Growing and changing keeps you young and happy — if only it were easier to do! All of us feel stuck in our ways sometimes, and it can be difficult to know how to break out of old routines and transition to a new phase of life. We rounded up experts who shared their tips on welcoming change, and thriving throughout the many transitions we’ll make during our lifetimes.
Go ahead and moan.
Just accepting that change is hard is the first step to getting “unstuck,” promises psychotherapist Andrea Brandt, Ph.D., author of Mindful Aging: Embracing Your Life After 50 to Find Fulfillment, Purpose, and Joy (Buy on Amazon, $15). “From technology constantly evolving to changes in our routines that are still hard to get used to, life can feel disorienting,” she says. “It isn’t your fault, and you’re not crazy, so go ahead and grouse about it with friends who have gone through similar challenges.” Sharing discomfort with an understanding pal helps normalize your feelings, so you can begin to address them without judgment.
When we feel stuck, nostalgia is often the thing holding us back. “I’m rearranging furniture that’s been in the same place for 30 years,” says Brandt, who couldn’t bring herself to move anything until a friend took a picture of her room. “I needed to look at that photo to see a few pieces were just too big for my space,” she says. That mental shift inspired Brandt to recruit her friend to help her decide what to let go of. “I’m still nostalgic, but I’m much more confident when I throw something out — often all you need is a new point of view.”
Looming change can cause us to put things off, observes Rachel Hershenberg, Ph.D., author of Activating Happiness (Buy on Amazon, $17) and assistant professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Emory University. “Focus on the process by doing something new one small step at a time, and embrace changes you’re passionate about,” she urges. We often think we should know how to do something, like master some new technology, because everyone else is doing it. “But when we take on something that we want to learn about, not something we feel socially compelled to learn about,” she says, “we stop delaying.”
Overcome ‘life quakes.’
We go through three to five major transitions in our lifetime, says Bruce Feiler, author of seven New York Times bestsellers, including Life is in the Transitions: Mastering Change at Any Age (Buy on Amazon, $15). Feiler call these transitions “life quakes,” and each says each one has three phases: “the long goodbye” (mourning what you’re leaving), “the messy middle” (shedding old habits), and “the new beginning” (unveiling your new self). “You don’t have to go through them in any order.” Task-oriented folks, for example, might tackle the “messy middle” first and write to-do lists to ease into a new routine. Just knowing there is structure to transition that you can address at your own pace helps you welcome change.
Take comfort in rituals.
After interviewing hundreds of folks who struggled with big transitions, Feiler found that “80 percent of them lean on rituals, from lighting candles to going on a ‘pilgrimage,’ to help them through change.” These gestures not only serve you, they’re a way of signaling to others that you’re going through a transition, making it easier for them to reach out with support.
Laugh at yourself.
Perhaps the best ally to help you with large and small change is your sense of humor. “I have a new medicine cabinet and it’s hard to get used to,” says Brandt. “I walk into the bathroom and I’m always shocked, so I just laugh at myself and say, Andrea, it’s a darn mirror! ” When you can smile about it, change is like a hand at your back gently pushing you to do something new, she says. “We create tomorrow with what we do today — so don’t put off doing it!”
A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.