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Ease into Change

By Monica Kathuria, PsyD

It’s true, nothing beats summers in Chicago! Warm weather and festivals, mustard and the bleachers, patios and rooftops, summer dresses and flip flops, the river walk and the lake, craft beers and rosé all day….

And then in a blink of an eye, it happens. The air becomes brisk, the latest trendy sweater makes its appearance, bright green leaves become warm hues of red and orange, and there is talk of pumpkin spice everything. While many might look forward to this change, it’s still change, and change can be uncomfortable and unfamiliar, even if you’ve experienced it before. When summer came, we settled into a new norm. It took time to adjust to something we were looking forward to, and we soon forgot that 60 degrees in Chicago does not mean shorts weather (you know who you are).

Change makes people feel uncomfortable, even if it is something you are looking forward to: a new job, a new relationship, or a new dog. Imagine if you wanted to make a change which you might not be looking forward to. Finally decided to work on that New Year’s resolution? Workouts at 5:30am are not for everyone, especially when it’s pitch black out. And, black coffee, no creamer or sugar? That’s brutal. Anything pumpkin spice is not meant to be calorie conscious. You know you don’t like these changes, but you also know you’ll feel better and have more energy if you work out regularly and eat healthier.

Now imagine you are trying to distance yourself from a toxic relationship. The decision to do so might be a necessary one, but after years of having that person in your life, how do you manage to accomplish this one? Or, maybe you’ve outgrown someone, and though they might not be toxic, you might not share the same values, and it feels like they hold you back in certain areas of your life. These changes might feel impossible. The reality is that they are not impossible. They are difficult. It might be safe to say some are extremely difficult. Everything you know would need to change, and that unfamiliarity is what is actually holding you back. You don’t know what life without that person would be like until you do it, and so it will be unfamiliar.

We tend to gravitate (consciously and unconsciously) to what’s familiar because that familiarity is known. The unknown can be scary, but the unknown can also peak curiosity. Believe it or not though, familiarity seems to outweigh curiosity. This perpetuates the cycle – you want to change something in your life, so you put in some effort, but the discomfort of the unfamiliar feels too hard, so you stick with what you know, and we’re back to the beginning.

So, how do we tackle change? Change can occur gradually. You set yourself up for failure if you try to make a big change all at once. Instead, ease into it. Before moving to a new city, make a couple trips to get familiar with it, research places/things of interest to you, join a group for new comers. Trying to change your lifestyle might mean working out twice a week, and gradually up to four times. If you want to distance yourself from someone, don’t make yourself so available to them all the time, or let yourself wait before responding immediately to their text messages. The other person might not like it, but they will soon expect to not hear from you immediately. Support around these changes from a trusted person might motivate you, so it might be helpful to have someone who can help hold you accountable for your actions to help you stick to the course for change you are wanting.

In order for change to occur, you must sit with the discomfort until it becomes comfortable. Semisonic said it best: “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end”

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