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How to Prepare for Life Changes

What to expect when you're not expecting

Most of us are taught to approach life in a very linear way; life appears to move forward, right? And as life moves on, it’s logical that the more change and transition you go through, the more opportunity you have to perceive the patterns of your life, how you handle change, and whether or not you can successfully negotiate and navigate necessary transitions, both those you initiate and those that just come about on their own.

Being able to assess, to understand, to know, where you are at any given point is a very valuable tool. By the time you are a young adult you’ve experienced enough to know some essential things about yourself: what you like and what you don’t like, what you excel at and what you have no interest in, what your special talents and gifts are, what really works for you, and what falls short of your reasonable expectations.

So you have to know yourself well enough to know what you want, what you realistically can do, and you have to have some idea, and ideally some plans about how to accomplish that. Most certainly, you want to be able to identify what you want as opposed to what others want for you.

Let’s take going to college as an example. Today this starts even before pre-school with parents focusing on and managing their child’s activities, especially ones pursued because the parents believe that these will increase their child’s chances for a better future. But eventually, the child needs to take over this process for him/her self. Somewhere along the way, and this ideally should begin very early on in life, children need to separate and individuate from their parents. They need to have their own experiences and to learn to manage them. Parental guidance is essential, but children should be allowed to make age-appropriate decisions, take responsibility for these decisions, and learn to accept the consequences.

Here are some basic points to keep in mind:

Whatever happens to you is ultimately up to you. Be aware and beware of making excuses and inventing reasons why life is too difficult for you to navigate through and/or manage on your own. Don’t assume that what seems comfortable and familiar is always for your greater good. By relinquishing your responsibility for yourself you allow others to make vital choices and decisions for you. It’s no longer your life; it’s someone living your life for you.

After you’ve weighed your options, you need to put your thoughts and feelings into motion. Conscious action has the power to creatively translate your personal, intimate, inner world into a tangible, recognizable process in the world outside of your self. Consider all of the possibilities and then choose one and pursue it to its conclusion.

Becoming personally accountable for yourself and your actions frees you from outside influences, boosts confidence in your ability to make healthy choices and decisions, and ultimately fosters trust in your own process. This is also a key way to express your individuality, to present a unique and fresh perspective.

Recognize that change is essential for living a fruitful life. Fear of change, fear of stepping into the unknown, creates a monolithic existence, often dull, narrow in scope, and uninspired. Change creates possibility.

So what happens when life gets in the way of your plans and you’re forced to change course? What are some typical thoughts and feelings that you might experience?

The response to change of this kind depends on who you are as a person, what you expect of yourself, and what you feel is your obligation. Some individuals will throw themselves into the task of doing whatever needs to be done. In fact, some people thrive in critical situations because they feel needed and appreciated. Others may take a less proactive approach, waiting for a situation to unfold and/or for others to take charge.

As far as feelings, these can run the gamut ---confusion, being overwhelmed, anxiety, disappointment, and even short-term depression because of having to change course, or having to put one’s life on the back burner for a period of time. In fact, there are specific emotions attached to making any change especially at the beginning of the process. These include a sense of loss (you’re often giving up something for something different when you make change), uncertainty, doubt, and discomfort. Once you go through those feelings, you’re far enough along in the process of transition to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Most people will be able to regroup, to figure out what needs to be done according to priority, and do what they have to do until their goal is reached.

So when you’re forced to abandon your plans and what you want for yourself what are some ways to help you deal with a sudden change in plans, or those transitions that you may not have chosen?

If the change is inevitable, then deciding to accept it is the first step.

A situation where you have little control, at first, might seem overwhelming and daunting, so it’s a good idea to break it down into smaller pieces, giving yourself a better chance to wrap your head around what’s happening and what you’ll need to do.

Once you’ve made a firm decision to shift gears and put your own plans aside for the time being, you’ll be less affected by the emotions of change. Now you can fully address the practical matters that have to be attended to that might include getting your current life in order so that you can shift direction. In other words, take care of your own business.

Assess what will be required to do in this situation and what will be required of you personally. Will you need to be present full-time, or can you manage part-time perhaps with other people sharing responsibility?

Is this a long-term commitment or just for a finite period of time?

Continue to make plans for your own future even while you’re setting them aside for a period of time. Create a plan for yourself so that when you are able to get back to your own life, you’ve considered what you’ll need to do.

Make sure to take time for yourself.

What do you do when you sense that you yourself may need to adjust your plans as opposed to an outside event that forces you to change? Perhaps you begin to feel that the course you’ve set out on doesn’t feel right or are experiencing inner turmoil about a decision you’ve made.

The realization that things aren’t what you want them to be may be accompanied by any number of emotions and their degree of severity: fear, frustration, resentment, guilt, anxiety and/or depression, and even panic. The realization or insight may hit that the choices or decisions you’ve made aren’t working---maybe never did, maybe never will. Perhaps the direction your life has taken had more to do with influential people around you and you want and intend to do something different for yourself now.

Decide to take ownership and responsibility for your life’s choices and their consequences.

Choose to do what you feel is best for you. Choose what’s more interesting to you, or something you feel passionately about, or focus on what you believe will be most-fulfilling and satisfying. Be prepared for input from others, whether you want that or nor, but stick to your guns once you begin.

Create a plan, a timetable on paper, to organize what you need to do for yourself to change the course of your life. The goal of this exercise is not just about seeing life unfold in exactly the way you think or fantasize it should be. Rather, its real value is revealed through a constant process of reexamining, redefining, and reframing the life that you’re in, in order to gain mastery over the life you want to create.

Edit the plan as appropriate along the way, because your life is a constant ‘work in progress,’ which continues to evolve in often unexpected ways.

Choose one goal from the plan and set it in motion. Take time every day to either take an action or to give some focused thought to how you will achieve what you desire.

Revise your plan in six months and again, in a year. Feel free to make changes in the interim, replacing outdated ideas with ones that more accurately reflect where you are and where you want to go.

Bounce what’s on your mind off people you consider close friends and/or family if they happen to fit that description---people that really know you, people that you trust, people that will really listen to you, will offer appropriate advice, and who will respect your wishes and decisions completely.

What can a person do to help them know whether they should or should not change course? In other words, how can you do an accurate “gut check” of what will ultimately be best or make you happiest or what you want deep down?

Here are some questions you should ask yourself to know for sure whether your plans are worth abandoning or resetting for something better, or something you think might make you happier:

Is the goal I’m setting for myself a reasonable one? Are my expectations about what I expect from life and about myself realistic ones? Is my plan feasible or practical? Am I on the right track based on my success up to this point? Is the prospect of making this change exciting and inspiring to me? How much personal sacrifice is required? How much risk is involved and am I willing to take it? Do I fully understand all of the ramifications and consequences of making this change?

Last but certainly not least, intuition is inherent within all of us---although many people don’t pay much attention to it or may not even believe in it. (It’s not a logical or practical process.) But intuition developed over time gives you some idea of what you’re really feeling. And after a while you can count on it as a legitimate and necessary source of knowing. Your “gut”, or any other part of your body, can tell you a lot about what’s going on internally, often when you’re not even aware of it on any other level.

More from Abigail Brenner M.D.
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