A year and a half after my late spouse died in a fatal car accident, I relocated to Southern California for a geographic change. With three small poodles, my future wife and I traveled cross country by car making our way into a new life, a new geography and a new way of being.
It was enough of a significant change that I forgot how comfortable I had been in my habits. I lived in Massachusetts all my life. I knew the highways, knew the stores, knew the weather, knew the cities, knew a general sense of people and knew my way around everywhere.
Adapting to Southern California life was exciting and at the same time, it plummeted me into an overwhelming new experience . I didn’t know anything; didn’t know where my safety was; didn’t know the stores or understand the highway system and constantly felt lost. The culture of California was transient, almost everyone was from somewhere else. I stuck out because of my accent. I bombarded myself with change.
It sounds easy enough to adapt, and yet the experience triggered a huge upheaval to my sensitive system. My Fibromyalgia acted up. My sense of direction was askew and my sense of self fell into a deep hole of chaos. My dogs helped me hold on to my old life.
Through the process of daily living, I examined my old habits and created new ones along with new routines and goals to work towards. We all have habits of daily living, habits of food choices, routines and tasks all based on actions that originated from a decision and became so engrained, they feel like they are set in stone.
Shaking up our routines feels incomprehensible and yet, a good shakeup helps us examine what is working and what isn’t. A shake up can be as easy as moving a watch from the left wrist to the right. I experimented with that change years ago, and it threw off my day. Life is about change. Making changes helps me keep flexibility in my life. Changes help me feel like I’m going with the flow.
Excerpted from the works of Susan Jeffers, Ph.D.
"We are all creatures of habit. Habits and routines allow us to focus on that which we need to deal with at any given time, so that we are not constantly making micro-decisions. According to scientific research, at least 40% of what we do is habitual. Neuroscientists at MIT theorize that habits - automatic learned responses - allow us to free up thinking for more creative pursuits.
"Habits help us deal with the sometimes overwhelming amount of stimulus going on around us. When we make coffee first thing in the morning, park in our usual spot every day at work, or plug in our mobile phone at bedtime, we are eliminating the thought of one more tedious task or decision. This is often convenient and liberating.
"While routines are an important part of day-to-day life, there are both good habits and bad. Hopefully, your habits are more beneficial than not! Sometimes we allow good habits to circumscribe our lives, keeping us safe in our comfort zone - yet that can become problematic.
Susan said, ''I've noticed how certain habits can control our lives...even if we don't realize we are being controlled.'' She often encouraged us to create good habits for ourselves, but she knew that sometimes being unvarying and consistent could take over our lives.
"We need to take the time, now and then, to reevaluate some habits to make sure they aren't defining our lives or restricting our activities. Habits and routines, because they help us to sort out our daily lives, are easy and often quite comfortable.
"But when we are comfortable, we are sometimes so complacent we fail to notice new things that come into our lives. It's also possible to get so stuck in routine, it becomes nerve-wracking to interrupt our habits, even for something we enjoy. Our comfort zone can become very cozy...and confined."
Life is all about change.
Thank you for talking about change today. I've had an interesting experience with it the last couple of days that’s a small change and I'm sure there is a lesson in it. I share a back deck with my neighbor and I haven't had any problems for 20 years and it feels like my space. My neighbor now said she wants to make a change and my reaction was extreme. If I can't handle a small change like that, how can I handle life's big changes? It's not my choice to change, but that's what life is. Things get imposed on us and we can learn from them and let them go. I'm aware I don't have reserves right now because of what is going on in my life. I'm annoyed but I'm learning. I'm trying to take a step back and look at it as a lesson with decisions and choices.
I just want to comment that even though the loss is not comparable to a major loss or someone's illness, it's a microcosm of the key issues we have to deal with. I'm struck by your awareness and how important that is, instead of being mad at your neighbor.
Aging issues are major changes that affect us in our home. Seeking a professional’s help, we talk about the importance of habit and routine because of my spouse's disability. Small mishaps like dropping things make him anxious. I reflected on our habits. I do things quickly and get impatient more easily. He has slowed down to a place that drives me crazy sometimes. I resent that I have to slow down in order to be there for him in a supportive way. That's been really hard. I want to change, and when I have energy, I do have it. But when I get tired or stressed, I get irritable.
Shirley answers: It reminds me of the metaphor of the ladder we talked about the other day. At the upper rung, the changes are superficial things that are impacting your life. It's easy to be frustrated and impatient and angry at the situation. But what's underneath the anger? Sadness. And what's underneath the sadness? Fear. With all the changes happening, there's got to be fear underneath it as you’re dealing with the superficial things.
It's also being in a retirement community which is supportive of people as they age. It’s new for me. Am I going to be there in five years, in a year? I can’t avoid it as I could if I was living outside the community. Many changes, all at the same time. People said it was a positive move for us, which it was, but it’s horrible and destabilizing as well. The layers are subtle.
We are right in the middle of what is working and what’s not working. What worked in our lives before Covid is not working anymore. So many of us are in that place. The volunteer activities I was doing before Covid aren’t right for me. It’s good to sit back and think about it. If I add them back, will it be life-giving or not? I decided no, it won’t. It really helped me. That’s a good question—is it life-giving or life-depleting?
We can in some cases choose the change we want or shape them as they come. There are other changes that get forced on us, but we still have a measure of shaping our response.
This is a great topic for me. It reminds me of a brand of clothing with a motto, “The only constant is change.” It’s a Buddhist philosophy. I appreciated today’s topic because I am getting ready to make changes. I feel them coming on. I started therapy again after 10 years. I know I opened up something, like a can of worms or Pandora’s box, but I didn’t like those metaphors. During the meditation, a treasure chest concept came to me. I’m going to be looking in my treasure chest for the changes.
I remember saying I don’t know who is coming out of Covid because the change is there, but it’s not only there for us. It’s there in a big way for our world. So if we look at the layers under that. Some of my anguish comes in the balance between the hope and the fear.
And the truth is, the world moves forward. It’s not going to end. It will move and it will change.
We are resilient. I remind myself of that. As an elder adult, I am a great problem solver. I may not solve every problem that comes my way, but I’ve managed my life up to this point. I am functioning and thriving.
There are song lyrics ‘be the change you want to see in the world, and change will come to you.’ We can be the change we want to see in the world.
There are so many depths to change. My little cat used to have many habits but she is old and doesn’t do them anymore. Change is threatening when someone is chronically-ill and a simple change may be helping or harming. It’s hard to tell. Fear plays a big part in change with possible serious consequences. I have a habit every morning by watching for changes in nature; they feel like gifts I get every day.
Thank you. Thank you so much for listening to my words and to Susan Jeffers’ words. Her wisdom lives on, as our wisdom lives on and it’s valuable and I’m glad we share it. I hope you all have a blessed day. Take care of yourself and be gentle as we witness change with awareness.