Creating Lasting Change in Your Life

There are times when change is beyond your control—a family rift you didn’t see coming, the layoffs you’d hoped would spare your department. There are also changes you actively seek out—a more rewarding career, a fitter body, greater sense of gratitude. And there are temporary, social circumstances that can change all our lives, all at once. We each get through it in our own ways. It’s helpful to know how you usually deal with change.

“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 Stephanie Ludwig, PhD, MDiv, MA, director of spiritual wellness 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 longs to let go of habits that no longer serve us, so we can choose healthier ones, like staying fit, reaching career goals, and choosing nurturing relationships.” Ludwig 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’s natural.”

When it comes to making that change a reality, some people dive right in—becoming vegan, moving to a new city, following an old dream. But others may hesitate to take that leap; they may fear it, even if they ultimately want that transformation to happen.

“Sometimes we’re worried about what change will look like for us. We become trapped in familiar behaviors and feelings,” says Ludwig. “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 bit of help, you can invite change in. Here are Ludwig’s key pieces of advice as you begin to move toward whatever change you seek:

When all aspects of your wellness—physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual—are balanced, you’re 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.

When you’re 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 Ludwig. Helpful thinking is nonjudgmental and understanding: I know I can feel happier if I communicate with my spouse better. Less supportive thoughts include self-criticism you only 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 Ludwig.

Along with being aware of the role your thoughts play, 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,” Ludwig says. “Strengthening your faith—and trusting it—helps confirm you don’t have to face 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 making pottery. “It’s whatever inspires a sense of reverence for something greater than yourself,” she says.

“We all need to reach out for support at times. We don’t have to figure this all out by ourselves,” Ludwig emphasizes. A counselor—whether a mental health professional or a spiritual counselor—can help you break patterns of thinking and acting that don’t serve the changes you want in 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 your ability to reach it will feel more attainable,” explains Ludwig.

“This process doesn’t produce instantaneous results. We have to endure moments of doubt and fear, and understand that significant change takes time,” explains Ludwig. “Sometimes you have to take the plunge, do some real soul-searching and wait awhile. 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.”

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