Everything changes. I used to spend a lot of time trying to avoid change. We moved a lot when I was a child and I think this led to the desire for something permanent. Over the years I’ve realized that everything, everything, everything changes. You have different skin than you did four weeks ago, different blood than you did four months ago, and different bones than you did 10 years ago. The continual act of your body renewing and changing allows this to take place. Incidentally, it’s also the thing that allows you to be healthy and to heal.
Everything changes, and it’s easy to look externally for safety and comfort internally. This makes sense because developmentally this is how we learn. We’re born a clean slate. We have to learn how to walk, talk, spell, and to read. In the first 10-12 years of our life we’re learning about the world around us at an incredible rate. To do this, we essentially create boxes in our brain. As we experience something and it’s labeled by our parents, we create a box with that description and label. In the beginning it is very rudimentary. For a dog, you might have a box that says, “animals, four legs.” Later you see a cow and you say, “doggie.” Your parent corrects you and says, “No, that’s a cow,” and you create a separate box that says, “animal, four legs, big.”
The Continual Process of Learning
On and on it goes creating boxes externally to help us understand the world around us and feel safe and comfortable internally. We also create these boxes for relationships and how we handle things interpersonally. So, when the external starts to change it’s very easy to feel unsettled, fearful, and full of anxiety.
As things change, we are less confident because we’re less competent. The boxes we based our skill on are also changing. It’s a scary time. It’s essentially the same mechanism that’s happening in growth, the difference being that we tend to choose the change in growth. When things externally change, either suddenly or outside of our control, we often feel negative rather than the positivity of growth.
In these times of change (as we just discussed that time is always every day all the time), it’s important to look inwardly rather than outwardly. In those developmental years we just discussed, a very interesting thing happens from age 10-12 to about 20. Our boxes start to shift from the world around us to the world within us. We shift to learning about ourselves. This is why often people describe the teenage years as awkward and uncomfortable. It seems like every eye is looking at you and every move you make is amplified. This is because you are so hyper-aware of every action you’re making as you create boxes about your response, who you are, and what you’re all about.
Unfortunately, many of us have shifted that developmental stage from finding out who we are to finding out how to be successful. Instead of learning what our values are, what our natural talents and skills are, or when we’re our best selves, we learn how to achieve or to get affirmation from others, or how to hide behind acceptable façades.
If we are to stay stable and to move successfully through change when everything is changing around us, it’s very important to cling to what is RIGHT and GOOD and HEALTHY. This is based on who you are on the inside. It doesn’t come from a set of rules or a standard passed down from your family of origin. I’m not saying those things aren’t important. They’re external things that should be guides to help you navigate life on the outside. Your internal compass comes from your values and gifts within rather than things that are external. External always changes. It’s why many of us feel like we can never get on our feet. It’s why many of us turn into grumpy old men and women lamenting the woes of the present and lifting up the purity of the past.
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The act of identifying your core identity is something I work with clients in therapy with every day. The process is not something that can be summed up in a few sentences. However, to give you a jumpstart here are a few helpful questions to help you on your journey:
1. What are the things that you value?
Think less about being conservative or liberal or in a political party or part of a certain religious denomination. This is about the things that matter to you deep down.
2. What are the ideals, topics, or subjects you tend to gravitate towards?
Are there certain books you tend to read or movies that you tend to watch or discussions you find yourself in? Are there causes that you find yourself gravitating towards or certain types of activities you find yourself doing? These may give you a clue to the direction your internal compass is pointing.
3. What are things that come naturally to you?
Are there certain talents or skills that just seem to take a little less effort than the average Joe? Are there certain ideas or processes that seem to flow a little more effortlessly in your brain?
4. What types of things tend to give you more energy or cause you to feel like you’re “in the zone”?
When we’re functioning based on our internal compass it’s life-giving. We feel more alive, more energized, and more ourselves. You may be operating this way at times without even knowing it.
5. What are the things that you know are right regardless of what’s happening around you?
6. What are your blind spots?
These are things that you’re not aware of that might be your weak spots or things that you react to. They can be things that you inadvertently rely heavily on externally because you don’t have as good a grasp internally on them.
7. What gifts, talents, and traits did God create you personally with?
8. Finally, what are some things that tend to cause you to feel reactive or anxious?
Sometimes it’s important to identify the things inside that we aren’t good at or don’t agree with. Instead of reacting when change occurs we can cling to what is right and good and healthy internally so that we don’t find ourselves functioning reactively.
Change happens constantly both big and small. Being aware of who you are and how to live your best self internally can help you greatly when dealing with these changes externally. Above all else when things seem shaky all around you cling to what is good, and right, and healthy because these things are more sustainable and steadfast.
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