Change is hard

Actually, that’s not quite true. Some changes are easy and fun, delightful little journeys of discovery. But a lot of changes can feel hard and scary. It’s easy to get why we’re afraid when these are big changes that cause a lot of stress in obvious ways, like moving to a new town. But when little changes push our buttons, it points to something deeper.

Even the most flexible person in the world — someone who, I should note, is not me — fears change at some point, because even that person has an idea of who she is. And that idea is something that can be threatened, and that can make us feel as afraid as we are of threats to our physical well-being.

One of my first teachers taught me that a sign that this idea is being threatened is thinking or saying “But I’m not the kind of person who ______!” Once I notice this, usually a whole world unfurls. I’m not the kind of person who forgets appointments, because in the secret world of my fears, that kind of person is also the kind of person who cannot be trusted, is fundamentally irresponsible, and will end up alone and without resources on the street. And this is the line that I am subconsciously feeding myself every time I panic about having forgotten something. It doesn’t matter if that thing is coffee with a friend I’ve known for ten years, someone who would forgive me far greater sins than flaking out on a coffee date.

Facing down those fears directly is hard, so let me instead recommend one of my favorite stratgies: sneaking around through the back door. The back door is other changes, ones having no apparent relationship to whatever’s going on. Change your toothpaste. Change which leg you start with when you put on your pants. Change the route you drive to work, or what you have for lunch, or your yoga routine.

Little changes like this are like running a butter knife around the edge of a cake pan. They don’t get the cake out, but they loosen it. They start to whittle down that list of the things we “have to” do in order to be ourselves, and they do it relatively easily, because these aren’t the parts we’re most deeply attached to. But gently, subtly, deeply, they also begin to give us the idea that maybe we don’t need those things. If we can do twenty little things differently and still be ourselves — and let me assure you that we most definitely can — maybe we can do some big things differently too.

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