Creating Lasting Change in Your Life

There are times when change is beyond your control—the divorce that you didn’t see coming, the health crisis that started with a routine trip to the doctor, the layoffs you’d hoped would spare your department. Then there’s the kind of change that you actively seek out—a more rewarding career, a fitter body, a greater sense of gratitude—particularly when you feel stuck and want to be happier, healthier or just like a better version of yourself.

“Change, whether good or bad, is a part of life. And, though you may not always realize it, everybody wants to change on a deep, subconscious level,” says Pamela Dintaman, MDiv, BCC, Spiritual Wellness Provider at Canyon Ranch® Tucson. “Some people thrive on change, but there are many people who not only resist change, but actually fear it. The part of us that wants change is the part that longs to let go of our habits that no longer serve us in order for us to choose healthier ones, like staying fit, reaching career goals and choosing nurturing relationships.” Dintaman adds that our natural way of being is change and flow and growth; when all of that stops happening, our lives become stagnant. “We crave change because it is natural.”

When it comes to making that change a reality, some people dive right in—joining a gym, moving to a new city, following an old dream. But others may hesitate to take a leap and actually fear doing so, even if they ultimately want that transformation to happen. “Sometimes we’re worried about what change will look like for us and we become trapped in familiar behaviors and feelings,” says Dintaman. “But if you take a closer look at how you view things and how you feel, you can create a meaningful, lasting shift over time.” It’s really about allowing ourselves to be changed, she adds, and adjusting our perspective to a “transformative mindset.”

With a little work and a little help, you can invite change in. Here are Dintaman’s key pieces of advice as you begin to move toward whatever change you seek:

Consider your overall health. When all aspects of your wellness—physical, emotional, mental and spiritual—are balanced, you are better equipped to face any obstacles that come with making a change. If, for example, you’re battling a physically draining health condition, you may not feel up to finding a new job. Or, if you’re grieving the loss of a loved one, you may not be emotionally ready to move far from family and friends. Change happens most easily when we are taking care of ourselves on all levels.

Evaluate your thoughts. At the outset of starting a new phase in your life, it’s helpful to take stock of what’s running through your head. “Are your thoughts supporting you in this transformation, or are they hindering you?” asks Dintaman. Helpful thinking is non-judgmental and understanding: I know I can feel happier if I communicate with my husband better. Less supportive thoughts include self-criticism you may think will spur you to take action: I am completely undesirable as long as I am overweight; who would love me? “When you’re hard on yourself, you become your own worst enemy, and may feel even more hesitant to make a shift,” notes Dintaman.

Nurture your spirituality. Along with being more aware of how your thoughts play a role, developing a stronger connection with something greater will also help prepare you for what’s ahead. “When we acknowledge that there’s something larger than ourselves that we can call on for support, it’s a wonderful thing,” Dintaman says. “Strengthening your faith—and trusting it—helps confirm you don’t have to face a change alone, which can feel intimidating.” What “nurturing your spirituality” means for you could be anything from praying and meditating to going for a long run or practicing pottery. “It’s whatever inspires a sense of reverence to something greater than yourself,” she says. (Our article, “What’s Your Spiritual Personality?, can help you define your spiritual self and learn how to nurture it.)

Ask for help. “We need to reach out for support. We don’t have to figure this all out by ourselves,” Dintaman emphasizes. A counselor—whether a mental health professional or a spiritual counselor—can be useful in breaking patterns of thinking and acting that don’t serve the changes you want to introduce into your life, such as: It will take too long and cost too much to change careers. I can’t start over now. “Talking with someone can make a goal clearer and the ability to reach it will feel more attainable,” explains Dintaman.

Be patient. “This process doesn’t produce instantaneous results; we have to endure moments of doubt and fear, and understand that significant change takes time,” explains Dintaman. “Sometimes you have to take the plunge, do some real soul-searching and wait a while. I often think of the caterpillar in its cocoon. What is needed in the cocoon? Transformation, trust, surrender, patience, and a willingness to let go of the old and open to the new. I imagine it might not be entirely comfortable. But when a butterfly emerges, everything is different, and it was worth the wait.”

More: When the Terrain of Life Changes…
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