Wednesday, June 22, 2016

From Rigid to Flexible

When we run into changes in life, whether that be an unexpected loss, an unplanned-for change, or an unpleasant day where everything seems to go wrong, having the ability to be flexible can help us be less miserable. If we think that life needs to go a certain way it's going to be very jarring when life doesn't do what we want. And that will happen because this is life we're talking about. It's often unpredictable, and at some point it will involve at least one really big unexpected surprise that knocks us on our faces. Sometimes in an effort to avoid the unavoidable, we tell ourselves that control is where we can find stability and peace. That we can, in fact, create a life that won't require flexibility. When we do this, we become more rigid and changes become harder because control and rigidity don't stop life from throwing us curve balls. We can never control every aspect of life. We might for a while, but something's bound to snatch that control away leaving you feeling panicky and vulnerable. Increasing flexibility through mindfulness can help difficult times or days feel a little more manageable.

The more rigid we are the more likely it is that we'll try to struggle with change. Picture a game of tug-of-war with a person on one end and the change on the other. While the person is desperately pulling, the change stands like a brick wall, unmoved by any force the person uses. Changes will happen and they will win every time if we view it as winning or losing. We can feel that we must find a way to fight the change, reverse it back, or ignore it until it goes away. Let's continue to imagine change as a brick wall: it's an unexpected obstacle in your path. You can either try kicking the wall to get it to move or decide to follow a different road than you had planned to take. If we choose the panic and fight method, odds are good we'll feel worse about our predicament and feel more lost or hopeless (and possibly end up with a broken foot). If we see it as something that's an annoyance but is passable we can get past it and on our way sooner. If we change our thinking so that we expect changes to happen, it'll be easier to not see the change as a threatening brick wall but as a detour that leads down a slightly different path. Mindfulness can be a way of helping us slow down and adjust our perspective.

I know, mindfulness seems like a buzz word right now but it's actually a fantastic tool. Through mindfulness we find ways to observe what's going on around us and within us. When we stop and notice how we're reacting and what we're feeling we can make a choice about our next step. When we rely on a rigid plan or way of being we run the risk of challenging changes to a never ending game of tug-a-war. We can learn how to stop struggling with difficult situations or unpleasant feelings and we learn to tolerate the unexpected. Notice I'm not saying that the unpleasantness will simply disappear. We may still have to live in that situation or with that thought or feeling. It's not a cure for feeling bad. It gives us a way to feel less out of control because we're not trying to control what we can never control.

Think of a Chinese Finger Trap.You know, the multicolored bamboo cylinder that fits nicely on your pointer fingers but closes around your fingers once you try to pull them apart. If you're like me, when you feel the trap closing around your fingers, you decide brute force will save you and start wildly trying to pull your fingers out. This only makes the trap tighter. If you calm down enough to assess your options, you might realize that gently pushing in instead of frantically fighting gives you the release you’re looking for. So, when you feel yourself starting to react to a change, take a moment to and ask if you're stuck in a finger trap. If so try a few things:

  • Take a few deep breaths.
  • Pay attention to how you're reacting in your body and how the deep breaths affect that reaction.
  • Take a minute to think about why you're upset or trying to fight the change.
  • Remind yourself that you can be flexible and other paths are available.
  • Think of the different options and choose a different path.
  • Let it go. You can do this by mentally saying you're letting it go or by doing something, like physically writing down what's changed and throwing it away. Sometimes physical acts can help with letting something go.
  • Move forward on your new path.
  • Repeat the steps if you feel you're sliding back into the finger trap feeling.

This way of managing change requires practice and becomes more effective the more you use it. So practice on small, day to day changes or disappointments. The more easily you can be flexible in daily life the more easily you'll be able to apply it to bigger life changes. Good luck!
Thoughts by Alissa Kaasa

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