Throughout life, people can undoubtedly count on changes or transitional phases. Some of these transitions are positive; a marriage, birth of a child, winning the lottery, graduating from school. Some transitions are negative; going through a break-up, death of a loved one, or living with a chronic illness. One factor related to success is that effective people are skilled at adapting to this fast paced ever changing world. This ability to adapt to change, points people on the path to leading a more satisfying, enriched fulfilled life.
Life Transitions and Letting Go
If people are forced to change, even if unsatisfied in life, they are entering into the world of the unknown which may be even more anxiety provoking than the unsatisfied life. However, the choice to change is always available, and, those who do not have the ability to trust themselves may miss out on the opportunity to increase their quality of life. Many people are afraid of change. They prefer routine and stability, and, with any kind of transition this change disrupts self confidence. Fear inhibits people from taking risks. When this fear relates to a positive change, it usually is linked to a fear of not being able to achieve success. Some are overly concerned about not being capable “enough” or of being judged, as if, dignity is only measured by the idea of success or winning.
Fear alerts us to danger. If people want to be able to cope well, they need to be open to the challenge of changing and questioning the thoughts, feelings and beliefs they have in life. One way to cope with an illogical fear is to pretend that the worse scenario happened. Then backtrack in your mind and logically solve problems that were imagined along the road. Even though this is a fantasy you are learning new ways to problem solve.
One inevitable transition in life is associated with maturity or growing older, and this change usually brings with it an isolated feeling linked with a sense of loss with what was once in the past. With each transition people must learn new ways of coping, and, facing this new way of being in the world can be anxiety provoking because it tests our ability to adapt. If people want to be able to cope well with life they will need to be open to the challenge of questioning their thoughts, feelings and beliefs of the world in which they live.
How to Cope and Challenge Thoughts
People have the opportunity to change the way they think about something whenever they learn something new about any topic. Whether the change in thinking is easy or not, depends on one’s ability to being open to the idea of learning something new, despite opposing thoughts on the subject. I am aware that this sounds confusing, but people have to be open to learning something new about the subject, which in turn will change thinking. For example, most people feel pretty strongly about war. The central question about war is: “Is it the right way to act?” How many of us can honestly say that if this question could be answered once and for all, would we be allowed to accept and follow the truth? The real question is how invested people are in keeping old opinions, despite learning the latest information.
How to Cope and Challenge Beliefs
Challenging and changing a value or belief can be easier at times. The problem is people have thousands of beliefs, and can only change one at a time, so it is a process. In order to challenge a belief, look at the evidence, examine the facts and then change your mind about the belief. For instance, some may assume that eating a Big Mac is somewhat of a healthy meal. However, they have recently read many books on nutrition and learned otherwise. They now believe that this meal is not nutritious. They changed their mind in the face of evidence.
How to Cope and Challenging Feelings
In comparison to changing thoughts and beliefs, challenging feelings are extremely difficult, especially when adapting to change or a life transition. Feeling states built up over a lifetime of experience, and, trying to change a feeling can feel like it is going against everything ever believed in life. People have convinced themselves that what they feel is reasonable and must be a necessary part of life. We all have met people who are chronically afraid, angry or sad, and we describe them in this way because their constant unpleasant mood states can be observed in most of their behaviors. Negative feelings are the cumulative effects of experiences in life, and, the fix is to accumulate new positive experiences, which offset the negative ones. As it takes time and effort to change these feelings people need to become open to the idea of wanting new, positive experiences and then invite them into their lives. Give yourself permission to allow these positive experiences to enhance life. It is possible to change beliefs and thoughts with information and teaching; however, it is difficult to change a feeling state without professional assistance.
Taking on the Challenge to Cope with the Transition
I would like readers to understand that for something new to happen in life there is something lost. Accepting change to the fullest extent means allowing mistakes to be made along the way. People who do not allow themselves to make mistakes, will not be able to adapt well with life transitions, and will not be able to enjoy living life to its fullest extent. What is certain is that all of us are going to be forced to adapt to change throughout life, as transitions are a guarantee, until the day we die. People have the internal ability to gain that sense of control of life’s changes because of having the choice to learn different ways of coping.
Dr. Cheryl MacDonald, RN., Psy’D.
Health Psychology of San Diego