective.
Reflective perspective puts your vision in the past, focusing on the ways in which your life is different now than what it was previously. Reflective perspective invites feelings of nostalgia, past memories, and often times, homesickness. This type of mindset encourages you to compare your life during change to your life pre-change and can entice feelings of anxiety, worry, and uncertainty. I think reflection is really important but not at the brink of change. A reflective perspective means that you are constantly contrasting your past to your present, and with it the person you were then, the people you had around you, and the experiences that you had during that time. You live in the past and find yourself yearning for that time. Reflective perspective can make change seem inconvenient and negative.
Progressive perspective is the vision of where this change is taking you. Although not all changes are necessarily positive, their outcomes can always be. Progressive perspective means that you are controlling your change and not letting it control you. When we experience great movements of transition we typically feel helpless and out of control. A progressive perspective means that you view the change as what you can extract out of it for the future. Instead of the change compromising what you had in the past, you actively use it as a tool to enhance your future. Progressive perspectives rely on comparing your current situation during the change to where you are headed in the future. I have found progressive perspective to give a more positive aspect on change. Although it is surely scary sometimes to imagine where life is traveling towards, it is important to be watching out the front window towards the future than staring blindly through the back.
I mentioned emotions as another important part of handing change. I want to briefly mention this and plan on writing about it another time because it is very important to me and has transformed the way I hold myself towards my emotions. Emotions are entirely controllable. 100%. We are thinking humans with the ability and the capacity to manage our emotions. Emotions are these tricky little things that can really alter the way we behave and view our world. Emotions can send someone from smiling and laughing into a raging fit of anger. They can turn a truly enjoyable experience into one that is anxiety-inducing. When you learn that you have control over how you feel towards certain things you can learn how to create the best possible outcomes for those things. I’ll give an example.
You get a new job at a new place. When you arrive, you keep thinking about the old job and the people that you will miss and the memories that you have there. The people at your new job are kind, welcoming, and attempt to make conversation. You are so consumed with feeling sadness for the loss of your old job (reflective perspective) that you are incapable of allowing the future to come into play. You then decide that this is your new job and you feel excited to have the opportunity. You make friends and decide that you can use this to strengthen your portfolio and gain skills for your future (progressive perspective). Throughout all of this, you have fleeting emotions of anxiety, worry, joy, contentment, excitement, and uncertainty. I don’t think you should suppress these very real emotions, in fact I think they are a fundamental human trait; however, I don’t think you should allow emotions to control your perspective. Feel them, acknowledge them, but then remember your ultimate goal is to embrace the change and maintain a steady emotional peace. Truly experiencing and allowing these emotions to capture your mind will feel like a roller coaster during times of immense change. Just food for thought (and discussion) on the importance and adaptability of emotions and our control as humans over them.
I am going through change right now with my research internship. It is new, exciting, overwhelming, encouraging, and has required some shifts in perspective and emotions. I cannot wait to experience the next ten weeks, accompanied by all of the failures and successes that I will encounter. I know that change is inevitable but with mindfulness and contemplation, there is a best way we can all seek and attain optimal joy, fulfillment, and happiness.