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Change: to resist or to accept?

Two cocoons and a butterfly

Change is inevitable. When we elect for change, we look forward to the shift. Think about it. When you change your hair style, or color, how do you feel when you get what you asked for? Content, satisfied, excited? But what about when it goes awry. There is very little that stirs up more self-consciousness negativity than a bad hair day that lasts … for months as you wait for the cut to grow out.

Let’s start with a definition. Change: verb (used with object), changed, chang·ing.

1. to make the form, nature, content, future course, etc., of (something) different from what it is or from what it would be if left alone:

  • to change one’s name;
  • to change one’s opinion;
  • to change the course of history.

2. to transform or convert (usually followed by into)

What change have you welcomed in your life? What change have you resisted?

I tend to see most things in life as an opportunity to clarify who we are or to determine who we are not. In other words, life is an on-going journey of identity development. Elected change is a reflection of my growing identity or self-expression (like the hair cut). But the un-elected change often comes with its own process of grief. You know Kübler-Ross’ stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression & acceptance.

When we can strategize, plan, and feel empowered by the steps that lead up to and allow for resolution, we maintain a sense of control and positive excitement. We learn about ourselves and enhance our sense of personal identity. However, when change is thrust upon us, we often resist.

Is it fear? Is it threat to autonomy? Is it rejection of externalized power or influence?

Whatever it is, I think the reason we resist change is precisely because it’s outside of our control. Peter Senge seems to agree, “People don’t resist change. They resist being changed.” Additionally, it’s been said many times many ways that change is the only constant in life:

  • “Nothing lasts, save eternal change” (Heraclitus).
  • “Change is inevitable. Change is constant.” (Benjamin Disraeli )

Yet, if we embrace the words of Maya Angelou, everything is within our control. “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.” How adept are you at controlling or changing your attitude?

Humans are evolutionarily predisposed to resist change because of the risk associated with it. That which is risky holds the potential for death (think identity development again). Despite this resistance to change, it is precisely our ability to change and adapt that allows us to transform, grow and evolve as a community and as individuals. Napoleon once said, “One must change one’s tactics every 10 years if one wishes to maintain one’s superiority.” I don’t know that “superiority” is an objective I aspire to pursue or even advocate, but, perhaps, the idea of being my best self falls under this same paradigm. I do aspire to be my best self, and fully recognize that to do so means I need to continue to allow for change. It’s probably not an accident that I have had a significant career change every 10 years in my adult life!

What I do know is that some of life’s changes will be by choice and others will be thrust upon us. My practice is to (1) breath, (2) observe, and then (3) apply the best knowledge I have available at the moment to choose how to move forward.

You don’t have to have biology or a business degree to know that species and organizations who don’t embrace change are bound to stagnate or even die out. To manage and cope with change that seems outside my control, I find meditation to be my most powerful practice. Whether I need patience in the waiting, wisdom for clarity or need to learn a specific skill in order to take action, I always learn important and valuable lessons through the experience of change.

Here are a few of my favorite thoughts and quotes regarding change. They help me be in the moment with (more) ease especially in time of change.

  1. The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking. -Albert Einstein
  2. Any change, even a change for the better, is always accompanied by drawbacks and discomforts. -Arnold Bennett
  3. The price of doing the same old thing is far higher than the price of change. -Bill Clinton
  4. If we don’t change, we don’t grow. If we don’t grow, we aren’t really living. -Gail Sheehy
  5. Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything. -George Bernard Shaw
  6. I cannot say whether things will get better if we change; what I can say is they must change if they are to get better. -Georg C. Lichtenberg
  7. Change before you have to. -Jack Welch
  8. Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future. -John F. Kennedy
  9. Be the change that you wish to see in the world. -Mahatma Gandhi
  10. Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. -Margaret Mead
  11. If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. -Maya Angelou
  12. I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples. -Mother Teresa
  13. The first step toward change is awareness. The second step is acceptance. -Nathaniel Branden
  14. Change your thoughts and you change your world. -Norman Vincent Peale
  15. Our dilemma is that we hate change and love it at the same time; what we really want is for things to remain the same but get better. -Sydney J. Harris

Do you have a favorite paradigm to cope with change? Do any of these quotes align with your thinking? Which ones strike discord? My guess is that we can both learn a thing or two about the process of change by exploring our response to these ideas.

May the conversation, the learning and the change continue!