Monday, April 11, 2011

Settle for Change

“People wish to be settled; but it is only as far as they are unsettled that there is any hope for them.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson


March 2011 The other night I noticed something different in the air. The smell of sweet honeysuckle consuming every breath I took. And then I remembered—it’s March. Spring is only a few weeks away.

The American Heritage dictionary defines the word “spring” as “a time of growth and renewal.”  The verb form is “to move upward or forward in a single quick motion or a series of such motions; leap.” Interesting how this season implies so much about change.

But change is often terrifying. There is comfort in the predictable. There is security in structure. There is peace in the known. But life isn’t any of the above.  Life has one constant: change.

Emerson’s quote invites the notion of change. He implies that being “unsettled” means there is more hope.  But we are wired to be settled. And society tells us to settle. We’re told in school to “settle down.” And we’re told to grow up and be ready to “settle” with someone one day. Plans are good. Structure is good. Goals are good.

Maybe what Emerson is trying to convey is what we think should be done, and the consistency and comfort we get from the known, leaves more to be desired. Change can be an anxiety-provoking concept, but it can also create new experiences, alternative perceptions, new goals, and the hope that no matter what, one thing is for sure: things can change.
The Holmes & Rahe Stress Scale lists 43 life events that are considered stressful enough to lower one’s immunity. Interestingly, many of the life changes on the scale are presumably joyful events like marriage, personal achievement, vacationing, and even Christmas. It’s clear that even positive changes can have a negative impact.

Often, change makes us resort to not-so-great behaviors like eating, drinking or sleeping more or less than usual, being irritable, watching more TV, procrastinating, etc. So, how do we make change more tolerable? How do we settle for the unsettling?

One action to take is to practice setting healthy boundaries. Good boundaries are limits that make things more manageable. An example would be when you are overwhelmed, being able to say no. “No” can be a very powerful word when life seems like too much. Create a list of things that you need to set better boundaries around and make the decision to stand by them. For instance, if you just had a job transition, what scenarios are you not willing to accept? What if your boss asks you to work unexpected days/hours? Or, if you’re going through a divorce or break-up, how much contact do you want with your ex? Making a list will help you through the process. You will develop the skill to set better boundaries and to know how and when to apply them in various areas of your life.

You can also remind yourself of things you enjoy or once enjoyed.  Reframe change in your life to allow for self-discovery. Instead of “I can’t believe this is happening. I’m going to lose my mind,” you can think, “This sucks, but now I’m going to take the time to find and do things I enjoy so I can keep my sanity.” The experience might urge you to do things you had never made time for in the past. Exercise, read, have dinner with friends, start up that blog, take that trip, journal, rent a movie, and so on. Do something for you. Make the opportunity to enjoy the change.  Explore something new. Embrace the unknown. Accept the unsettled. And notice how allowing change into your life can bring hope for new (maybe better?) alternatives.

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