It can be hard to face new challenges. As human beings, we tend to be creatures of comfort and seek out things that are familiar. Familiarity breeds comfort. When we encounter unfamiliar situations or people it can cause discomfort because we don’t know how to negotiate the novel-we don’t know how it “ends”. The same can be said for changes in our routines or interactions. When we achieve a result or reaction we are unaccustomed to it can be uncomfortable, jarring even.
There is a direct correlation between comfort level and confidence. If I were to tell you that in the morning you were expected to get on a stage in front of 100,000 people you would probably feel quite nervous and you unsure of your abilities. What if I told you that all that would be required of you is to smile? Would this change things?
So how do we prepare for the unexpected and increase our comfort level in novel or unexpected situations?
1. Start where you are, not where you think you are.
Cognitive behavioral therapy asserts that thoughts have a large influence on our emotions. Cognitive distortions, or irrational negative thoughts occur when our brains make connections or associations between things that have no basis. In their extreme form, cognitive distortions can negatively affect the way we interact and view our experiences. Cognitive distortions or negative thinking can begin to happen automatically when we don’t even realize it’s happening. For example, someone who regularly received positive feedback at work might feel they are horrible at the job because of one criticism. Their irrational thought about job performance will dictate how they feel about themselves. Challenging irrational thoughts is the first step to helping us change them. A Licensed Professional Counselor can help.
2. Stop the thought drama.
Thought drama is a term for those unnecessary thoughts and feelings that occupy our energies, emotions and time which are based upon irrational interpretations of external events, interactions with others or perceived events. Thought drama serves no functional purpose other than to generate anxiety, worry and stress. Practicing unconditional acceptance can help cut down on the thought drama.
What is unconditional acceptance? You’re not perfect, people in your life aren’t perfect and life itself is imperfect. Unconditionally accepting yourself with all your flaws, unconditionally accepting others with their imperfections, and accepting life unconditionally with its inherent discomfort, hassles, and unfairness is key to making changes that lead to a happier and more fulfilling future. If you got fired, for example, rate your job performance as poor, but never overgeneralize to conclude you’re a poor or worthless person.
3. Remember, you’re always one experience away from a totally different life.
As humans we do what feels good-even if at face value it does not appear to achieve our goals. Familiarity breeds comfort. We persist in unhealthy behaviors or relationships because they are familiar and we find comfort in the familiar. Growth comes from novel experiences and the discomfort inherent in trying new things. The temporary distress we experience from breaking with old thought patterns and behaviors can help remind us of our efficacy. When we push ourselves to change we venture into unfamiliar territory and challenge those feelings of comfort. Only then do we make real, sustainable change.
4. Your tribe impacts your vibe.
Sometimes we wonder why we seem to find ourselves in the same situation over and over. Is it chance or do we have control over it? We implicitly and explicitly communicate to others what is acceptable and unacceptable. This often starts with the way we think about and treat ourselves and who we surround ourselves with. The way we treat ourselves sets the standard for others on how we expect them to treat us.
Ask yourself: How do I treat myself? What is important to me? What do I want? What do I think I deserve? We cannot change other people or their behaviors but we can effect a change in their reaction to us if we change ourselves or how we behave. How do we do this? Communicate your needs clearly. Ask for what you want or need. Do it in a respectful and assertive manner. Don’t assume others instinctively know what you want or “should know”. Show them how you want to be treated. Treat them how you want to be treated. Be that person you want them to be. Reinforce positive behaviors you like. If they do something you like-tell them and often. Have realistic expectations.
5. Build resiliency
Resiliency is our ability to recover from challenges or stressful situations. It doesn’t mean that we always succeed. In fact, often we will stumble or even fail in our efforts. Resiliency is the ability to learn from these defeats and persevere. The next time you are faced with adversity after you’ve successfully moved through it take a moment to notice what you learned. Instead of ruminating over what went wrong focus on simply capturing what happened. Studies have shown writing down difficult events can help us put order to the events as well as develop insight. What would you do differently if faced with a similar situation? What would you change?