Beginnings & Endings: Making Sense of Life Changes

The holiday season has ended, the parties and festivities subsided, and we come back to reality. With so much talk about New Year Resolutions and the belief that with the New Year change should take place, there can be a sense of pressure to create change before we may truly be ready to move forward. How can we learn to trust when the time is right for change? As we all know trying to change before you’re ready only exacerbates the problem.

Studies show that approximately 40% of people make New Year’s resolutions, but only between 8–19% of people actually follow through on fulfilling those promises and wind up feeling weak, remorseful and disappointed instead of feeling empowered!

This New Years, instead of focusing on all the ways we’re not good enough, berating ourselves for all the ways we wish we would change, what if we tried loving and accepting ourselves just as we are.

An important question to ask ourselves is “Is this the right time to change?” “Are you ready?”

When you make promises before you are ready you just prove to yourself what you’ve suspected all along – that you don’t have the willpower, you’re not trustworthy and you never follow through on your word. Then feeling disenchanted we can enter a downward spiral of faulty beliefs, “Oh, what’s the use, I’ll never overcome this.”

I still remember the time I was determined to help my grandmother stop smoking. She kept saying she wanted to quit so I thought I will help her along. I always remember her with a cigarette in her mouth enjoying her first steaming cup of morning coffee. She would tell me while smoking, “Karen go out of the kitchen, smoking is an expensive bad habit, I don’t want you inhaling the smoke.” As time went on I learned about the dangers of smoking, I started to hear about the horrors of lung cancer, and I loved my Granny so much I didn’t want her to die of such an illness, so at 10 years old I had a plan. A plan that I thought would work and she would stop smoking. I will make it easy for her.

One afternoon when she wasn’t around I took a red pack of Pal Mall’s from the kitchen drawer, I gingerly placed a tiny toy gray mouse in a half empty pack, fitting it in perfectly I then I wrapped it up in one of her silk scarves. I thought she will pick it up unwrap it and I will scare her into not smoking. Well, indeed that is what happened but not the way I planned. She unwrapped it thinking it was a little present from me, opened the cigarette pack, screamed and shrieked hysterically, the cigarettes and mouse went flying in the air and I received a hard smack on my rear end. Tears streaming down my face, my grandmother explained to me that when she was a young woman she worked as a book keeper and there were mice where she worked, and because of this she had a phobia of little gray mice.

She took my hand and looked into my eyes and said, “Sweetheart, I know you want me to stop smoking, but this isn’t the way. When I am ready I will stop. Scaring me, begging me, being a noodge none of this will work until I want to stop 100 percent. You don’t need to worry about me, I will take care of myself, but thank you, I love you for caring about me so much.”

Eventually she stopped smoking. Twenty years later at 50 she stopped. One morning Yetta woke up and said, “It’s enough, it’s a waste of money.” She joined a quit smoking course at a nearby hospital and never looked back. She lived until 96!

Instead, wait until you’ve decided it’s really time. Radically love and accept every little flaw that makes you who you are, for better or for worse.

Research shows changing habits is usually cyclical. Change is a process, taking a few attempts is not failure, it’s just a gap, and it’s about regrouping and getting back on track.

When we can’t move forward, nor backwards, hovering in limbo, William Bridges in his book “Transitions” call this stage the “Neutral Zone.” Sometimes we need to stay in this space, until we have the strength and belief in ourselves to take the next step.

A few steps to consider:

Don’t act for the sake of action: The temporary situation may be frustrating and there often the temptation to just “do something, anything” This process requires that we discover whatever we need to learn for the next step we are going to take.  We need to stay in the space long enough to complete this process and not end it prematurely.

Recognize why you are uncomfortable: Distress does not necessarily mean something has gone wrong rather something is changing. Understand that creating a new habit, goal, plan is a process and expect there may be times of anxiety, others may seem threatened by new behavior or old fears may be awakened. This transition clears the ground for new growth and beginnings.

Take care of yourself in little ways: Be sensitive to your smallest needs. Find the little things in your life that brings continuity when everything else appears to be changing.  As simple as eating your favorite food, schedule to watch a familiar TV program or that “good feel” movie that brings a smile to your face.

Remember when you love yourself in spite of your imperfections, you will come to a place one day in the future, and it will come when you least expect it. It won’t come from shame. It will come from self-love, self-care, and a true desire for change. It will come from within, being able to relax into the awareness about who you are rather than trying to “be” something that you are not.