How to Flow with Changes Instead of Getting Stuck

One of the things that we do in my Tai Chi class, is to find a tree when the wind is blowing, pick a branch, and mimic its back and forth motions. The original practice asks that you find a Willow tree, because of its long, flowy branches, and its deep roots, but not everyone has those nearby. If you’re using a different type of tree, when you’re first learning to do this, it’s easier to find a longer or higher branch that is swaying more slowly. As you sink into it, the movements become meditative. Doing this practice is relaxing, but it also teaches us to be strongly rooted yet able to go with the flow of things, despite sudden changes in the wind.

This is a good lesson for us to remember, especially right now.  

This is an unprecedented time of change for a lot of people right now. Not just in the things that are going on in the world, but in the things that are going on in our personal worlds. We are being asked to adjust on an almost daily basis. When we start to relax a little, and feel slightly more comfortable about our “new normal”, our snow globe is shaken again. For a lot of people, this is a terror inducing reality. Others are learning to see it as an opportunity to improve, get rid of the old (stuff, habits, jobs, etc.), and move into a new way of living. Where do you find yourself on this spectrum?

It may not feel like it right now, but we are all being given the chance to improve our lives. We’re being taught to be more fluid, to adapt more quickly to the things that happen around us. Instead of getting complacent, we are being asked to always seek the new and positive in our lives.

Things are changing all around us and I want to help all of us be more ok – dare I say, excited – about these changes. I want to help us look for the positives that are all around us.

Why is change so hard for some of us? Even good changes seem to create a blockage deep within that causes us issues.

A couple of weeks ago I found myself with extreme pain in my neck and shoulder. It was hurting to the point that I couldn’t turn my head. I had been super tired up to that point, burning the candle at both ends, and trying to keep up with everything we had going on. In trying to relieve the pain I watched Chris Shelton’s video, “Neck and Shoulder Pain – DIY Home Healing”. In it he talks about how pain in our neck and shoulder’s is most often emotions that are trapped. At one point he said, “if you can’t move your head, what is it that you’re refusing to see, or look at”. I suddenly realized that I was subconsciously fighting some of the changes that we were making.

The things that were changing, were all making things better in our lives. But, because I was still somewhat resisting the changes, my body saw them as a bad thing.

If change is the only thing that is constant in life, what can we do to accept it and flow through it more gracefully?

First, by understanding that we are not in control of most things that happen in our lives.

We think we are, we can convince ourselves daily that we are, until something big happens to show us that we aren’t. That’s the main reason that times of uncertainty are so scary for us: we’re all of a sudden are faced with the fact that we don’t control the things and people around us and we’re not sure how to handle it.

If we could recognize this fact BEFORE the big things happen, then most big things wouldn’t seem so big. Most big things would just seem like another day.

I was reading a travel blog a few months ago, Adventures in Wonderland, and found a quote that summed this up well:

“We are constantly stepping off of a cliff into the unknown. So is everyone really, but if you stay in one place it’s not as obvious.”

They travel all over the world. In their travels, as with any travel, things don’t always work out as they are supposed to. Plans change, flights change, rooms are not what they imagined they might be, or they suddenly don’t have a place to stay at all, and so on. Their lives are in a constant state of change. What Alison was saying here is that, really, everyone’s life is in a constant state of change, but they don’t notice it because they have a routine.

Every day of our lives, things within us and around us are changing. We’re growing older, we’re learning new things, our job descriptions and titles change, we move, we paint, we get new cars, we get something different at the grocery store because they are out of what we originally went for. Think for a moment about the changes that you are going through. Now imagine those changes for billions of people. How could we possibly think that we can control what is happening to each and every one of those people? More than that, why would we want to?

We can only control how we react to what is happening around us, how we treat people, and how we handle ourselves.

Have you ever heard the phrase, “Not my circus, not my monkeys”? I’m not sure who said it first, but the first time I heard it something clicked in my brain. There are a whole lot of things in this world that we are trying to control, that aren’t ours to control. We are responsible for one thing and one thing only: ourselves. (I’m speaking to those that are adults  – I know parents have to take care of children) Our job in this life is to monitor how we respond to people, how we treat people, and how we treat ourselves. Otherwise it’s not our barrel of monkeys.

Reminding myself of this (on an almost daily basis for a while) helped me to release a lot of the responsibility that I felt for other people’s emotions, and issues. Once I stopped worrying so much about these things, I was able to embrace change more easily. I wasn’t constantly worrying about how things would affect other people. I still took others into consideration (that falls under “how we treat others”), but I knew that when changes happened, I was no longer responsible for trying to control things to prevent someone else from being uncomfortable or upset.

Which brings us to the second thing: we often avoid change because it feels uncomfortable.

Change bring about scenarios that, maybe, we’ve been avoiding for a long time.

For instance: You’ve been wanting to get another job, but you’ve been putting it off because there’s never really been a good time to make the switch to a different one. You’re worried that you may end up having to move if you get a new job, and you really don’t want to face having to sell your house and pack everything up. You’re worried that you’re not good enough to really do any other job, especially the one that you’ve dreamed about doing. You know that you’re miserable where you are, but you’re not willing to make the move. One day, you walk into work and your boss announces that your company is closing its doors. You have less than a month to find a new job. Suddenly, along with the task of finding a new job, you are faced with all of these emotions that you’ve been pushing back all this time. If you had taken the time to work through these feelings, and make moves before “the big thing” happened, things would be much easier on you now.

When we know that we need to make a move in life, and we put off doing so because it might be uncomfortable, it doesn’t help things. Generally, it makes things harder on us.  

Listening to our intuition can help us to make moves before things go off the rails.

Sometimes it doesn’t make sense at the time, the things that our intuition tells us to do. This is especially true when we are asked to make big leaps of faith in life – moving or quitting a job, without really having a good reason to for example. But, as things progress, we often see the benefits of following that inner voice.

I’ve personally seen this play out several times in my life. A big one, was me leaving a job that paid well, that I really enjoyed doing overall, where I had great bosses. I had been feeling that intuitive nudge to leave for a few months, but I kept pushing it away. I kept asking myself, “Why would I leave this job? The pay is awesome, what I do isn’t that hard, the schedule is basically whatever I want it to be, and I’ve always enjoyed it”. That nudge kept getting stronger and stronger until finally, I took the leap and quit. The rush of relief that I felt after doing that was huge. I didn’t realize just how stressed out I had been trying to figure it all out. On top of that, several things happened over the next few months that showed me what a good choice I had made in leaving.  

Another thing that has helped me to be more open to change is using the word “transition” instead of the word “change”.

Both words essentially mean the same thing. In our minds though, the word transition sounds slower and more positive. The word change, for most people, has more negative connotations. It seems daunting and fast.

Whether these changes are happening over the course of a year, or overnight, this simple word swap can trick our minds just enough to ease some of the stress. When we get a new job we can say, “I’m transitioning to a new position”, rather than, “I’m changing jobs”.

When we ease the stress that we’re feeling in relation to a changing situation, we are more able to see the positive aspects, rather than focusing on all of the negatives.

In the same way, taking care of ourselves – giving ourselves time to rest, time to deal with and release negative emotions, time to play – is important because it gives us the ability to see things with more clarity.

We’ve all had times when we’re exhausted, overwhelmed, stressed out, and we don’t react so gracefully when things around us begin to change. If we haven’t slept well in several nights, we probably aren’t going to be on our A game. Most of the time when we’re feeling like this, we are in survival mode; we’re doing what we have to, to get through life. In this state of mind, change is not a welcome thing because we are already at our breaking point. When change arises, all we can see is the extra work that we’re going to have to do, and we’re already running on empty.

Taking the time to care for ourselves, physically, mentally, and emotionally, is not selfish. It benefits the greater good by allowing us to be at our very best. When we can get out into the world, do our best, live our dreams, smile and spread kindness, we create a better world for everyone who lives in it.

We can go through life with the ability to adapt to change, rather than resisting it. We give ourselves the rare gift of seeing change as a blessing instead of a curse.

Not only can we learn to see change as a good thing, we can also learn to promote those changes in our lives that we know will benefit us in the long run.

If we’re frozen with fear at the thought of change, then we aren’t likely to initiate anything that would change our current status quo. This is true, even if those changes would benefit us greatly.

Imagine that you are offered the job of your dreams. If you refuse change at all cost, then you aren’t going to take this job, even if it’s handed to you on a silver platter. You will find some reason to turn it down – it’s not the right time, the money isn’t as good, I may end up hating it, I don’t think I’m qualified to do it – because you are afraid of the changes that it will bring.  

If we’re not going to accept our dream job when it’s dropped in our laps, then we certainly aren’t going to seek out ways to change our lives and make that dream job a reality.

Viewing change as something that can help us, we begin to seek it out more and more. Instead of staying in jobs, relationships, and places that we hate, we see the benefits of moving in a different direction.

The best way to start on the path to accepting change is to start small.

Make small changes in your life and work your way up. Each time we make a change, and we see that we’re ok, we gain confidence. If you continue doing this, before you know it, your ideas of change will have shifted. You may not even realize it, until something big comes along and it doesn’t bother you like it used to. You’ll find yourself going with the flow more often, instead of constantly worrying about what is coming next. It’s not always easy and, like anything else, it does take practice, but the rewards are worth it.  

“The only way to make sense out of change, is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.” – Alan Watts

Changes will keep happening, whether we like it or not, whether we’re prepared to deal with them or not. If we can make our lives easier by learning to “join the dance”, why not try it?