We don’t like change, even though it may feel as if we do. We like the idea of a new job, or a new house, or a new basketball team. But while the idea is pleasant, the reality is often less so. Change is scary for the brain. Even positive change – such as a new relationship partner, a move to a new city, or a new promotion – can be stressful.
Our brains like routine. They like comfort. They like to feel like they know what’s going to happen next. When something is new, it is strange, and the brain may interpret that strangeness as a feeling of danger or a feeling of distress.
How We Traditionally Respond to Change
Sometimes, without realizing it, we have a tendency to withdraw from change in favor of what’s familiar. Even if we’re excited by the change, it’s not uncommon for this stress to prevent us from taking risks, learning new things, or engaging in behaviors that will help us progress to something better.
It becomes important to recognize that change will always make us uncomfortable. But recognizing it is not enough. You also have to be able to experience it and accept it. Only then can you begin to embrace change and learn to move forward through it.
The practice of being aware, acknowledging, and experiencing your thoughts and emotions is known as “mindfulness.” In other words, it’s the ability to be fully aware of the emotional, cognitive, and physical in the present. For example, you may experience or have the following thoughts:
- I feel nervous right now.
- I am tightening my abdomen.
- I am breathing faster.
- My thoughts have turned negative.
- I notice that I am feeling like I want to leave.
Mindfulness doesn’t have to be negative or anxiety-related, but it does focus on the here, the now, and the total human experience.
Embracing the Uncomfortable
What you may notice with mindfulness, however, is that you may find yourself more uncomfortable. This is because our instinct, when faced with change, is to go back to the familiar. Mindfulness encourages us to come to terms with where we are now, rather than running away or ignoring our present situation.
Yet, in this case, that discomfort is a good thing.
With mindfulness, learning to be comfortable with that discomfort has the potential to help you work through it. You can learn to sit with, and get used to, that discomfort:
- When you feel uncomfortable, acknowledge it and remind yourself that it is normal and related to change.
- Create a mantra for yourself and repeat it. Emphasize that the discomfort is a positive thing; that it is caused by, and represents, the changes you need to make in the future.
- Meditate (I highly recommend using an app like Headspace for starters). There are many ways to do this, such as using your breath as an anchor, or practicing guided imagery. Either way is excellent in bringing you back to the present moment.
- Evaluate how you’re feeling by giving yourself a “body scan” (trying to see how you feel in each body part from top to bottom), taking some deep, calming breaths, and reflecting on why you feel that way.
Above all else, let your mindfulness help you stop running away from change and instead learn to be “okay” with being uncomfortable.