Saturday, May 23, 2009

20 Quick Tips for Surviving Change You Didn’t Ask For

1. Focus on the solution, not the problem. Because society rewards analytic thinking, we believe that identifying the cause of our troubles is the answer: Why is this happening? That’s a starting point, but don’t spend too much time there. What are you going to do about where you are?

2. Because feeling in control is so crucial to resilience, and unasked-for-change can leave us feeling very out of control, try asking yourself this question during the day: What am I free to choose right now?

3. What if you don’t believe you have the confidence or talent to find a solution? Pretend you do. Turns out that “fake it till you make it” has validity in brain science—the thoughts you hold and actions you take really do create new pathways in your brain. “As we act, so we become,” as Sharon Begley puts it in Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain.

4. Find things to laugh about. People who thrive during change work their funny bones. Says psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, “Thrivers’ happiness is not dependent on external factors or life circumstances alone. It derives from their chosen state of consciousness and ability to cheer themselves up when things are looking down.” Laughter has been shown to relieve stress, lower blood pressure, and improve breathing as well as mood. Best of all is when we can laugh at ourselves for not being perfect or when we hit some road block in the direction we wanted to go. It helps us stay lighthearted and resourceful.

5. Celebrate success along the way, no matter how small: a new connection, a possible lead, a small savings. Give yourself credit for moving forward in a difficult situation. At the end of the day, look at what you’ve done and celebrate whatever accomplishment you can. Celebration creates positive energy and forward momentum.

6. When considering options, before you say something won’t work, consider how it might work. Try it on for a while.

7. Focus on a positive future. Ricki Lake put it this way: “When I went through challenges in my life…I told myself, `Focus on where you’ll be a year from now.’ It helps to know that, in time, the hard parts will be water under the bridge.” I’d modify that to, focus on where you want to be a year from now (otherwise you can scare yourself with all kinds of terrible futures). Then ask what actions you need to take today to make that positive future happen.

8. Breathe slowly and deeply. Shallow breathing is a sign that you are in fight or flight mode, where you are not in touch with all of your resources to handle this change. A few conscious slow and deep breaths, especially if you also relax your muscles as much as possible, tells the part of your brain responsible for fight or flight that you’re not in danger and so it calms down. Then you’re able to think more clearly, widely, and deeply. To test if you’re breathing deeply, put one hand on your chest, the other on your belly. Take a breath in and out. Are both hands moving? If only the top one is, see if you can get the bottom one going as well.

9. Direct your complaints upward. Sometimes all we can do when faced with a challenging change is to cry out to the heavens, “Help me!” That’s what AA is all about—turning your problem over to a Higher Power, however you understand that to be, so that you aren’t so alone in the difficulty. Writes Carol Orsborn in her book The Art of Resilience, “You don’t have to believe that this works for it to be effective.” Give it a try.

10. Get out and help someone else. As Studs Terkel put it in one of his last interviews, “Once you become active helping others, you feel alive. You don’t feel, ‘it’s my fault.’ You become a different person. And others are changed too.” When we focus on someone else’s problems, we put our own in perspective. Plus we take a break from worrying about ourselves, which is always a good thing. A friend who was in a California fire zone last summer emailed me during the time it wasn’t clear whether she lost her house, saying, “If we focus on helping others, panic diminishes.” Absolutely!

11. Find someone in the same situation to help and pay attention to what you suggest they do. One of your best resources is the advice you give others. Be sure to follow your own suggestions.

12. With apologies to those of us who shun it, thirty minutes of aerobic activity daily is still the best way, experts say, to counteract the stress of change.

13. Encourage yourself along the way as you would a child running a race—“You can do it! You’re doing well!” This positive self talk has been found to increase what psychologists call agency—the belief you can get where you want to go.

14. If you find yourself worrying all the time, set aside a fifteen-minute worry time, say 5 p.m. every day. Then when your mind starts worrying at other times, tell yourself it’s not worry time and distract yourself—read a good book, do a puzzle, something that occupies your mind.

15. If you find yourself having to do things you’d rather not, make sure that you also do things you love on a regular basis: my friend Annette traces her family tree ’cause she loves genealogy, Andy plays the piano, I read novels. Passionate interests give zest to life during change. They don’t have to be expensive.

16. Be sure to thank those who help along the way. Gratefulness is good for your mind, body, and spirit, and it increases the possibility that you will continue to receive assistance.

17. What really matters here? That’s a question that will help you keep the change in proportion. A woman who lost her house was told by her minister that what she needed was a home, not a house. It helped her move to a rental with greater peace and perspective.

18. Hang out with happy people. A large new twenty-year study by Harvard medical sociologist Nicholas Christakis shows that happiness is contagious, spreading from one person to nearby family members, neighbors, and friends. One happy person can increase the happiness of others he or she comes into contact with by 8 to 36 percent, and the effect can last up to a year. Ride on the uplift of others. It will give you the energy to keep on.

19. Quakers are taught to look for “way open” to know if they should pursue something and “way closed” to give up. That means they look for the open door to indicate which way to go and if they encounter too many obstacles, they conclude it wasn’t meant to be. That’s a good strategy for all of us coping with change. Yes, you should be focused on what you want, but if all pathways to a goal are blocked, perhaps that’s a message to give up and pursue something else entirely. As Anthony D’Angelo says, “Never let your persistence and passion turn into stubbornness and ignorance.”

20. Focus on the positive qualities you have to face this change. I recently got my town newsletter and in it, an administrator named Audrey Lee wrote, “The year ahead may be lean in fiscal resources, but I know we are rich in energy, talent, commitment and momentum.” I instantly knew the town was in good hands. The more we pay attention to the resources we have to cope, the better we will do, particularly when we ask ourselves how we can use our energy, talent, commitment, and momentum to succeed.

Excerpted from Adaptability: How to Survive Change You Didn’t Ask For


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