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What Is Change?

“Change is inevitable. Growth is optional.” – John C. Maxwell

Change can be very uncomfortable initially because it requires us to go beyond our comfort zone. We all have an internal psychological thermostat that seeks to keep the temperature inside ourselves the same whenever the weather outside changes. So making changes often means that we have to reprogram our thermostat and tolerate the new uncomfortable temperature inside ourselves. Acknowledging and embracing this discomfort is the first helpful step by reminding ourselves that this discomfort is a natural process of change.

Change means different things to different people. For some people, it could be something as minor is reducing salt intake in their diet. For others, it could be something as powerful as the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S. where Martin Luther King Jr. led a Million Man March on Washington D.C.

Change is inconvenient. It means giving up old ways of doing things or switching off our autopilot mode. It means taking time to learn new ways of doing things, time that many of us don’t think we have.

Change requires patience, hard work, and persistence. Sometimes you might even ask yourself “What’s the point?” It took me eleven years of studying after high school to become a therapist – two years in college, six years doing my B.A. and three years completing my Masters. Whenever I felt discouraged, I reminded myself that I really wanted one day to be able to alleviate people’s emotional struggles through psychotherapy.

Change can be slow, incremental, and invisible at first, sometimes even over a long period of time. However, eventually it can accelerate and the benefits it reaps can be extremely powerful. It’s almost like planting seeds in the garden. We don’t see the results for months. First, we decide what types of seeds or bulbs we want to plant in our garden. Next, we pick the right spot for those seeds and bulbs, with the right type of soil and light condition. Then we water them and fertilize them. So one step at a time and one day at a time is all it takes.

Change means seeing things from a different perspective. It may mean looking at things as a whole picture or in a big scheme of things. Or it may mean focusing on minor details or small meaningful moments. It’s like changing the focus of the lens of your camera. Sometimes you need to zoom out the lens to see the big picture. Sometimes you need to zoom in to take a close-up in order to see the small details. No picture is good or bad, it’s all about perspective and what works for you at this point in your life. Looking at things from a different perspective can alleviate that internal conflict you have within yourself about a decision. Internal conflicts can often bring about lots of anxiety.

Change by nature leads you to redefine your long-held values or beliefs. For example, you may have chosen your current job because career, status, and money used to be very important to you at that point in your life. Now, it may be that family, health, and freedom is more important to you. Initially, I really wanted to get a Ph.D. to become a psychologist. While I studied my Masters, I realized that I didn’t want to pursue a Ph.D. for various reasons. I wanted to finish my Master’s degree to become a therapist instead. At first, it was very hard for me to change my plan because it seemed as if I was giving up and I didn’t like the idea of giving up. However looking back now, I am so glad I changed my career path.

Change sometimes requires us to take a step backward. This can seem like the opposite of growth. However, often we have to take a step back in order to go forward. For example, sometimes you need to have your car going backward in order to go forward. This is a necessary part of change, as long as you know why you need to first go backward and as long as you don’t let your car keep going backward.

Change means letting go. It means letting go of things like anger, victimization, hurts, disappointments, betrayals, abandonment, fears and more. It means letting go of old habits and old patterns of behaviours. It means letting go of negative messages we have received from others or told ourselves, messages such as MUSTs, MUST NOTs, OUGHT TOs, SHOULDs, SHOULDN’Ts, HAVE TOs, CAN’Ts, COULDN’Ts, etc. Change means letting go of expectations – the expectations you feel others have of you and those you place on yourself.

Change means looking within ourselves to find the answers rather than seeking for the solutions in other people or in our environment. Change means taking full personal responsibility for our behaviours, choices, and circumstances, no matter how hard it is to do so. It is not what life hands us. Rather, it is about how we make the best of what life hands us.

“Be the change you want to see in the world.” – Mahatma Ghandi

Change means confronting our own fears rather than avoiding them or running away from them. During my training with my first guide dog, I was asked by my instructor to approach the edge of the subway platform in New York City. Although I was gripped with fear, as I always had a big fear of stairs or drop-offs, I followed his instructions out of respect and courtesy. When my dog and I were finally standing right at the edge of the track, he told me to give my dog the command “Forward!” I thought he was crazy! I didn’t move. All kinds of thoughts and feelings were going on in my mind. One of the horrifying images was imagining that my dog and I falling down the track as the subway was approaching, crushing our bodies. I thought what if the dog forgets her training? Seeing me not moving, the instructor explained that this was a very important exercise. I needed to be able to trust my dog completely. Putting all of my emotions and logic aside, I cautiously gave the command to my dog “Forward!” Miraculously, I felt the harness in my left hand moving to the left as my dog turned to the left to step away from the track. I felt relieved! At that moment, I truly realized I could trust my dog. I bent down and gave her a huge big hug!

Change means redefining your identity or your purpose. One client I used to work with was previously a doctor who lost his vision in his 40s. This was extremely devastating for him. He had to change his identity from being a doctor and a career-oriented man to being a great husband, father, son and friend. Rather than focusing on the physical side of things, he had to learn to focus more on the emotional and spiritual aspects of life.

Change is a choice. It means appreciating the simple things in life and focusing on small happy moments. A dying patient in the hospital told me how much she looked forward to my dog and I visiting her bedside every day.

Change starts with one person’s vision. Bill Gates had the vision that everyone has a personal computer in their home. Thus, you, and you alone, can make a huge difference in the world!

If you are considering making changes in your life, don’t be afraid. Don’t let your life be dominated by self-doubts and others’ expectations and limited by fears and roadblocks. Rather, let your life be driven by endless possibilities, growth, hopes, optimism and open doors! And if you have already started to make changes in your life, have faith in yourself, believe in yourself and keep going! Don’t give up, even if others and your doubting self tell you so!

“When one door of happiness closes, another opens. But often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.” – Helen Keller

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