Zeke has a friend coming for a sleepover. This is a common occurrence, no big deal. However, when I mentioned that this sleepover would be a screen-free evening, doom and gloom filled the air.Continue reading “Through a glass darkly”
I was running my slow pace early this morning when this song came on. It’s one of my current favorites and most of the time I sing along without thinking much about it.Continue reading “These days, I’m singing all the love songs to myself”
The balance of acceptance and intention is so important.
It’s walking with two hands open: in one hand, complete acceptance of what is, as it is. In the other hand, clear, pure, focused, white-hot desire of what I will to be.Continue reading “All of us in this moment”
When we moved to Puerto Rico, we left behind a strong, connected community.
Well, we’d already left behind a community, in a sense, when we let go of the church. But we still had friendships and connections. Our relationship with that community had lessened, shifted significantly, but it was still there.
We also had a lot of family in the area. Lifelong/since-middle-school best friends. A decade’s worth of professional connections. A little neighborhood quorum of families. And a hybrid, hilarious, immensely supportive group from all sorts of backgrounds who came together once a month for potluck dinners.
Our first year in Puerto Rico felt, in comparison, like a friendship desert.Continue reading “Community expands to fill the space we give it”
Requirements to sustain life: not much, really.
Water. That’s important.
Food. Also important. But we don’t need a special kind of food. Any kind of food will do. Any kind of food will keep us alive. Yes, there are a few exceptions. You can’t live on peanuts if you have a deathly peanut allergy, obvs. But those are—what?—the exceptions. Exceptions don’t invalidate a principle; they just show its limits.
What else? What else do we need to live?
We need protection from the elements: shelter of some kind. Warmth when it’s cold. A cool place when it’s too hot. Some protection from the extremes of nature. But it doesn’t have to be fancy. It doesn’t even have to be ours. Shared, basic, dirty, clean, small, large, it doesn’t matter. And we need the kind of shelter that we wear: clothes, shoes. Again, any kind will do. It just needs to be functional to, well, function.
That’s it. Those are the basic requirements of life.
There are other things we need sometimes: care and medicine if we’re sick, assistance and aid if we’re injured or incapacitated. Those are situational needs for most of us. They come, they go.
Sustaining life requires very little.
So what’s all the fuss? All the work? All the effort for more, more, more? Is it about need?
Sometimes, sure! Sometimes we’re in a situation that requires more than usual.
But most of the time? No. It’s not about need. It’s about the illusion of need.
I live, currently, in a three-bedroom, one-bath apartment with my husband and our four kids. We’re looking for a bigger place, because one bathroom and six people is kind of awful.
But do we need it? No. We do not need a bigger home. We can believe in the illusion of need. We can come up with all sorts of reasons, and validate them by comparison and logic. Logic! Logic is such a great tool, so handy for justifying all the extra work we have to do to get all the things we think we need.
We don’t need that much.
We want more, don’t we? Yes! We want so much more.
Water and cold water and sparkling water and frozen water to put inside my non-frozen water! Also, I’d like things to add to my water so it doesn’t taste like water. And I’ll also have some hot water and things to put in my hot water so it becomes more than water (magical life-giving elixir) and then maybe some other things to add to the hot-magic-bean water and that should just about do it.
Food, but not just any food! Good food, fresh food, organic food, various combinations of food, snacks, fruits, no not that kind of fruit the other kind of fruit, vegetables yes, but please only vegetables that taste a certain way. And I’d like some special types of food that I use to enhance or disguise other types of food. Also, there’s some food I want that has no value for helping me survive (and may even make it more difficult to survive). Oh, let’s not forget the food that I won’t ever eat, those jars and cans and boxes that get shuffled around for months and thrown out when I move from this perfectly sufficient shelter to the other one that I like better.
Shelter! A perfectly sufficient shelter has walls, a roof, a floor, electricity, running water. Really, that’s a luxury shelter. The floor is optional. The electricity is optional. The running water is optional, too. You can get water elsewhere and bring it back to your shelter. But this is about what I want, and I want a good shelter. I want a luxury shelter. I want a better shelter than the one I have. Why? It won’t help me survive. It adds no necessary functionality. A house doesn’t improve your survival rate because it’s got fancier floors, more walls, a higher roof, and more taps from which to access that running water.
And clothes, the temporary, wearable, transportable shelter we take with us. We are weird about clothes. Not only are we insanely picky about them, we often pick the ones that hinder rather than aid our survival. High heels? Are you kidding me? Have you seen these things called Spanx that they sell for women? Necessary? No. Suffocating? Yes. Men: what is the function of the necktie? How does it help you survive?
Ah, you say. It’s because we are animals. Intelligent animals, yes, but animals nonetheless. We use our better food, better shelter, better clothes to attract a mate. To procreate.
Hm, okay. But you can live a long life without mating. Sex is necessary for procreation, yes, but it’s not necessary for life once you’re already here.
Ah, you say. It’s because we are social animals. We have an advanced civilization with many complex social rules. We use these things—food, shelter, clothes—to indicate our status in our society, to advance, to succeed.
Hm, yes. We do. We wear certain types of clothes to indicate what kind of group we belong to in this complex and advanced civilization. But group-belonging is not necessary for survival. It used to be, back when ostracization from the tribe literally meant death.
Did you realize you can live a long, healthy, happy life without belonging to any sort of group, these days? Fascinating.
All of these things—the better food, the fancier water, the bigger shelter—are to fulfill wants, not needs. We do not need more than necessary for survival. We want it. We want more than survival. We want comfort. We want connection. We want belonging. We want meaning. We want adventure. We want fun.
But what are all those things? Comfort, connection, belonging, meaning, adventure, fun, etc.? Where do you find them? How do you know when you have achieved them? How much more/better is needed to achieve those wants? They’re intangible. There’s no measure. There’s no standard.
You know because you feel it, right?
You know you have comfort when you feel comfortable. You know you have connection when you feel connected. You know you’re having fun when you feel like you’re having fun.
So, what do we want?
We want the good feelings. We want the feeling of comfort, joy, love, connection, fun. And we work hard to get ourselves the things we need in order to have those feelings. Sometimes we have to endure a lot of pain to get the bigger/better things we need so we can have the good feelings we want.
What if—just an idea, a crazy one, but hear me out—what if we paused our frantic rush for bigger/better/more? What if, instead, we spent some time thinking about the feelings we want to have? What if we figured out exactly what’s required to experience those feelings? More of them, lots of them, maybe even all the time.
We might not need to work so hard. We might not need bigger/better/more. We might find out that those experiences—those good feelings—are available right now, as we are, with what we have.
It’s certainly an idea worth exploring.
Photo by mein deal on Unsplash.
All confusion comes from lack of clarity.
Confusion itself doesn’t present a threat, or give us pain, necessarily, but it does make us aware of potential pain.
Complexity is fine. Avoiding complexity just because and idolizing simplicity just because isn’t wise; it’s naïve.
There’s nothing truly simple in the universe we inhabit.
We keep trying to distill complex things to their simplest essence, and the damned things erupt into more complexity. We find, in our quest for simplicity, that we can go infinitely outward or infinitely inward, and find ever unfolding layers and levels and patterns and overlaps and pieces and connections and dependencies and always movement, always change.
The quest for simplicity is a futile one, if we’re honest.
Also, if we’re honest, we don’t really want simplicity, if by simplicity we mean fewer options.
What we want is clarity: clarity lets us scan all the options, and find the few that are important right now. Clarity lets us wade through the noise and hear the signal.
The problem isn’t too much noise. The problem is that, without clarity, we don’t recognize the signal when we hear it. We don’t know what we want, what we’re after, so we can’t find it. It may be right in front of us (usually it is). But until we have clarity, we can’t tune in. We’re twirling the dial, hearing the static, hearing the noise, and trying to define the signal while we search for it.
It’s like trying to tune a flute while you’re playing the flute. You can’t do it. The nature of the first activity—tuning—necessarily interrupts the other activity.
It’s the same when we try to find the signal while we’re still figuring out what the signal is. Until you know what you’re listening for, how do you know when you hear it?
I’ve worked with many clients who don’t quite know what they want from their content marketing.
They know they need content. They know they’re supposed to be creating it, lots of it. They know they’re supposed to market with content, somehow? Right? And they know that the content should be related to their business, and helpful to their customers, and, you know, not crap.
They usually have a content goal like
- increase website traffic by X%
- increase conversion rate by Z%
- get better search rankings for XYZ keywords/topics
- get more list subscribers
- make more sales
- increase readership
- establish expertise in XYZ topic/area
- get backlinks.
All of those things are fine, and can be specific, measurable, achievable. In other words, they can fit the “right definition” of a SMART goal.
But that doesn’t mean there’s clarity.
Clarity is the WHY that supports your goals.
Clarity gives you the reason to keep working toward your goal when the initial motivation’s gone, your energy is low, and you keep hitting obstacles.
If you don’t have clarity, you’ll start second guessing your goals. You might second guess them even with clarity. But having clarity will bring you back, help you remember WHY the goal matters to you.
If it doesn’t matter to you, why put yourself through pain to achieve it?
And let’s be honest: reaching a goal—any worthy goal— will bring some pain into your life. A worthy goal is one that stretches you, pushes you, expands your reality in some way. In order to reach the goal, you have to become more than you are now. You have to venture into unknown territory. You have to change something about yourself, your choices, and/or your behaviors to reach new places, to create new results. There’s going to be some pain involved.
This is true of both personal and professional goals.
Goals aren’t a good starting point.
Goals are what you define after you sit still and quiet long enough to get clarity, to answer your own question: WHY?
WHY am I putting effort into this area? WHY do I want to change what’s happening? WHY do I want different results? WHY do I want something other than what I already have?
One WHY leads to another WHY which leads to another WHY. It’s a trail that takes some time to follow.
Don’t rush it.
If you walk the clarity trail long enough, you may find a shortcut. No, not a shortcut to clarity, but a shortcut to getting whatever it is you really want.
Sometimes the goals are distractions. Sometimes they’re goals that sound good, look good, and make us feel good. We pick goals we can justify, goals that make us feel more like the kind of people we want to be.
That’s all well and good if the goals line up with what we’re really after, with the big WHY underlying all our choices and actions. If the goals don’t line up, though, we’re either wasting our time or … Well, we’re wasting our time.
We may burn out before reaching the goal because deep down we know it doesn’t really matter. Or we may reach the goal because we’re good at self-discipline, but reaching the goal won’t give us what we want, sooo… it still doesn’t really matter.
I don’t know about you, but I do not like wasting my time. I do not like spending my energy on meaningless pursuits, no matter how good they sound or how much my ego lights up at the idea of having a new “braggable” achievement.
Clarity is hard to get to because it requires gut-level, ego-free, childlike honesty.
We have all these internal filters that keep us from operating in that kind of honesty. Oh, we’re honest people, mostly. I’m as honest with you as I can be. The limit of my honesty with you is this: how honest am I being with myself?
I can’t be honest with you about something when I’m refusing to be honest with myself about it.
Honesty with self is the real challenge. Clarity requires some good old-fashioned sit-still-and-think time because most of us are not in the habit of being truly freely perfectly unfiltered and honest with ourselves.
So that’s our challenge. It’s a tough one for those of us who value things like efficiency and productivity and who are Type-A overachievers. (Hands up! I see you.)
Let’s remember that effectiveness is as important as efficiency. Let’s take time to be still. Let’s give ourselves time and space to get to the why, the underlying answer, the real motivation.
Clarity first. Goals second. Action third.
The article advised me to take a cold shower every morning as a way of increasing my willpower. And maybe helping me wake up.
There were steps:
- Take your shower as normal.
- Then slowly turn the temperature of the water down until it’s full-on cold.
- Then stand there in the cold spray for 10 seconds.
Boom! Personal growth unlocked, plus (I hear) it’s good for your hair.
This cold shower advice is fine. It’s solid: expose yourself to some degree of discomfort, purposefully, and you develop more tolerance for discomfort.
I’ve seen it in a lot of self-discipline lists and good habit roundups.
It’s also funny.
It was to me, anyway, when I came across it. Funny because we’d moved across town, to a smaller, more affordable place, a couple of months previously. Funny because the new place didn’t have a water heater. Funny because we couldn’t afford to buy a water heater.
Funny because we’d all—me, my husband, our four kids—been taking cold showers daily, for weeks. Not as a personal growth effort, but as a necessary part of life on a barely-there budget.
Did we feel stronger, more powerful, more disciplined? Maybe a little. Mostly we just felt cold.
Personal growth is a weird topic.
I don’t like telling people I write about personal growth, because all-too-often “personal growth” writing is a swamp of wanna-be success advice, admonitions to hustle more, and trash listicles.
In there, though, you find real gems: people who are thinking, researching, trying, experimenting, looking deep, doing stuff, learning from what works and what doesn’t, and sharing their insights.
You also find lots of ways to spend money: courses, books, memberships, subscriptions, software, tools, premium apps, gear, retreats, and so on. That’s cool, too: many of those purchasable items are well worth the money.
But what if you don’t have any money?
What if your budget looks like pay the rent and buy the groceries and… that’s it?
When you are broke,❋ personal growth advice that assumes a certain amount of disposable income isn’t helpful. It can be harmful, in fact, leading you to believe that consciously developing yourself, your person, is a privilege reserved for the affluent.
Personal growth, at its cold-water core, is nothing more than this:
- Becoming aware of your self: your mindset, your thoughts, your mental and behavioral habits, your identity, your strengths and weaknesses, your fears and desires.
- Seeking valid ways to change and improve various parts of your self: retraining behaviors, letting of limiting beliefs, adjusting habits, focusing on strengths, etc.
- Consciously applying your awareness and your efforts to develop your current self into a different (better?) version of you, and doing that until the ‘improved version’ becomes the unconscious/baseline self, and then you get to start over again. This is the actual growth part of personal growth.
(And then there’s the built-in irony, when you learn that complete and radical self-acceptance is the best place to start for any sort of lasting internal growth, but that’s another story for another day.)
The purchasable tools and resources and whatnots available to help you in your pursuit of personal development are, for the most part, just that: helpful.
But they’re not necessary.
This is a reminder that a serious, focused, and effective pursuit of personal growth does not require money.
We don’t have to stick strictly to Maslow’s hierarchy. We don’t have to nail survival and comfort before we move on to self-actualization. In fact, the key to our continued evolution and collective growth may be to flip the pyramid.
What would happen if we saw self-actualization as the foundation for life at all economic levels?
Would chaos erupt? Would everything fall apart?
Or would we discover, perhaps, that survival is a shitty and unnecessary goal?
If we can choose awareness over fear, even when being broke has us by the throat, we might find the key to something bigger than personal growth.
We might also find the resources and ideas we need to get out of the scarcity cycles we got stuck in. I can give you no guarantees, but I can tell you this: it’s working for me.
And hey, if you’re already broke, what have you got to lose?
Part 1: becoming aware of your self
Creating awareness of your mindset, your thoughts, your mental and behavioral habits, your identity, your strengths and weaknesses, your fears and desires.
Awareness is the first step toward personal growth. And awareness of self is done by paying attention to what’s going on inside of your own head.
You don’t need money to do this. You need time, and you don’t need a lot of time. 5 minutes here, 10 minutes there. That’s enough.
When you’re walking, commuting, waiting for the bus, staying at home because you don’t have money to go out… These are the moments you can use.
Use them to pay attention to your own thoughts and feelings. That’s it. There are a few easy strategies you can use:
- Meditation. Literally all you have to do to meditate is sit still and breathe. That’s it. That’s the whole thing. You don’t need an app, a coach, a special timer, a mat, music, anything. You don’t even have to sit. Walk. Stand. Lay down. Whatever. Try breathing deeper. Closing your eyes is helpful because it shuts out distractions, but if you need to stay aware of your external environment, no problem. Just pick a spot and focus your gaze on it. You’ll still have awareness of peripheral movements, but you can lock your gaze in on a single spot and focus inwardly instead of outwardly.
- Journaling. Get a $1 notebook and whatever pen or pencil you can find. Journaling, like meditating, does not require any fancy tools or supplies. I have scribbled in the unused pages in the back of my kids’ school notebooks, on envelopes, on napkins, on any scrap paper I could find.
- Speaking aloud. If you have the solitude, start saying out loud what’s going on in your heart and with your emotions. It will feel stupid at first, but it’s a great way to start noticing what those voices in your head say. They’re often saying ridiculous things, but we believe them without question until we notice. Say them out loud and notice them, then decide if that’s the internal monologue you want to keep or not. If you have a smartphone, record yourself talking and listen to it. Hear—really hear—what you’re saying, what you’re thinking, what you’re feeling, what you’re believing as true. Notice.
Part 2: Seeking valid ways to change and improve your self
Retraining behaviors, letting of limiting beliefs, setting your values, adjusting habits, finding and focusing on your strengths.
It won’t take much time before you notice some things you want to change. Great!
Here’s the key: focus on changing the internal things, not the external things.
Let’s say you have a really negative body image, and a lot of unhealthy habits, and you want to change how your body looks and feels. Excellent. Start with how you think about your body. Start working on the internal changes.
This is a shortcut to effective external change.
Most people focus on changing the externals. They may dump a lot of effort, time, and money into external changes. But without internal changes, the external changes won’t stick.
You are going to take the smart path: first, because you’re smart, and second, because you don’t have the money to dump into external changes. In this case, you are saving yourself some frustration.
So back to our unhealthy/negative body image challenge. Maybe you don’t have access to a gym. Maybe you can’t afford workout clothes. Maybe you have three jobs and don’t have time or energy to exercise. Maybe you can only afford cheap food, so improving your diet seems impossible.
That’s okay. Don’t worry about any external changes. All that matters is what you change on the inside. Here are some ideas:
- Focus on your thoughts and feelings. In your meditation, journaling, and talking, spend a few minutes focused on what you think and how you feel about what you want to change. Notice what you say about your body, your health, your food (or whatever it is you want to change).
- Rewrite what you tell yourself. Once you’ve noticed patterns in your thoughts and feelings, you can change them. You own your internal monologue. Change it. Choose what you want to feel and think about yourself, and write a script, and repeat it over and over and over. So, “I’m fat and I can’t work out and I’m so unattractive uuuuuugh,” becomes, “I’m strong, and I find ways to exercise every day, and I feel beautiful.” Write your own version. Then read it over and over, memorize it, repeat it, record it, listen to it and speak it anyway you can until you reprogram the way you think about yourself.
- When you can take action, take action. As you reprogram the way you think, something will happen: you’ll see opportunities. You’ll notice that set of stairs around the corner. Now you can go run up and down them: Congratulations, now you’re a person who exercises. You’ll find a pair of tennis shoes at the thrift store. A friend will give you some workout clothes. You’ll notice that a bag of apples is about the same price as a bag of chips. When you see action you can take, take it. Notice yourself taking it. Notice the changes in how you act: they are a reflection of the changes in how you think. Want more changes in action? Make more changes in your thinking.
- Ask yourself questions. This is more noticing, more conscious thinking. Start asking yourself things like,
- Why am I doing this?
- Do I really enjoy this activity?
- How do I really feel about this friend? Is this person a good influence or a bad influence?
- What do I want out of this experience?
- What makes me feel good? What makes me feel bad?
- What do I believe about — ?
- How do I feel about — ?
- Conscious questions and thoughtful answers. That’s it. It’s free. No cost. You don’t even have to write this shit down. Just think. Thinking is the most difficult thing and most people will do whatever they can to avoid it. You, though? You are becoming a master of it. As you ask and answer your own questions, you’ll slowly formulate a set of values. You’ll start making distinctions. You’ll notice what serves you and what enslaves you. And you’ll develop a clear idea of the person you want to become. You’re ready for the next step.
Part 3: Consciously applying your awareness and your efforts
Developing your current self into a different, better version of you, until the ‘improved version’ becomes your new baseline self, and then you get to do it again.
The more you know who you are, right now, the more you can direct who you are becoming.
What you understand, you can control.
So, if you want to control yourself, understand yourself.
It’s tough work. It can be scary work. But it’s the most important work, and it’s the core of personal growth.
If you don’t do the work of knowing yourself, you’re not doing “personal growth” — you’re just mimicking someone else’s idea of personal growth.
Own your shit.
This is your life. Why follow anyone else’s agenda? What is meaningful for someone else may be meaningless to you. How do you know, until you know who you are and what you want?
As you know yourself more and more, you’ll be able to focus on specific changes you want to make. You’ll be able to direct your attention to a few important things. You’ll be able to let go of distractions, drama, and things that do not serve you.
And your energy, time, and effort will compound to get you faster results, better results, and a lot more fun.
Here are some ideas:
- Give yourself challenges. Feeling ready to level up in a particular area? You don’t have to join a group or a class or take a course. Challenge yourself: x days of doing x activity. Or whatever. There’s no set formula. Maybe it’s X days of eliminating something (like junk food or negative thinking or hanging out with a certain friend who always drags you down).
- Level up your thinking. Find and read material that gives you a different perspective, shows you more options, speaks truth and positivity rather than status quo skepticism. Go to your local library. Get online and find the free books from Project Gutenberg. When something really speaks to you, memorize it: write out the passage, then read it over and over again, day after day, until it’s part of you. You are literally remaking your brain.
- Get expertise. As you focus on an area of your life you want to improve, look for experts. You can find plenty of expertise online, but there’s so much power in finding real-life experts. Ask for advice but do so with this qualification: only with people who are already doing what you want to do. How do you find those people? You start talking about your own efforts, and you start noticing. You’ll find the experts. They’re around you, but usually they’re so busy working on getting better that they go unnoticed. Start noticing. Start asking. Then you can learn from their expertise, make a positive connection, and get more results out of the same efforts.
- Track your successes. Any effort is success, because you put in the effort. It’s okay if you don’t hit your personal goal for whatever-it-is you’re doing. The success is in the effort, so notice your efforts. Track the internal and external things you’re doing (and not doing). Notice your progress, because it adds to the energy and builds momentum. It also helps validate the new and better way you’re thinking about yourself, which helps you do even better, which becomes a virtuous cycle of increasing growth. It’s a wild, fulfilling ride!
Radical responsibility is the only path to growth.
Do not excuse yourself from making the most of your self and life because you have to start from financial zero.
We all start from some sort of zero. The key is to start. If you don’t start, you stay at zero.
Find a way to start changing yourself.
Change yourself and you change your life. Quit making excuses.
Go take that cold shower, because you have to, and realize that every deprivation is a chance to overcome fear and discomfort and become a stronger person.
❋Broke vs Poor. The two are different, I agree. And both exist on a scale, or spectrum. I deliberately used the term “broke” rather than “poor” because, in my experience, an excellent first step in personal growth is to stop thinking of yourself as poor.
Maybe you don’t have any money right now. Maybe you’ve never had enough money. That’s okay. That’s your past and present, but it doesn’t have to be your future. You can acknowledge the truth of your experience without repeating it:
“I was poor. I am broke. But I am changing. I am learning how to manage money. I am learning how to earn more. I am creating value. I am building wealth. Being broke is a temporary step in my journey toward an abundant life. I am learning what I need to learn to live in abundance.”
Why not try it? Write it out, your own version. Read it every morning and night. Give it 30 days and see what happens. Unless you’re really attached to identifying yourself as a poor person, you have absolutely nothing to lose with this little experiment.
Change feels like walking in the dark.
You know generally the direction you’re going, and you know you’re making progress. But you’re not sure how much further you have to go. You can’t judge the distance. And you can’t predict what each step will be like. You stumble. You get a few tree branches to the face.
The darkness keeps you guessing.
You’re doing something you know how to do (walking!), it feels uncertain and risky.
Big change feels like running in the dark.
What makes a “big” versus a “little” change? It’s all about how the change makes you feel. That’s usually related to the level of unpredictability and the potential impact of the change:
- More unpredictability makes a change feel bigger, less makes it feel smaller.
- More impact makes a change feel bigger, less makes it feel smaller.
If you’re in a change that’s full of unpredictability, but has limited impact, it may not be as scary as a change that has less unpredictability but more impact.
Also, it’s not really about the impact a change will or does have; it’s about the impact that a change might have.
It’s about potential impact.
You don’t know—until you’ve gotten to the other side, change complete, ding!—what the impact will be. The more “important” the area of the change, the greater the potential impact.
So, small changes to your health or work or relationship with your partner might feel bigger than big changes to your house or hobby or relationship with a friend.
The combination of high unpredictability and high (potential) impact creates change that is especially big. In emotional terms, it can feel so overwhelming that you don’t even know how to talk about it.
That sucks, because you need to talk about it.
The less you talk about it, the more overwhelming it feels. The more you keep it inside, swirling in your head, the bigger it seems.
When a relationship is changing, it feels like holding hands with someone while walking in the dark.
You’d think this would make it easier—support, togetherness, less scary, less alone facing-the-dark! But the effect can be different.
Imagine how much you stumble when you’re walking in the dark. Now you have to recover from your own stumbling and tripping, plus deal with the push-and-pull of the other person as they stumble and trip and try to find steady footing.
Sometimes it seems like you’re holding each other up, but sometimes it seems like you’re knocking each other down.
When someone you love is changing, it feels like being dragged behind someone who’s running in the dark.
It’s all the fear and discomfort of running in the dark, with an added element: complete lack of control.
Terrifying is too weak a word for this feeling.
It’s the kind of terror that can paralyze you, shut you down, consume you entirely.
The greater the unpredictability and the greater the (potential) impact, the more terrifying the experience.
Ok, so: we’re in the middle of change, we’re trying to keep all our shit together, it’s not fun, there’s no pause button, what can we do?
We bring in the light.
Walking isn’t scary, is it? But walking in the dark is unpleasant and risky. Running is fine. Running in the dark is dangerous.
We need light. If we can bring light to the experience of change, it takes away a lot of the discomfort and pain. It reduces the risk. It re-establishes a sense of control. It helps us avoid things we’d stumble over in the dark.
More light means fewer tree branches slapping us in the face, and that’s a good thing.
In fact, if we’re able to add light to the process of change, we can change the entire experience without changing either the unpredictability or the potential impact of the change.
Some ways to turn on the light:
- Talk more. Talking is a way of processing, and when we talk we can pull out the feelings and thoughts that are inside. Sometimes all we need to do is express the feelings, and they are relieved. Sometimes the thoughts and fears we have, when we say them aloud, become insignificant. Sometimes things are just as real and scary when spoken as they are when unspoken, but now we have power: once something is spoken, we have named it. We have identified it. We are beginning to understand it. That’s important. When you understand something, you can control it or (at least) control your reaction to it.
- Ask more. Ask yourself questions. More than one person involved? Ask each other questions.
- “How is this affecting you?”
- “What feels scary to you?”
- “What impact do you think this could have?”
- “What feels unpredictable?”
- “What outcome do you want? What outcome do you fear?”
- Set boundaries. You can still venture into big changes—without a dissolution of the basic structure of your life—if you set boundaries. Boundaries can be set around
- duration: by setting time limitations. “I’ll try this for one month.”
- unpredictability: by setting limits on the options you’ll accept. “I’m only willing to spend X amount of money.”
- impact: by defining how big the change can be. “XY area can be part of this, but ZY area is out of the discussion.”
- Give permission. If you’re in the midst of change that’s affecting others, you can give them permission to pause the process of change, set limits, ask questions, be angry, share their feelings, etc.
- Side note: If the change doesn’t impact someone directly, I think it’s better to keep it clean and quiet. Focus on your process and let others deal with their own issues. However, if the change is impacting someone you love directly, giving permission shows respect (Your experience is real and it matters) and kindness (I care about your pain). Plus it tends to make the other person involved feel safer, which removes a good deal of the discomfort and suffering triggered by (unpredictable) (high-impact) change.
- Find a survivor. Who’s been through this kind of change and come out okay? It could be someone you know or someone you don’t know. Finding others who have been through what you’re going through can make a huge difference in your experience.
- Don’t feel bad about feeling bad. Change is difficult. Say it with me now: Change is difficult. And it’s okay if you feel bad, angry, upset, confused, tired, exhausted, overwhelmed, hurt, offended, terrified, or lost. Feelings are always true. Feelings are never bad. You don’t need to ignore your feelings or justify them. You have them; that’s enough. Let yourself have them without adding guilt, anxiety, or a sense of failure on top.
- Don’t settle for feeling bad. Feelings are true and feelings need to be expressed. If you will let yourself feel and express them, you’ll find more feelings. On the other side of worry, you might find excitement. On the other side of anger, you might find courage. Change is difficult; change is also part of life. We are inherently creatures of change. We’re all changing, all the time. We can get better at dealing with change so it becomes less fear, more flow. We can go into those negative emotions and find out what they’re telling us. We can tell ourselves a different story. And we can find moments of power in the experience of change.
- Some other things that might help: