The Challenges of Change (Part 1)

Throughout the first half of our lives there are a lot of transition points. These points of change are fairly easy to mark out, the different stages of our education, the change from education to working life, the move from living with our parents to a home of our own, marriage, becoming a parent etc.
Mid-life is also a transitional point yet it is much harder to identify and define.
If you try to search for when is actually occurs you will get a whole range of different ages and ideas about when it occurs and what it actually means!
Because of  our individuality  we all experience mid-life in different ways some with a full blown crisis, others with a feeling that fulfilment is missing in their lives. Our lives to this point have been full of change and now we face the prospect of life becoming stale because even though changes will still occur they do not have the same impact as the first times these changes happened. For example moving home for the second or third time does not have quite the same impact as that first time you had your own home. Becoming a grandparent is fantastic but it is not quite the same as becoming a parent, that responsibility now falls to your child.
So, at mid-life, if we want to continue to grow rather than stagnate we need to be much more active in introducing new experiences and change into our lives.
Change, though, presents challenges for us.
Do this brief exercise, draw a set of circles, one inside the other.

Now write your name in the centre circle, then, in the next circle out, write the names of those closest to you, e.g. your spouse, children etc., on the next those not quite so close e.g. friends (although a BFF may appear in the circle closest to you), carry on working outwards until you have filled the last circle which should simply read “strangers”.
If you think of this circle as a still pond and then you throw a pebble of change into the centre what happens? The effect of that change will ripple outwards to have some impact on those around you, more particularly those closest to you. Even a small change will create some ripple effect.
On the flip side, what happens to that pond if you do nothing, just let it lie still and undisturbed?
It will stagnate and that stagnation will also affect everyone you have placed in your virtual pond.
The trick then is to introduce change in your life but in a way that considers those closest to you. That does not mean avoiding change because it may upset people rather deciding on change and sitting down with people and explaining what you are going to do and why you are going to do it. There are other advantages with this, they may have ideas that had not occurred to you, they may have ways in which they can support you or ideas on how they can adjust in a way that helps you.
However if they are unsupportive or critical you may want to consider where they fit in you circles!
We do not live in isolation (with the odd exception!) and whatever we do has some impact on others. One of the challenges of change is to be mindful of the effect our changes may have on those closest to us and how we can grow our lives and our relationships harmoniously.

Conformity: Challenges, Choices and Meghan Markle’s Handbag

If you want a modern example of how hard-wired we are to conform just look at the “Meghan Markle Effect”. On an early official visit with Prince Harry the handbag she was carrying sold out within 11 minutes (link below). For some the need to be just like someone high profile is a powerful force. For others, obviously, this type of conformity is less important, some people go through life only conforming as they need to for others conformity appears to be much more important than their individuality.
As we hit mid-life our urge to conform hits a wall as we re-evaluate our place in the world. The thing is, nowadays, conformity has many challenges, conflicts and choices!
Once upon a time – a century or two ago – life was a lot simpler. Everyone knew their place within their community and social circle and change came slowly because news travelled relatively slowly (a gross over simplification but you get the idea!). Then came along mass production, mass media and change at what seems like lightening pace.
In this multi-media global world there are so many different ways to conform that it adds an extra layer of mental stress for many people.
We are now able to identity with and conform to an ever increasing range of ideas, people or organisations. Some people moan about the “cult of celebrity” that has grown but it is hardly surprising given the amount of television exposure and the availability of different role models nowadays.
While I have no personal urge to wear David Beckham’s pants (or whatever it is he is selling at the moment) I can understand how some people feel their identity fits in with that culture and buying celebrity endorsed clothing is their way of conforming to that identity.
Obviously there are dangers in conformity, some people’s need to conform is so strong that they end up in cults, gangs, or victims of unscrupulous people.
The real challenge in today’s world is to find the way that fits you and fits your individuality.
YOU being the most important element because there are many people out there who want you to conform to their way. We all know what it was like when we were younger, at school, when peer pressure impacts on lives but this continues throughout our lives just in a more subtle way. Obviously politicians, advertisers and companies pressure us to conform but there are also more personal pressures that we do not always realise.
You strive to be the ideal parent, spouse, child but your parent, spouse or child may have a different idea of what that ideal is and they will pressure you in to conforming to their ideals rather than your own. This, in turn, may make us feel guilty that we are not meeting the other persons expectations, that somehow we are wrong (perhaps stupid) in our own ideas or we can become resentful as we feel others are trying to change us.
Obviously we can all be guilty of doing that to others as well if our ideas are different from thiers.
Where we feel we are being pressured in to conforming to a role, or aspect of that role, that makes us uncomfortable we need to learn to be comfortable in expressing our concerns with others.
We need to learn how to be ourselves not try to be the person that everyone else wants us to be yet we also need to learn tolerance of how others choose to conform in their own way.
There is nothing wrong with following the crowd, it is what we are naturally wired to do, and the choice facing us in these times is which crowd (or crowds) suits our individuality the best. In mid-life it is also natural to question whether or not the life you conform to now is the one that still best suits you and whether or not it is time for change.
 If you want to buy Meghan Markle’s handbag feel free to do so.

All About You (Part 1)

When writing this post in my head I was struggling hard not to make it sound too much like a New Age piece, with elements of spirituality and meditation because these things do have a kernel of truth at their root and, when we reach a crossroads in life or are seeking ways to give new meaning to our lives, introspection is a necessity to ensure that the road we will take is the right one for us.
Why is this so introspection important?
Simplistically the better we can understand ourselves, our motivations, our beliefs and our values, the better we can build ourselves a life that truly fulfils us.
But before we can really start searching and understanding those things, we need to acknowledge one important fact that has hindered our lives so far.
We are very good at lying to ourselves!
There is a huge list of cognitive biases that impact on our thinking and our perception of ourselves and the world around us. Many of these biases will be dealt with in later posts but for now it is important to recognise that how we perceive ourselves is just that – a perception.
Do this simplistic exercise:
Write down a list of 10-20 things that you can’t do.
Now working down that list how many things fall into the following categories;
            I could but I don’t know how to
            I could but I don’t have the confidence to do so
            I could but I don’t really want to
            I could but it would be wrong for me to do so
            I could but I don’t have the time/money/resources
            I could but to do so would have a detrimental effect
How many genuine “I cant’s” do you have left? My guess is not many, obviously there are some, usually based around physical issues. So for the vast majority of things we say we can’t do what we really mean is;
I could but I have come up with a reason not to do so.
Some of those reasons are very legitimate, e.g. climbing Mount Everest when you have a condition like COPD is likely to be detrimental to your health as you struggle to breathe at altitude. However other reasons are just an excuse not to step out of our comfort zones.
One of the keys to personal growth is learning to take time to challenge the beliefs we hold, especially if they are hindering us in what we want to achieve.
We are all very good at making generalisations and, because of that, we tend to lump things together in a way that hinders our thinking.
For example, someone might say they are not very good at communicating with people but if you dig further you find that is not quite true. If you ask, do you mean all people or people in a certain context? They may answer, all people but it is worse at work. Probe further, all people at work or specific people, again the may narrow down the field. Throw in another question, so you have never communicated effectively with anyone at any time? And you start to break down that belief which is just a generalisation developed from a specific instance.
It is harder to do that to yourself but it is something worth trying to do because as you break down barriers in your own thinking you can move forward in your life with much broader horizons.
Remember your life is all about you.