Friday, May 29, 2009

What You Can Learn When You Stop Fearing Change

WebMD Feature from "Redbook" Magazine

By Kristyn Kusek Lewis

From layoffs to security threats, we live in a crazy and scary world. You could just pray for calmer times — or learn to love the occasionally wild ride.

Life, as you may have noticed, is one great big roller-coaster ride. From job changes (planned or not) to turn-your-world-upside-down milestones like marriage and motherhood, there's no end to the twists and turns you face through the years. And these days, what with headlines constantly reminding you about the shaky economy or latest terrorist threat, that ride through life can seem scarier than ever.

But consider this: Maybe feeling a little unsteady is actually a good thing. "We're brought up to believe that we should do everything we can to live tidy, predictable lives: Map out what you want! Have a five-year plan!" says life coach Gail Blanke, author of Throw Out Fifty Things. "But the truth is that you miss some of the best parts of life by living like that." In fact, notes Blanke, it's the in-between, uncertain times, the moments when you're tempted to just pull the covers over your head, that can teach you the most about yourself and help you grow — if you let them. Below, Blanke takes you through four scenarios that can rock your world in the best way possible.

You're shaken up by a major life change, like getting married or becoming a parent.

Big milestones aren't just about taking the next step (and taking lots of photos to mark the occasion!); they can also challenge your long-held beliefs about who you are. "The thing about getting married or having a baby is that it's not like putting a new lamp in the living room — it changes everything," says Blanke. As scary as it is to look at your life and realize that it bears almost no resemblance to your former existence, the best thing you can do is stop fighting those uneasy feelings. "I like to say that you should 'lean into' the change," says Blanke. "Instead of worrying, Who am I now? think of it as an opportunity to wonder, Who could I becomenow?"

One way to turn an identity crisis into an exciting metamorphosis is to develop a student mentality — meaning, take time to notice what you're learning about yourself in your new life. Ask, What am I discovering about myself now that I never would have otherwise? Maybe living with a spouse is showing you how to be more flexible. Perhaps caring for a colicky newborn is teaching you patience. Or maybe you know you're changing, but you have no idea how — and that's okay too. Going through an identity shift is huge, and it shouldn't feel as easy as getting used to a new haircut.

The point is, transitions are tough, but it's easier to uncover the lessons they have to offer if you stop thinking that you should know how to play your role from the start. Do your best to go with the flow, and in time, your new life will become second nature. As Blanke points out, "Remember what Charles Darwin said: It's not the strongest or the smartest of the species that survives, but the ones who can best adapt to change!"

You're having a career crisis.

Maybe you're in a dead-end job, or you're feeling uninspired by your 9-to-5, or you're perpetually worried that you might be pushed out by downsizing. Work woes can make it seem like your whole world is out of whack — but you don't have to succumb to that feeling. "Somebody made up this thing called a 'career path' where you just climb up the ladder, straight as a stick, and then — bam! — Florida!" says Blanke. "But I'm not sure that's such a great arrangement. Veering off course can be just what you need to unearth an entire new set of options for yourself."

One way to explore those options is to create your own think tank. "I have a client who was laid off from her job in the banking industry," says Blanke. "She gathered her good friends and former colleagues and asked them to tell her what they think her unique talents and attributes are." The point of this exercise, Blanke says, isn't to suddenly decide that you're going to become a pastry chef or head off to law school, but to brainstorm about your distinctive passions and skills. It shifts your perspective from, What should I do? to There's a world of possibilities out there."

You're worried about terrorism, your safety, and the state of the world.

rollercoaster.jpgHere's a situation where we pretend to know the end of the story before we finish the book," says Blanke. "We really burden ourselves by imagining the worst possible things that could happen to us, but that serves no purpose beyond making ourselves afraid." Fear, says Blanke, stands for "False Evidence Appearing Real" — meaning that we let our worries eat at us to the point where we believe that the worst-case scenarios are our realities.

The problem with this mind-set (besides, of course, feeling anxious and on edge 24/7) is that it blinds you to all the good things that happen every day. The antidote: "Develop the fine art of editing in your life," advises Blanke. "Get up every morning and ask yourself, What kind of news am I going to let into my world today? What am I going to listen to? What am I going to talk about?" This doesn't mean that you stick your head in the sand — obviously, it's important to stay informed — but that you keep a watchful eye on the kind of information you feed your mind. Do you fixate on negative stories? Do your conversations run pessimistic? If you tend to concentrate on the negative, see if you can pare down your daily doom-and-gloom intake (read one fewer bad-economy forecast in favor of something more helpful, like a smart money management story) so that you can open yourself up to more hope and optimism.

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