My favorite line about change is one I saw a few years ago on the sign at a church near my house. It said, “When you change how you look at things, the way things look changes.” I love mulling over that line — it’s all about perspective, isn’t it?
Sometimes we choose to change, sometimes we expect change, and sometimes change is thrust upon us. But how we deal with it, from person to person or situation to situation, runs the gamut from graciousness to grumpiness to downright kicking-and-screaming resistance. The only constants are that change will happen and that we have a choice in how we react to it.
All change is potentially stressful, even if we welcome it, because it throws us off balance and out of our comfort zone. But since we cannot grow in our comfort zone, the ability to see change as a challenge or an opportunity has a lot of potential. It depends on what kind of meaning we attach to the change.
Daniel Gilbert, in his book, Stumbling on Happiness, wrote that “When the experience we are having is not the experience we want to be having, our first reaction is to go out and have a different one…It is only when we cannot change the experience that we look for ways to change our view of the experience…We find silver linings only when we must…”
Another way to change our view of experiences is to cultivate equanimity, or calmness. In the August 2010 issue of Yoga Journal, Frank Jude Boccio talked about this quality of equanimity . It is a “state of even-minded openness that allows for a balanced, clear response to all situations, rather than a response born of reactivity or emotion.” In other words, developing this quality within ourselves enables us see the truth of our circumstances more clearly, and to deal with them more appropriately.
An important aspect of cultivating equanimity is recognizing that we can’t control everything, much as we might want to. So it helps us accept the things that cannot be changed, as well as the things that aren’t important enough to change. It helps curb our tendencies to judge and resist the way things are.
Conversely, there are times when we want to make changes, and we rush to do too much at once. The starting point for all change is accepting where we are, and believing in our ability to change and to accomplish our goals. The most achievable goals involve small steps that, one after another, add up to big change. I always tell the people I work with at health fairs not to change too much at one time. Wait for one small change to become a habit, and then move on to something else.
Herbert Benson says that “change in our lives, because of our wiring and conditioned responses, is gradual and cumulative.” If you learned one way of doing something, you can unlearn it, but it will take time. So take a breath along with that first small step, and be patient with yourself.