The prompt for this week’s Sunday Scribbling is “# 39 Change”. “New Year's is coming up, and with it, maybe, resolutions for change, for growth, for achievements in the coming year. You might write about that -- whether you make resolutions or not (if not, why?) -- or about the idea of change in general. Is it scary? Is it possible for people to change in any fundamental way? Or are we stamped with our strengths and failings, cast in a mold, unable to change our natural shapes? What do you think of change?”
I do not think of “Change” when I think of the proverbial New Year’s Resolutions. I prefer to adapt – embrace that which is in order to achieve that which is not.
Many people embark on their New Year with great expectations, creating an entire paradigm of “resolutions” meant to recreate the body and soul. Some avow to increase their health, while others set determination towards improving their natures. “I WILL quit smoking!” or “I WILL eat less chocolate!” are tantamount to “I WILL spend more time with my children” and “I WILL read at least one book a week”. Empty promises, all of them.
We can not miraculously break old habits and restructure new ones in their stead. Our environment will remain as it was on December 31, and the mystifying harkening of the new year at the stroke of midnight will not suddenly revamp it, barring leaving our entire life as we know it behind and taking up existence in a new time and place far removed from what we held true prior to that fatal midnight chime. Should we seek to make changes, we must start with the understanding that it is we who must adapt while we attempt to place those “resolutions” into effect.
If one resolves to attempt smoking cessation, one usually runs through the house removing all the ashtrays. They throw out matches and lighters. They browse the pharmacy shelves and select a nicotine cessation aid. They perhaps toss a package of drinking straws, hard candy or toothpicks in for good measure because they know they must also break the oral fixation and habit alongside the dependency upon nicotine. Set and ready, eager for the stroke of the Midnight Toll, they jump and shout and proclaim “NOW!” as the moment of their planned resolution’s naissance. They are attempting to adopt a new behaviour by adapting their environment to fit that desired behavior. Failure is certain for many, while some do actually succeed.
Instead of attempting to adapt the environment to suit our desired goal, we need to focus on adapting to our environment to better reach success. In the case of the smoking cessation, all we have done is deprive ourselves of the enjoyment of a habit. The normal day-to-day stress will still be there, now coupled with the stress of habit rehabilitation. Once the stress becomes too extreme (kudos to the kids, the job, the spouse, the bills, and all the other little bothersome worries) we take on a “screw this” mentality, and race to our nearest mini-mart to purchase a pack of cigarettes. “Just one,” we chide ourselves, “just one to get past this stressful moment!”
Rule Number One: that which you are stressing over is causing you to stress.
Emotional stress (for I am not speaking of physical stress, such as lifting weights or running a marathon, or physical duress such as being physically held hostage at knife point) is cause by our reactions to our environment. We do not want to accept that which is beyond our ability to change.
Example: I break a cherished Christmas ornament. I have two options now.
1. I can cry and wail in angst over the loss of the ornament (which will do nothing but make me more upset; it will not bring the ornament back to a state of being whole. How stressful!)
2. I can acknowledge the ornament is broken by briefly mourning its loss, and then sweep the pieces into the waste bin. I should not punish myself for my moment of carelessness, nor should I hate myself. My feels should be pure, a simple grieving for the loss of something material rather than a emotionally filled diatribe over the stress caused by self-abuse and self-punishment. (How often do you allow that which you stress over to spill into the lives of your loved ones? Do you often find yourself taking out your “feelings of stress” on others?)
Option #1 is an example of us being unwilling or unable to accept – to adapt – to a situation. Option #2 is an example of adaptation – the acceptance of “that which is” so that we are ready to advance to the “that which shall be”. Option one leads to the oppression of true feelings – we depress – instead of allowing us to feel as we need to in order to move on.
Rule Number Two: perspective is everything.
How we see something is how we react to it. We can not hope to see the positives when we concentrate only on the negatives.
Example: a woman struggling with maintaining a “diet” in order to lose weight.
The woman has chosen to “diet” for several reasons. She may see herself as ugly and useless. She might wish to shed pounds to wear the latest fashions. She may be seeking a mate. She has a variety of reasons to alter her normal diet routine in order to achieve her goal of a slimmer person. How does she approach it?
1. She looks at her image in the mirror and loathes herself. She sees only a repulsive, obese person staring back at her. She sees what society has told us to believe about people who are overweight: a lazy, useless individual who is unable or unwilling to cease stuffing her face with carbs and refined sugars. She throws out all “bad food” and purchases carrots, celery and appetite suppression pills. She hunkers down for the horrible ordeal that she knows lies ahead. This woman punishes herself for every “slip”. She may allow herself to degrade into an eating disorder. She is depressed; she is stressed. She may lose weight, but it returns over and over – the dieting yo-yo effect.
2. She sees a woman on the verge of rebirth. She acknowledges the thin person inside of her. She gazes upon her own eyes and sees that they are beautiful. She looks at her face, and pulls skin and fat back to show the promise of a cheek bone or jaw line. She likes what she thinks can be done, and sets her mind towards liberating the body shape she knows that she can achieve. She knows it will be a challenge, and she seeks out her doctor to rule out any disease or illness that may have attributed to her weight gain over the years. She then sets up a simple diet plan, fully aware that she may not always be able to stick to it. Her weight loss is slow but healthy, and she adapts to her new way of eating over the course of time. She celebrates every new change and she revels in the gradual loss of inches. Her goal was simply to liberate herself for the pure pleasure of “change”.
If we tell ourselves that something will be bad, it will be horrid. We should acknowledge that we will have to struggle with coping while we adapt, but we should never think of something as being insurmountable simply because we fear the challenge.
Rule Number Three: live, laugh, love.
Once we learn to let go of the things we can not change, and accept the things we can – and once we learn that our perspective is the key to our success – we have plenty of time to take pleasure in life itself. We preserve our healthy coping skills by suffusing them with abundant doses of delight and positive thinking. Life will not always be rosy and bright, but we quickly ascertain that we can handle the stresses of our environment simply by seeing them for what they are – our own reaction to the world around us.