No matter how stable our lives, we’re all due to hit times of great change. We move, we lose friends, jobs change, projects end, families break up, people die, people are born. We take on new responsibilities, new burdens, and new doubts. The one constant through change is you, and you can’t be caught standing still when change comes.
Change can bring wonderful opportunities if you notice what’s happening. And there are some habits you can develop to be better prepared to notice those opportunities, and to ride the wave of change. Here are a few I’ve been developing:
1. Exercise – many good men and women have turned to exercise as a way to clarify thinking. I find a good run can replace dullness or stress with a sense of wellbeing. A good walk in nature incubates good ideas. And the struggles of sports and competition can give you 1) a welcome break from the struggles of change and 2) the confidence to face them head-on.
2. Journalling – when you keep a daily journal, you may go a number of different directions with your writing. Some days, for instance, I’ll share the story of what happened. Other days I’ll zero in on one struggle or feeling or event and plumb the depths. Both practices yield some value.
3. Writing – Few things compare with daily creativity as a cure for anxiety. Few daily habits compete with writing and publishing on a personal website for ease and effectiveness. As others have noted, writing is a great form of thinking, and making it a daily habit will help you to notice more of what is going on around you.
4. Working Harder / Working Longer – Don’t be caught sleeping when change comes, or while it’s swirling around you. Whatever you’re doing (assuming it’s the right thing to be doing), work harder and longer. Renew your dedication and squeeze the most you can. If your job is about to change, end on a high note. If your relationship is nearing its end, don’t leave without knowing you did what you could.
5. Doing Good – getting out of your own head is a great challenge during uncertain and stressful times. Helping someone else is a great way to relativize your own troubles and make a valuable contribution (instead of moping). Fortunately, we’re surrounded by opportunities to help and do good.
6. Building a Backup – Be prepared with your own survival kit for whatever chaos you might encounter. Have your family’s funeral plans ready.Have money in the bank. Keep a fresh copy of your resume updated. These things will help you act faster and more effectively when things go wrong.
7. Develop an Ideal Vision – Decide what kind of person you want to be and what kind of life you want to lead. I’ve done this using Jordan Peterson’s Future Authoring writing program, but there are plenty of ways to discover and write down this ideal for yourself. As Peterson advises, orient yourself toward the ideal you, that also happens to be the ideal you for the world. If you move toward that through change, you’ll still be better on the other end than you were before change kicked in. You can focus on becoming (changes in yourself) rather than controlling external events.
8. Observation – Take some time to notice the changes as they are happening. Don’t rely on your knee-jerk reactions. With any luck, you’ll have enough time to see how your past actions (or inactions) led to the negative parts of the change. Develop a sense of responsibility for the change, grieve for the change (if you’re feeling it), and above all demystify it. When you look closely, a thing that can feel personal becomes impersonal and much less threatening.
9. Learning / Reading – You should always be developing yourself personally and professionally, but never more than when you don’t have certainty or stability about the future. You don’t want to find yourself on the defensive due to a lack of knowledge or skill. Actively developing skills gives you the initiative even as things change around you.
10. Imagination / Perspective – Take time to think about what life could be like after the changes are through with you. Things probably won’t be that bad. In fact, there are probably all kinds of ways in which a worse-case scenario can open up (to use the cliche) new doors for you. Employ the Stoic attitude and, as Ryan Holliday advises in his great book The Obstacle is the Way, love your fate (“amor fati”).