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Navigating Change

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Change is hard. Most of us resist it, yet every great beginning was marked by great change. Here's another fact: Change happens whether it's resisted or not. Try this quick exercise: Hold on to something, anything, with both hands. Now, try to reach for something else while still griping your original object -- you can't. By holding on tightly to one thing, it's physically impossible to reach for the next.

Change is like going on an expedition: It can be a trudge or a hike. Take it all in and enjoy the view, or focus on the faults -- it's absolutely a choice. Here are some lessons I've learned about encountering change, some by resisting it and some by jumping into it with two feet.

1. Embrace it: Change can bring lots of things -- including new ideas, people and opportunities -- and when focus is being put on all the sadness and panic it's easy to miss the good stuff. Also, the beginning of change, like a new job or moving to a new neighborhood, is a great time to observe and listen to the surroundings. Once the regular day-to-day starts to take over, that opportunity will likely be hard to come by.

2. Know it won't always feel "different": A good friend once told me that doing something 30 times makes it a learned behavior or habit. That's helped me so much over the years when facing big change... knowing that I can have a countdown clock from 30, 29, 28 and so on, all the way down to one. I've used this strategy a number of times, from helping my daughter deal with changing schools to dealing with a change in my relationship and, although it doesn't work for every situation, I've found where it does apply, and it's pretty amazing.

3. Take on one change at a time: I'm one of those people who decides to change everything at once. Why not? In for a penny, in for a pound, right? Um, not advisable. In the midst of major change, I now know I'm not always seeing things clearly, especially if that change comes with grief or other major mood-changing emotions. It's not always possible, because sometimes change begets change, but I've found doing one major thing -- work, home, a relationship -- at a time is advisable. If I'm really hungry for a tangible manifestation of change, I do something that's not permanent -- like mix up my look with a different haircut (not too drastic) or hair color (not permanent) or change my make up or nail polish.

4. Look at the past (but don't stare): Reminiscing is fine, but time is needed to get some distance and adjust to new circumstances and situations. It's hard to move into another phase with one foot still in the past, so letting go is important. In addition to staring, I should also add not glaring either -- letting go of past hurts is important to embracing change, and personally I've found resentment has kept me from being open to moving on.

5. Have a counterbalance attack ready: Again, this may not always apply or be easy to see, but often times even though change brings a fair share of stress, it's for a positive reason. When I try to keep that in perspective -- especially when I feel the anxiety creeping in -- it helps to counterbalance until the feeling passes. Even when the change wasn't my doing, I can try to separate the message from the mess. Most of the time it's seeing how strong I really am, what I'm capable of and an opportunity for personal growth. What's happened for me over time is that I've encountered sudden change a number of times in various areas of my life, and now it's not as destabilizing as it once was because I know I've been able to survive and thrive through it before. That's now part of my counterbalance attack.

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