Managing yourself through change
I was recently chatting with a professional life coach about her industry. Curious, she gave me an overview of engaging with clients. By day three I was completely overwhelmed.
Rather than feeling more in control of my life and developing any sense of balance, I was actually feeling more anxious about things.
I found myself questioning if I was focused on the right priorities, and even previously organized areas began to slip. Turns out, that’s kind of the point with this type of coaching.
Change is difficult, no surprises there, but what specifically makes it so daunting and complex?
Many of the reasons people repeatedly make the same bad choices, even when faced with immediate and devastating consequences, rest in our need to remain comfortable.
Not necessarily “comfortable” as sitting on a posh recliner or satisfied, comfortable in the sense of familiarity and predictability.
Rarely is the act of resisting new information a conscious decision based on the reasons you tell yourself.
I started looking at this coach’s instructions, which included defining not only what I wanted to change, but why. As I dug deeper into the “why”, it became uncomfortable.
Fundamental change requires a shift in thought, which later drives an action. When the body becomes anxious or unsettled, our first instinct is establishing stasis. The urge to maintain stasis can prevent us to from being receptive to change by shutting everything down as soon as any negative feelings (like potentially being wrong) are experienced.
As humans, we filter information very effectively and rarely stop to think about it. We tend to pull in details that reinforce our beliefs and discredit those which don’t. Makes life easy-ish.
Combine this with years of the typical course-correcting involved with raising offspring, and many parents find it difficult to accept when a child does something to challenge their perceptions of how things “are”. Example, if a child references being a different gender, or comes out completely as lesbian, gay, bisexual, etc., a parent’s first instinct might be to “correct” them. This lends itself to re-direction away from a very personal aspect of the child’s identity and is extremely damaging. However subtle or overt the re-direction is, the child will interpret this as somehow being inherently “wrong” and begin to hide themselves.
Feeling uncomfortable can cause your mind to desperately look for ways to discredit the information being presented.
Swish that one around in your mouth for a while.
Adults forget what learning feels like, and begin to resist at the first itch of being unsettled. The feelings of anxiety I was experiencing during the day 3 exercise are actually an expected part of the process. Uncomfortable, but perfectly normal; this is how things expand and grow.
So, what to do? First, be aware of when your perceptions are getting in the way of supporting the child or young adult in your life. A key factor in healthy development for LGBTQ youth is growing up in a safe and environment where they can be themselves..
Second, start evaluating each thought as they appear. When beliefs are closely scrutinized, especially absolutes (boys don’t wear dresses, girls only date boys), you’ll notice trends. Once you start poking holes in the “all or nothing” perceptions being floated by your mind (which wants you to avoid the anxiety involved with change in the first place), these ideas often start to crumble.
From there, develop a toolkit of follow up questions for yourself (is my child making healthy choices, what really is the issue with a dress?). Doing this pivots your mind to problem solving, rather than avoiding the uncomfortableness. After enough times, your mind will stop surfacing the thought because it no longer works to prevent the action.
So, start getting out of your own way and get on with life already. Someone is counting on you.