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You don't need to be that guy. Seriously, transition sucks but chances are it won't matter in a year. Don't let little stuff change your happiness.

Manage the Unexpected – Coping With Change

I’m realizing how much we humans like to think we’re in control of things and how things are stable – coping with change isn’t our inherent strength.  More precisely I’m beginning to understand how fearful you can get when you realize you AREN’T in control of things.  On some level you know, with absolute certainty, that life is going to do whatever it wants anyway and you don’t really have a choice in the matter.  Still, it’s human nature to go through elaborate gymnastics to try to pretend that the universe isn’t inherently chaotic. Which is hilarious, when you really think about it. Your happiness can’t depend on what’s happening around and to you – it has to be about how you cope with it.

This has come to the surface for me because, like every other topic I write about, something in my life has triggered it.  As many of you know I’m recently married, recently pregnant and moving – which means I need a good reminder about coping with change and keeping my joyfulness in the process.  In times like this, where one uncontrollable situation piles on top of another it is easy to watch yourself fall back on the human defaults.  Eat more comfort food, drink more wine, get Grumpy or Weepy or really any other one of the Seven Dwarves with the possible exception of Sneezy. Maybe I have some control.  Or, at the end of the day, maybe I don’t. Why should that change how I feel?




Here’s the thing – it’s really scary and vulnerable to know that you don’t know what’s going to happen next.  The more the outcome matters to you, the scarier and more vulnerable it is. This is admitting that you are adrift in life and can’t see what is coming around the next corner. It is also liberating in a strange way.  It means letting go of all of the things you think “should” happen or  “could” happen and just waiting to see what is actually going to happen.  It means letting go of what you want, and just waiting to see what IS – waiting for reality to show up.  Actually allowing life to unfold in a surprising and often wonderful way and accepting whatever comes.

Of course in medicine this is a common crossroads for people to walk.  The waiting for test results, the waiting for therapies and the waiting to see if a treatment plan is working.  Accepting your own limitations, especially if those limits are changing, and learning to work with a new normal.  My experience has been that for many people dealing with not being in control is more difficult than dealing with the condition itself.

Take Care of You First When You’re Coping With Change

Chances are if you’re coping with change or some unexpected situation has happened then this is when your schedule is most likely to be overfull, action-packed and non-stop.  It could also be when your budget is the tightest, your pennies the most pinched and generally when you have the least extra anything.  It is also the most important time to take time for you.  Whether you have it or not, you can’t do without it.  Your happiness is a priority. Don’t cancel the massage or the lunch with friends or the hour that you get to read or whatever.  Leave room for you in your schedule because this is when you need recharge time the most.  It’s also when you need real sleep and good food the most so those areas aren’t the places to cut corners either.  Here are a few quick fixes for getting through tough times:

  • Streamline Your Time – Quit the PTA, the extra committee at work, the neighborhood association that meets too frequently or whatever it is that you feel like you should be doing, but don’t need to be.  The bottom line is that those things will go on just fine without you but you’ll move forward much better without the extra obligations. You can always go back to it later but right now you need that time for your life.
  • Minimize Other Stress – If one area of your life is unexpectedly blowing up, then make sure the other areas of your life are staying calm.  Say no to extra projects at work, delegate whatever you can, and stay away from office politics as well as actual politics – this isn’t the time.
  • Ask for Help – You have a community of people, and humans are social animals.  It helps your friends to feel like a part of your life if they can help you in some small way – especially when you’re in a crisis.  It doesn’t have to be huge stuff, it can be tiny things but everything adds up. Besides there’s a wonderful warm-fuzzy that happens when someone in your community steps up for you.  Besides – you will get to step up for them at some point, it’s what we do.
  • Offload Junk – I’m not sure why this helps, but I’ve found that for a lot of people sending a load of stuff to goodwill and clearing some of the clutter out of their home actually helps to clear up mental clutter too – it’s like the magical sneak-attack stress fix.  If you haven’t worn it or thought about it or dusted it for 6 months, toss it. It’s not making your life better in any way.
  • Don’t Take On Other People’s Problems – Ironically, we love to do this.  Roll around in someone else’s muck – for whatever reason it’s a very human thing.  When everything is fine in your life that probably doesn’t really have any negative consequences, it’s probably just fine.  When your life is blowing up is when it’s a problem. If you’re coping with change then you don’t also need to cope with other people’s change.  So – what does this actually mean?  Take a break from the evening news, from the water cooler gossip, from the facebook and the twitter.  They will still be there when you re-emerge, I promise.  But for now, take a break.
  • Tackle One Thing At a Time – If you write out the whole list of what needs to be done and look at it like that you’ll probably take to heavy drinking.  Make it into bite-sized pieces and just take everything one step at a time.  Calling moving companies to get a quote is one step.  Just do that one thing and you’ve made progress.  Looking at the whole list can put almost anyone into a panic attack, but looking at single steps is doable.  I use an organizer called todoist that syncs between my computer and phone and that helps to keep me on track.  Break up the big jobs into single steps and divide those throughout the time that you have to get this transition finished. Leave tomorrow’s tasks for tomorrow. Just do one thing now.
  • Make Sure Some Things Stay the Same – Okay so lots of things in your life are changing.  Is there something you can keep constant to make you feel stable and secure no matter what is happening?  Maybe it’s a cup of your favorite tea at night or having your favorite foods on-hand. Maybe it’s keeping your favorite pictures close or making sure you have your favorite candle burning so the room smells the same.  It could be your favorite T shirt, your favorite socks, your favorite football.  Whatever – the thing that stays the same doesn’t matter, it’s that *something* does.  You need a good touchstone to tell you everything is okay, because it is.
  • Hire Help – There is plenty of stuff you will have to do during a transition that is above and beyond all the normal stuff you have to do.  If you can, hire out some of the normal stuff. Hire someone to mow the lawns, clean the toilets, prepare the meals, or whatever normal stuff you just can’t get to.  It can be a really nice thing to take those basics off your to-do list.  If money is tight then these are great areas to ask for help (although it would be a really good friend who would clean your toilets for you).

Change Your Words For Coping With Change

There is a great loophole here. A back-door to coping with change and with the unexpected.  That is simply that the way you see things changes everything. Change your story about what’s happening and keep your happy. It is not the situation that’s happening, but your perception of it that matters.  Your view on what is happening to you determines how you actually feel. The words you use about a situation become that situation.  I like this video as an example of how words change people’s perceptions of things:

The situation in the video doesn’t change – a blind man is still asking for help, but how he’s asking is more likely to resonate with people in one scenario than the other.  Words are powerful.

If you say something is too much for you to handle, then it is.  You are right.  If you say you’re handling it then you’re right – you are.  If you try to see the wonderful possibilities and the good surprises that could come out of this change, then I honestly feel you’re more likely to notice those blessings when they happen.

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

Don't Sweat the Small Stuff by Richard Carlson Ph.D.  - great strategy for coping with change.

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff by Richard Carlson Ph.D. – great strategy for coping with change.

It’s a bestselling book (by Richard Carlson, Ph.D.) because most of us aren’t good at not sweating the small stuff.  At the end of the day though, it really is small stuff.  Don’t let the little stuff that normally gets to you add to the big stuff that’s happening right now. Most of this won’t matter in a year and really won’t matter in five. Just let it go.

You don't need to be that guy.  Seriously, transition sucks but chances are it won't matter in a year.  Don't let little stuff change your happiness.

You don’t need to be that guy. Seriously, transition sucks but chances are it won’t matter in a year. Don’t let little stuff change your happiness.

Coping with change means letting go of a lot of the little things that you would normally stay on top of.  Don’t worry about perfect – good enough is good enough right now (that’s why they call it good enough).  Really it doesn’t matter if the dishes aren’t done, if the dog misses a walk or if your lawn is too tall. Just get through the big stuff and everything else will sort itself out. Other people live through this, you will too.  And the best part is that you can stay happy while you do – you just have to make happy a priority.



Start feeling this good. Create your own happy now.

Nine Practices to create Happiness

Wouldn’t it be great if you could create happiness – if happiness was a simple goal you could achieve? As it turns out, it is exactly that.  It is a process of doing – it isn’t something that happens to you, it’s something you chose to be, and part of that choice is acting in a way that leads towards happiness. Here are nine practices, developed by Don Richard Riso, to help you on your journey:

Treat Others With Kindness and Integrity

One of the simplest ways to help others be kind and helpful to you and to treat you like an independent worthwhile human is to do the same for them. And god knows kindness goes a long way towards happiness.

Love Yourself and Others Equally

Love your neighbor as yourself – but also remember to love yourself as your neighbor.  Many of you (women especially) tend to care for others, for the needs of the kids, the spouse, the parents and forget about your own needs. Don’t forget to add yourself to the list of cherished loved ones and to make your needs count for as much as those of everyone else.  There is no way to create happiness if you don’t factor yourself into your own life.




Be Authentic And Truthful in All Matters

Research has verified that lying, no matter how much you have convinced yourself it doesn’t matter to you, actually raises the levels of your stress hormones and contributes to anxiety, stress and the aging process.  The same might be true for the soft lies – the moments where you go along with what is going on just so you don’t make waves, even if it isn’t something you want in your life. To create happiness be true to you – your body always knows the difference.

Joy! Create happiness in your life today.

Joy! Create happiness in your life today.

Discover Beauty and Pleasure Everywhere

It’s out there. Beauty is out there all over the place and it is so easy to walk by and not notice because you’re caught up in the latest drama at work or your to-do list or that tiff you had with your partner.  Don’t miss it – if you don’t see the beauty and enjoy the little moments now, then when will you? The only time you can change is right now so if you want to be joyful then live into what is happening RIGHT NOW.

Learn from Everyone and Everything

It is so hard to remember to truly appreciate every situation and so easy to pop up the defenses. Of course you can approach every situation like the expert – you already know it, you’ve done it before, you know how this goes. The basic problem with that is that you only leave room then for one possible outcome, and that is that you come away from that situation with nothing new. In short, you don’t grow or change, you just stay stagnant. Try for one day approaching every situation as though you are new to it and as though you can learn something and I promise, you will learn something. You will grow and evolve – how wonderful is that?

Trust Your Ability to Face Challenges and Contribute Willingly

It’s so easy to worry and it feeds into so many basic states of pathology. Worry is a way of creating drama and tension, of pretending you might have control over the uncontrollable and also it’s one of the biggest ways of doubting yourself or your loved ones that you can engage in. By worrying constantly you are sending the signal that you don’t trust your (or your loved ones, if you worry only for other people) ability to cope with life, to deal with the challenges that arise. But here is the thing – if you or the people you worry about are still alive then you are entirely capable of facing everything that life has thrown at you so far. That is kind of a powerful thought – you have effectively dealt with every challenge that has come at you. That is one hell of an awesome track record. Boosting your trust in yourself and the universe is a great way to boost happiness.

Start feeling this good. Create your own happy now.

Pure Freaking Joy. Create your own happy now.

Be Attached to Nothing and Experience Real Freedom

This doesn’t mean don’t attach to anything therefore don’t love anything. Love with your whole heart, but let that love grow, evolve and change.  Let everything grow, evolve and change.  It’s so easy to get into a place where you try to keep things the same, keep them stable and predictable and uniform but life isn’t like that.  Everything grows and develops and ultimately might even fade, but none of that is bad.  By allowing your relationships, your life, your patterns to evolve you also allow yourself to find deeper joy, greater authenticity and more freedom.  In other words don’t try to control or be attached to life being a certain way, because then you don’t allow it to ever get any better.

Let Go of Willfulness and Empower Others

This one can be a challenge to see because society trains you to learn to get your own way. It’s actually one of the biggest skills you learn as an infant or toddler because at that stage of development it is important to be able to get what you need from the people around you.  As an adult, however, it can be helpful to notice the behaviors that you have adopted that might push people to behave a certain way around you or give in to you.  Guilt, shame, blame and judgement can be subtle (or not so subtle) ways of bullying people and using those tools can be entirely unconscious.  To create happiness isn’t it time to examine the ways you might manipulate those around you?

 Value Yourself and Engage with the Tumult of the World

This is the hardest one for me – both to understand and to follow.  You might, like me, notice the internal tendency to being the peacekeeper, to trying to keep things smooth and even and to keep everyone around you happy. Peacekeeping is a strong gift and can be of great value in your life, but it can also slip over into a form of self-denial.  The small ways you don’t speak your truth because you want to keep the peace.  Again, there are degrees of health here.  Sometimes engaging with the turmoil and allowing there to be bumps in the road can be the most authentic path forward and can allow you to experience real happiness and to be absolutely true to yourself.  This doesn’t mean that you should cause problems just to stir the pot, but you should be able to give true expression to problems that are already there and not try to dismiss them.

Dog smile - thanks for the picture to Pixel blue eyes (smiling) and her person Jenny.

Dog smile – thanks for the picture to Pixel blue eyes (smiling) and her person Jenny.

Create Happiness Now

Waiting for someone, something, some circumstance to make you happy is common, but it’s also a dead end. If you’re waiting to be happy and don’t do something to change your mind, you will always be waiting to be happy. Start today – take a simple step to create happiness. There is no reason to wait.  It might not happen overnight, it might not happen in a month, but it will happen and you have the power to control it.



Positive Remembering: Amazing Lifehack for Trauma

You have the capacity to change the past through positive remembering, no matter how horrific it was or how much you’re still troubled by it. This amazing lifehack for trauma is so simple and yet so effective. Your brain is amazing.  A.M.A.Z.I.N.G.

You have no idea how much your brain is capable of and what it can actually accomplish – it genuinely is the greatest, most wonderful tool you will ever possess. Your brain can actually change and adapt to do whatever you ask it to do – including re-write your history.  The darkest, scariest, most nauseating parts of your history as well as the annoying, the humiliating and the humbling.  Your brain is the tool you need to heal those old wounds and to get happier because of it. Let’s call it Positive Remembering, and it’s such a powerful lifehack to cure a bad past.

All of us have bad memories from our own lives – some of those are little snapshot memories of one particular incident (like almost stepping on a snake in the woods) and some are entire chapters (like that whole relationship with He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named, or that little thing called “childhood”). For many people these memories are there, but not called upon. Stuff happened and they’ve moved on and it doesn’t really matter. For others these memories are part of waking life – popping up at random times and interfering with emotions, happiness and even health. Positive remembering is the key to reducing the impact of those past traumas on your life now.

Positve remembering changes your mental stories. Once Upon A Time... It’s all just a story – why not make it a better one? Practice positive remembering

Positive remembering is a way to free yourself slowly from these negative memories and re-frame the whole experience into something less harmful, less emotionally charged and to allow some healing to happen.

Positive Remembering in the First 24 Hours

The first 24 hours after a trauma is a powerful time to impact the way your brain holds and stores that information.  In those 24 hours if you can focus on the good things that are happening, the people who love you, the help you received, the blue of the sky while you were flat on your back, the wonderful things in your life. By doing this the overall impact of the trauma will be greatly diminished because your brain lays down that memory differently and with less emotional charge. Of course this is also the hardest time to focus on the good things, and for many of us the traumas that concern us were years, if not decades, ago. Never fear, positive remembering works for long-past memories too.




Changing Your Past To Change Your Present

If you know that some negative part of your past is still there, haunting you then it’s time to take some proactive steps to changing that situation.  Nothing you do can change the past, but the great news is you don’t have to. You just have to change the way you think and feel about the past. We’re going to call that Positive Remembering. Here are some of the tools you can use to change those memories.  Try to use one of these, quickly, every time you are confronted with a negative memory and soon that memory will lose it’s power over you:

  • Feel Your Body – Notice what reaction your body has to the memory. Often you’ll clench your jaw, tense your shoulders, your heart rate will accelerate or your stomach will start grinding because your body is re-living the stress, anxiety, sadness or fear from that moment.  Consciously bring your attention to that part of your body and instead of focusing on the memory, focus on relaxing that body part. You can pretend there is a warm, soft light shining there, or the feeling of a warm blanket, or just imagine that part turning to water or melting.  If it’s your heart rate think of something that would calm your heart rate down like lying on a beach or getting a massage.  I know, there is a little bit of a “go to your happy place” feel to this, but if your body lets go of the tension from the memory then you’ll start to re-wire your brain to let go of some of the tension too.
  • Banish The Boggart – For anyone who isn’t a Harry Potter fan, a boggart is a type of creature that takes the shape of whatever you fear most (your memory). To banish it, you must laugh at it in a genuine and meaningful way.  This produced all kinds of hilarity in books and movies as the boggart of a hated teacher was forced into a hideous and embarrassing drag-grandmother ensemble, thereby giving Harry and friends a great laugh.  Much like boggarts, memories can be changed too. If you had a horrible car wreck that still wakes you up in cold sweats, you can positive remember it: picture the same scene but in bumper cars and give the whole thing a cartoon “boing” noise.  Make the whole thing as ludicrous as possible.  This works even with the really scary memories too. Just be creative – what would make that scene silly or ridiculous. Every time you have that negative emotionally charged memory, banish it with your newer, sillier version. It’s really hard at first, espcially if those memories are still raw but the more you practice the easier it becomes and the less that memory bothers you.
  • Give Yourself a Gift – Memories are yours to play with. Nobody says they have to actually look like what happened. They can look like whatever you want them to.  So why not give that story a happy ending?  Chances are in your bad memory you  needed something that you didn’t have at that moment. Positive remember it! If you’re remembering childhood trauma you may have needed a big hug from a kind adult and a teddy bear – so just add that part in. Any time that memory pops up, just add in the part where you get what you need at the end.  Sure bad stuff happened, but start telling your brain that at the end you got what you needed and your brain will start believing you.

Positive Remembering: Your Memories are Just Stories

I know this sounds kind of silly and ridiculous, but the point is that the things in your memory are over – they aren’t happening right this second.  Right this second you’re just fine. You are breathing, your heart is beating, you’ve had enough food and water to stay alive until this moment.  Whatever that bad memory was, it didn’t actually kill you and at the end of the day that means it’s all kind of okay (I believe at the end of the day it’s *always* okay even after the whole death thing, but for the sake of brevity we don’t have to discuss that part today).

Essentially those memories are just stories you tell yourself over and over again so lets just change the story into something you can live with, something that doesn’t make you feel hollow, something that will let you heal and move forward. Positive remember it and start to get out of the clutches of negative memory. It’s your story – so make it whatever you want it to be: RE-member it differently.  You’re not trying to sell yourself on this new version being the truth, you’re just softening up the whole picture every time it comes up and by doing that, you also soften up the effect it has on your overall level of joy. Positive remembering helps you rediscover the joyfulness buried under the rubble.