“You must welcome change as the rule but not your ruler” ~Denis Waitley
My name is Hannah, and I find it hard to deal with change.
As much as I used to want to think of myself as flexible and easy-going, I struggle to live up to these ideals. I like to know where I am, what I’m doing, where I’m going, and to have my near future mapped out in lists, to-dos, and ideas. In short, I do whatever I can to minimize the level of uncertainty in my life.
My discomfort around uncertainty means I am usually very decisive. In some ways this has been beneficial; for example, it’s allowed me to make hard decisions that I might have otherwise been tempted to avoid or delay.
In other ways, it’s been a disadvantage, especially when I’ve prioritized removing my discomfort above anything else, and made decisions without having all the information I really needed first.
Historically, when life’s ups and downs have left me feeling uncertain, I’ve done whatever I need to do to regain my sense of control. Keeping my options open or “going with the flow” provokes feelings of restlessness, impatience, and eventually frustration; after all, why leave things up to chance when you could have a plan?
My relationship with change, well, changed at the end of last year, when my partner and I embarked on a seven-month trip around South America and Mexico. Over the past few months, I have experienced different cultures, climates, environments, people, food, languages, and many more changes than I could have imagined.
During the first couple of months, I discovered a lot about my need for control, and how it affects my day-to-day experience. Working through this, I’ve learned to find a balance between meeting that need, and flowing with the many changes that come from moving between different places, countries, and cultures.
Here are five elements that have been invaluable in this process of adapting to change:
1. Learn to differentiate between what you can and can’t control.
One of the most important lessons I learned early on in my travels was the difference between factors I could control and factors I couldn’t control. For example, I could control whether I left enough time to get to an airport or a bus station to catch my next connection to a different city or country; however, I couldn’t control whether that plane or bus actually left on time.
As well as learning to place events in their rightful control-related categories, I learned to appreciate the importance of acceptance, and the emotional freedom this provides. Once I accepted that I couldn’t control some changes, I felt less anxious about them.
2. Keep a journal.
Keeping a diary or journal has been one of the most helpful activities for processing the changes I’ve experienced.
During my trip, I’ve embraced my morning pages routine (writing 3 A4 pages, or approximately 750 words stream-of-consciousness, as described by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way). This has helped me keep a record of the many things I’ve seen and experienced, and has also helped me recognize a strong limiting belief.
Through keeping a journal, I’ve realized that my aversion to change was based on a fear that I wouldn’t be able to cope with it. Reflecting on some of the experiences I’ve had and the way I’ve processed them, however, I recognized that I actually have far more internal strength than I previously gave myself credit for.
3. Develop routines, even small ones.
Developing small routines and habits has helped me stay grounded and connected to myself. In turn, this has enabled me to feel more accepting of other changes happening around me.
As well as morning pages, I have developed other routines (such as having the same breakfast most days and dedicating Saturday mornings to learning Spanish), that have helped meet my need for consistency and stability.
When it feels like everything else around us is in flux, finding small comforts to hold on to can make all the difference in how we process and deal with other changes in our lives.
4. Connect with others who are sharing a similar experience.
Talking to other travelers and hearing about their experience of long-term travel has helped me realize that I’m not alone in how I feel. Change is hard, even if you’ve volunteered for it. As one friend said to me a few days ago: “Just because you’ve chosen to do this doesn’t mean it has to be perfect.”
Talking to people back home about the struggles I’ve encountered has felt hard. Part of me feels guilty complaining about enormous bugs and travel sickness when people back home are enduring a freakishly cold winter and still doing the 9 to 5. But fellow travelers understand, and knowing that I’m not alone has helped me accept some of the more negative aspects of the changes I’ve experienced.
5. Take care of your basic needs.
Taking care of your basic needs is absolutely crucial if you are in a period of change. These needs are like the foundations of our physical and mental health; without them, we’re unlikely to be able to process additional challenges in a healthy way.
My non-negotiables are sleep, hygiene, exercise, and healthy food. When I have these things, I am a happy camper and can deal with external changes far more easily. When I don’t have them, my tolerance levels drop, I feel stressed and I find it hard to flow with other changes that are happening around me.
Your basic needs might be similar to mine, or they might be different. When you’re able to identify and prioritize them, however, you give yourself a much better chance of encountering change with minimal stress and anxiety.
What are your tips for dealing with change? Leave a comment and let us know.