Change—whether big or small—is an integral part of life. In fact, you have probably heard the expression, “The only constant is change.” Just because change is so common, does not make it easy, especially when faced with an unexpected or unwelcomed change.
Changes that take you by surprise can be particularly difficult to navigate, and are usually accompanied by a flood of emotions. It is human nature to resist change, and the default reaction to it can be fear, doubt, and other unhelpful emotions.
There are other ways to respond to change, rather than being paralyzed by it or actively resisting it, and mindfulness is the key to helping you navigate and manage change in a more positive and productive way.
Mindfulness and Change
How does mindfulness help you manage change—and even flourish under it? You can’t stop change but you can learn to manage uncertainty. With mindfulness, you can learn to react to uncertainty with acceptance and become more aware of what is actually taking place—your emotions and reactions included. This type of acknowledgement and acceptance allows you to adapt more quickly to shifting conditions.
The stress associated with change comes from a concern about the future. We all want things to remain as they are because they are familiar and you want to feel secure about the future. When there is uncertainty, your mind might jump into “what if?” thinking, fearing the worst. Your tendency to meet uncertain times with fear and anxiety can make it difficult for you to deal with the situation you actually face in the present moment.
The challenges you face will not go away when you are anxious and concerned about the future. Fear and anxiety tell you that things are not as they should be, causing you to close yourself down when you perceive change as a threat. However, this way of dealing with change can often become your biggest roadblock to overcoming it.
You can learn to replace the cycle of concern and in turn, steer your perception of change toward a more positive and open-minded light. With mindfulness, you can learn to see changing conditions with new eyes; you can be adaptive, creative, and solution-focused even in the most challenging times.
Here are some ways you can incorporate mindfulness into the steps of change.
1. Accept the Fact that Change Will Happen
Change is one of those universal truths … it is inevitable. It will happen no matter how much you don’t want it to because the universe is in a constant state of flux. Fighting against this truth will only make it harder for yourself. You have the choice to willingly accept change or not. Most of us have a hard time accepting it because change seems chaotic and unpredictable, but the truth is that change is one of the most predictable occurrences in your life.
By being mindful, you can practice accepting this truth. This doesn't mean that you have to love the change in the moment, it just means accepting it as a part of a healthy process. Since your thoughts and emotions around change are often triggered by a fracture in your expectations of the status-quo, you can work to mindfully expect change. By reinforcing the notion that change is inevitable, you can adapt to future changes as matter of course and minimize any initial resistance.
2. Notice Your Thoughts and Feelings Toward Change
Change can be perceived as good or bad—it is all relative to the observer. Your response to change always starts as a series of thoughts and emotions, which are often auto responses to a situation where your expectations are not met. Without being mindful of these automatic responses, you can fall victim to the thought patterns, which in turn lead to preset emotional responses.
Remember, you are not your thoughts. You are the observer of your thoughts and can ultimately choose to attach to them or not. Being mindful of your thoughts and emotions during change can help you retake control of the driver seat and shift the way you respond to change.
Start by fully understanding your current thoughts about the change. You may be excited, hesitant, angry, fearful, anxious, or ambivalent to the change. You may have multiple feelings or conflicting thoughts about the change and are unsure how you will react. Take some quiet, reflective time to think about the change and write down your thoughts:
- What is going through my mind right now?
- What am I feeling during this period of change?
Journaling or writing your thoughts, emotions, and observations is a great tool to help you become more mindful and present. It can also be a useful way to develop a plan to constructively work through change. Write down everything that is going through your mind and don’t worry about format or content. Putting things down on paper helps clear your mind and become more present. Once you have thoughts written down, you can reflect on them and ask yourself more refined and productive questions.
When journaling over a period of time, don’t forget to look back through your entries and see if you can identify habitual and debilitating thought patterns.
If the feelings you are experiencing about the change are more than you want to sit with on your own, call up a friend, family member, coach, or therapist. Talking through your feelings and thoughts with others can be very therapeutic, and can often give you the clarity you need to move forward in the right way.
3. List the Ways the Change Will Affect You
Whether you view the change positively or negatively, you are going to ask yourself how it will affect you, which is a great way to move forward. The impact could range from small to large, and will depend upon the scope of the change, the adjustments you will have to make, and how quickly it will need to be done. Anticipating how this change will impact you will help you manage your expectations and adapt effectively.
Your change impact assessment may start off with all negative ways in which the change will affect you, but search for the potential positive impacts, too. Often with change comes opportunity, so try and view the change from different perspectives. You will often find that there are positive outcomes in what you initially perceived as a negative change.
For example, say your company is changing your current role. Is there opportunity for you to learn new skills in the new position? To connect with different people in a meaningful way? Or is it time to find a new dream job? Be mindful and take the time to process the “actuals” of the change and their realistic effect on you vs. the fear-driven “what if’s?” If you recognize that you are stuck with a negative filter and have trouble coming up with potential positive impacts, ask a friend to help you brainstorm.
By understanding the potential implications of the change, you can adapt to it in a more thoughtful way.
4. Adapt Yourself to the Change
The more adaptive and flexible you are, the easier it will be to navigate through life’s inevitable changes. Are you holding on to self-limiting beliefs about yourself? Are you hurting yourself and your potential for growth because you are holding on too tight to old ways of being? Change is so much easier when you let go and go with it rather than battle against it.
Adaptation is a great skill to have when it comes to change. Ask yourself how you can change something in yourself or in your life to help balance your current predicament and relieve some of the self-imposed barriers. Is there something in your attitude, your routine, or your thinking that can be more flexible and adaptive?
5. Consciously Decide on the Path Forward
The best way to not get overwhelmed by change is to break your path forward into smaller, actionable items. By now you will know the scope of the change and the ways in which you must adapt in order to move forward. This may involve you identifying any potential obstacles, as well as brainstorming as many possible solutions as you can to help you overcome them.
Take time to evaluate each solution for its likelihood of success. Then take your best solutions and develop a plan for putting them into action—one step at a time.
6. Practice Meditation
As you build your toolbox for moving through change, make sure to add meditation as a go-to support tool. It will not only help you on your journey of change if you get overwhelmed or stuck, it will also help you find a place of acceptance.
Don’t let the feeling of being overwhelmed stop you from meditating. On the contrary, use meditation as a way to be present with those emotions. Sit and let your mind and body see and feel without judgment, and practice being an observer of your response to change. You will often step away from your practice with a clear path forward.
It is human nature to fear change. Breaking up what you know as routine is often uncomfortable and destabilizing, but by practicing mindfulness, you can be more in control of navigating the ups and downs of change with an open heart and positive mindset.