It’s often said that nothing is certain in life other than death and taxes. And after paying taxes, all that is left are two kinds of change. The change we carry in our purse and the unstoppable transformation of everything we experience. As change occurs at a dizzying pace, we cling to straws in the hope of finding stability. But it is nowhere to be found. As soon as we find a small area of firm ground, it begins to crumble beneath our feet.
Nothing in life is certain other than this: everything we are experiencing will change. We ourselves are changing. It is only when we resist change that we find it a problem. Why do we behave like a gyroscope, trying to keep our equilibrium? Why do we try to hold on to the status quo? Why do we have to be dragged kicking and screaming before we adopt change? If an infant had a choice, would it volunteer to be born? After all, it’s nice and comfy in the womb, so why go through the stress and discomfort of being born? Why face the uncertainty of life?
After a struggle, we learn to adapt to our circumstances. And once we do, we are comfortable. Our comfort zone is like a womb that we resist leaving. But it is only by mustering the courage to break free that we can experience life. For life is change. As the Chinese sage Lao-Tzu taught, “Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them — that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.” To which Alan Watts adds, “The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.”
“Change has a considerable psychological impact on the human mind. To the fearful it is threatening because it means that things may get worse. To the hopeful it is encouraging because things may get better. To the confident it is inspiring because the challenge exists to make things better.” (−King Whitney, Jr.) It should be clear, then, the first thing we need to change is our attitude. We need to learn how to welcome change, for when we embrace it, we embrace life.
Life itself is synonymous with change. For example, during a seven-year period, every molecule in our body is replaced. Change is the power of the universe. Doesn’t energy change to matter and matter to energy? The history of the universe and life is the history of change. We won’t be through changing, until we’re through. To exist is to change; to change is to grow, and to grow is to endlessly unfold our potential. Change is not a threat, but an opportunity for growth. How can we become what we are capable of becoming if we remain unchanged? Isn’t it clear that change is necessary? Change is also how we experience life. It is only the dead who don’t experience change. (Come to think of it, even the dead may, for aren’t all the dead composers now decomposing?)
Coping with change
Understand the ebb and flow of life. Flow with the current. Maintain a balanced view. Socrates expressed it well, “Remember, no human condition is ever permanent. Then you will not be overjoyed in good fortune nor too scornful in misfortune.”
Change is great, but we have to pay for it. For example, you may decide to live in a foreign country for a few years. That’s fantastic; you’ll have an exciting adventure. However, the cost of your adventure is separation from home. You will experience the loss of your friends, favorite hangouts, and culture. However, as long as we understand and accept that loss is part of life we will be able to cope with change.
Autumn must give way to winter. We cannot have one without the loss of the other. We cannot hold on to anything, any more than a tree can hold on to its leaves. As long as we savor the moment we will leave behind happy memories. And as long as we make the most of this present moment, we will open ourselves to a promising future.
Perhaps the best way to cope with change is to help create it. That way we control change rather than having it control us. Since we spend a good portion of our lives working, consider your workplace. What can you change for the better? Can you accept all aspects of your job that you cannot change? If not, it may be time for a job change. But before moving on, make sure it is your job and not your attitude that needs to be changed.
Change is invariably linked to stress, so don’t add to it; relieve it. Exercise, eat balanced meals; spend time with friends and family; enjoy hikes in the woods, and curl up with a good book. You are a scientist in the laboratory of life. Experiment with it. Experience the joy of discovery. Those who fear change the most are most unhappy. The courageous cope with change and benefit twice: by the joy of growth and the joy of overcoming fear.
The successful are adaptable, for as Charles Darwin wrote, “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” So, if you can’t change the direction of the wind, change the direction of your sails. Learn to adapt. Grab on to the only thing you can hold on to, change, and let it take you to the future.
Can we change the world? Sure we can! We begin by changing ourselves. Little actions can lead to big results. Take the 2000 Summer Olympics Opening Ceremony, for example. After a little prodding by the International Olympic Committee, North and South Korean athletes entered Sydney’s Stadium Australia holding hands and marching under the banner of a single unity flag. This was the first time they marched together in the Olympics. A simple idea, launched by a few people, resulted in wild cheers of the 110,000 member audience, to say nothing of the cheers shared by the more than one billion (perhaps as much as three billion) TV and Internet viewers. Can we change the world? Sure we can; we begin by becoming the change we wish to see.
Are you changing your mind, or is your mind changing you?
Many people are not entirely happy with their lives, and they have felt that way for many years. Most realize that if they want things to change, they will first have to change themselves. But if that is so, why don’t they change? Well, some don’t want to. Others don’t try to change because of a false belief. And those who do try, often give up too soon. Those who would like to change, but don’t even try usually have one of the five false beliefs that follow. If you wish to get the most from life, make sure you don’t subscribe to one of these myths.
- Before you can change, you have to understand the cause of your behavior. This is not true. It doesn’t matter what caused you to become the way you are. You are always free to change. As long as you decide to change, commit to change, and persistently practice, you will be able to modify your behavior.
- It takes too long to change, especially if the habit is deeply entrenched. False. It doesn’t have to take time to change. Even lifelong habits can be broken in an instant. A smoker who quits cold turkey is proof of this. Even if you don’t experience instantaneous change, you can improve far faster than you imagine. Don’t underestimate the great power you have.
- If you change too quickly, it won’t last. Not true. Prove this for yourself. Reflect deeply on your life. You will be able to recall many changes you have made quickly, some big and some small, yet those changes have remained permanent.
- I can’t change because this is the way I am; it is my nature. Not so. It is your nature to do what you repeat over and over again. In other words, it is your nature to act out of habit. Change your habits and you will change the way you are.
- I am too young or too old to change. Nonsense. We have the ability to change at any age. I’m 82 and continue to change daily, and expect to continue doing so. Remember, we live in the world’s largest room: the room for improvement. Make it a rule to be better today than you were yesterday, and better tomorrow than you are today.
The Process of Change
Some people claim to be suffering and say they want to change. Yet, their actions suggest otherwise. Why would someone who is unhappy refuse to change? Well, they may not want to give up their misery because it is a tool they use to win sympathy, manipulate others, or play the role of a martyr. So, those who are thinking of change should begin by asking themselves, “Do I really want to change?”
Wanting to change is the first step. The second step is accepting responsibility. We are responsible for our happiness. Not our parents, friends, coworkers, neighbors, doctor, government, religion or God. Accepting responsibility means we stop blaming the world for our suffering. It means we stop looking for excuses and start looking for solutions. Sidney Madwed explains, “Every man is the architect of his own life. He builds it just the way he wants it. However, after he has built what he wants, he sometimes decides that he doesn’t like what he has built and looks for someone or something to blame instead of changing himself.”
If we are unhappy it is because we are doing something wrong. Nothing will change until we do. That is, we have to change our thoughts, beliefs, and view. The fact is, it is not what happens to us that causes our unhappiness, rather it is our negative interpretation of the events. Until we grasp this point, we will be unable to move forward. To improve we have to be able to say, “It is not what happens to me that causes my suffering, but how I react, fight against, and struggle with what happens.” Here’s how Samuel Johnson expressed the same thought, “He who has so little knowledge of human nature as to seek happiness by changing anything but his own disposition will waste his life in fruitless efforts.”
Many people, despite a sincere attempt to change, give up trying to and return to their old ways. The main reason for this is they expect too much too soon. They expect to see changes overnight. And when they don’t, they give up. To avoid making the same mistake, carefully monitor and record your thoughts, feelings, behavior, and results of your actions. Look for changes in intensity, duration, and frequency.
Here’s what I mean. Let’s say Laura can’t sleep at night, picks fights with her neighbors, and bites her nails. She monitors her thoughts and tries to improve. At the end of the month she finds that although she still fights with her neighbors and bites her nails, she is sleeping at night. That is a change in the intensity of the problem. She has made progress. As long as she is aware of the progress, it will motivate her to continue. But if she focuses on the problems that remain, rather than the one she overcame, she may mistakenly believe she is a failure and give up the program.
Another example. Perhaps Laura has negative thoughts 16 hours a day. After sincere attempts to improve, she brings it down to 10 hours a day. This is an improvement in duration. She has made progress. Again, if she focuses on the fact that she still has negative thoughts, she may believe she failed and give up. But if she focuses on the fact that she has reduced her negative thinking by six hours a day, she will have much to celebrate and it inspire her to further reduce it.
Still another example. Laura feels depressed most of the time. Once she monitors herself she discovers she feels depressed every other day. She now ardently tries to focus on what’s right with her instead of what’s wrong with her; she looks for the good, instead of the bad; she seeks solutions instead of excuses; she finds things to be grateful for instead of complaining. After a month, she finds she is still depressed “most of the time,” but because of the records she kept, she knows she is now depressed every third day, instead of every other day. This is an improvement in frequency. So, if we fail to note our improvements in intensity, duration, and frequency, we may wrongly believe we are not making progress and give up.
What do you do if you wish to make a change, but despite your “best” efforts, you “can’t” do it? For example, you may want to get along with a co-worker, but find her “obnoxious” behavior too much to bear, so you simply “can’t” change. Well, suppose I were to give you $250,000 if you could forgive, accept, and befriend that co-worker. Would you then be able to get along with him or her? If so, this proves your “best” attempt to change was not your best, and what you thought you “can’t” do is really something you can do, if you wanted to. So, before giving up, apply this $250,000 test. After all, if you would do it for money, why wouldn’t you do it for your own happiness?
Together, we can prove that Leo Nikolaevich Tolstoy was wrong when he wrote “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” Let’s change the world by changing ourselves.
Unhappiness is a sign we need to change
Unhappiness is a sign we need to change, and the constant companion of change is choice. You see, we can’t change until we choose to do so. Life is an endless stream of choices. Our primary choice is to accept things as they are or to accept the responsibility for changing them. Often, it’s a choice between freedom and enslavement, a choice between living our dream or having a nightmare. If we’re unsatisfied with the conditions we find ourselves in, how do we change them? We do so by changing ourselves.
Let’s say I’m unhappy with my present income, if that’s the case, instead of complaining about my boss and company in the hope that they will change, I need to change myself. I need to make myself more valuable, worthy of a greater income. Maybe I need to go to night school and study the new technology, or how to become more productive, or how to become part of the solution for my boss’ problems. We all want to increase our earnings, but too often we forget we have to earn the earnings we desire. We want the prize without the work.
Now we have come to one of the main reasons why some people are not experiencing the life of their dreams. They want the gain without the pain or strain. They want to eliminate their debt, but without the sweat. They refuse to accept a basic law of life: there is a price to pay for anything worthwhile. The price comes in the form of effort, struggle, and sacrifice. The greater the prize, the greater the required effort. But the prize is always worth the struggle. Those who make the effort to follow their dream, whatever it is, never regret it. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of those unwilling to make the necessary effort.
Perhaps even worse than doing nothing is searching for a magic bullet, quick fix, or miracle cure. Take the case of Harry, for instance. He has emotional problems that have put is life on hold. His counsellor has told him he needs to change his way of thinking.
“Just seeing me, Harry, isn’t enough. You need to change your patterns of thought. Here, take this Cognitive Therapy workbook and do the exercises daily. Spend between 30 minutes and an hour on the workbook every day. If you do so, within three weeks you’ll begin to feel better. After three months, you’ll be well on the road to a bright new life. But the only person who can help you is yourself. You’ve got to make a commitment and be willing to make the small effort that is necessary for success.”
The trouble is, rather than making an effort, Harry makes excuses. When we speak to him he says, “I feel miserable and want my life to change.” Notice that he didn’t say, “I want to change my life.” After all, for that to happen he would have to make an effort. None of that for him. He prefers to remain passive and dream of someone or something fixing his problems for him. He’s on a quest for the magic bullet. Ironically, he does make an effort. But the effort he makes is to avoid doing the exercises in his workbook.
Harry spends time, energy, and money on his search for a ‘miracle cure.’ He goes from seminar to seminar, from one herbal remedy to another, from one New Age ‘healer’ to another, from one religious cult to another.
Harry not only hasn’t gotten better, but like many of us, has forgotten how quickly time flies. It’s too early to say how long Harry will steadfastly pursue his futile search for an effortless cure. But others have been doing so for years. What a waste of time, energy, and money! Meanwhile, the counsellor’s words continue to be ignored by Harry, and he irrationally refuses to improve his life. Yet, the tasks that his counsellor has given him require far less effort than the fruitless activity he is engaged in. Let’s hope we learn from his example and come to understand that there are no shortcuts on the path to success and happiness. Don’t complain about being in a rut if you’re not willing to make the effort to crawl out.
Another cause for people failing to follow their dreams is their fear of giving up the known for the unknown. We are inclined to avoid taking risks. For example, when I was a university student in Japan, I supported myself by teaching English as a second language. Later, I started doing some translations on the side to earn extra income. However, going to the university, teaching, translating, and studying was stretching things too far. I couldn’t do everything, so I had to decide whether to continue teaching or quit it and build a translation business. I announced my decision to my wife. I was going to quit teaching and use the time to start a new business.
Her mouth dropped. She was in a panic. I can understand how she felt because besides ourselves, we had two small children to worry about. If I were to make the change, there were costs involved. I would have to give up the security of a high paying job with a fixed income, not to mention the comfort of an enjoyable job. But the lure of a new adventure was too much to resist. I was determined. Though fearful, my wife supported my decision, so I leapt into the unknown. A year later, I was still leaping, but this time leaping for joy.
Little did we realize I would multiply my income fourfold. And I would do this while cutting the number of hours I worked by half. So, my hourly income grew by 8X. Because I was willing to give up security and comfort, I gained far more of the same. I multiplied the very things I risked losing. Yes, there was a price to pay to make the change, but there would have been a greater price to pay if I had not made the change.
Refusing to risk what we have is a risk in itself. It is risking the loss of an opportunity to have much more. And I’m not just referring to income. The same is true for happiness, peace of mind, and freedom. We gain more by risking the little we already have. Harry, whom we spoke about earlier, wants to be comfortable, so he avoids making the effort to change. Little does he realize that if he were willing to sacrifice that small amount of comfort he clenches so tightly, he would gain much, much more. Let’s avoid his mistakes. Our dreams are worth fighting for. Let the struggles begin!
Real Help: An Honest Guide to Self-Improvement by Ayodeji Awosika
Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation by Daniel J. Siegel
On the Wings of Self-Esteem: A Companion for Personal TransformationBy Dr. Louise Hart and Kristen Baumgardner Caven
The Pathwork of Self-Transformation by Eva Pierrakos
Chuck Gallozzi lived, studied, and worked in Japan for 15 years, immersing himself in the wisdom of the Far East and graduating with B.A. and M.A. degrees in Asian Studies. He is a Certified NLP Practitioner, speaker, seminar leader, and coach. Corporations, church groups, teachers, counselors, and caregivers use his more than 400 articles as a resource to help others. Among his diverse accomplishments, he is also the Grand Prix Winner of a Ricoh International Photo Competition, the Canadian National Champion of a Toastmasters International Humorous Speech Contest, and the Founder and Head of the Positive Thinkers Group that has been meeting at St. Michael’s Hospital, Toronto since 1999. His articles are published in books, newsletters, magazines, and newspapers. He was interviewed on CBC’s “Steven and Chris Show,” appearing nationally on Canadian TV. Chuck can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. View his photography at https://500px.com/chuckgallozzi. This article cannot be re-published without permission.