Smooth Transitions: Learning to Sail the Ebbs and Flows of Change
By: Kate Daigle
“Times of transition are strenuous, but I love them. They are opportunity to purge, rethink priorities, and be intentional about new habits. We can make our new normal any way we want.” -Kristin Armstrong
I'm a strong believer in the use of metaphors as a tool to make better sense of our lives. So, it's fitting that when reflecting on this topic, the first thing that came to mind was a sailboat sailing the rolling waves and various tides in an ocean, being guided by the changing winds. Kind of a perfect image for transition and change, right?
Take a minute to think about it.
What comes to mind when you think about a sailboat on the water?
What does it look like?
What keeps the boat afloat?
What's the pace that the boat is going?
Here's what comes to mind for me:
Sailboats are built to navigate changing winds and tides with a relative sense of ease. They've evolved over time to be better equipped to maintain stability, balance and control and have adapted these mechanisms based on previous attempts to sail the open waters. The conditions have to be just right for the boat to be successful at sailing.
These vessels have a helm that acts as a control center, a space to from which to steer the boat. This is similar to how our brains act as a control center for making decisions and processing information. When we sit at the helm with a sense of calmness, stability and open-mindedness, we can generally cope with anything thrown our way. Our brains are the helm of our thoughts and behaviors.
Next we have built-in devices, called keels, that extend into the water and act as a stabilizing mechanism that keeps the boat from capsizing. When threatened with becoming unbalanced, the keel keeps the boat afloat. These keels are similar to what grounds us and protects us from capsizing - think core values, belief systems and sources of support. The waters sailed can be uncontrollable and unpredictable, similar to how external factors in our lives play a role in our need to face change. The uncontrollable, unpredictable waters, winds and weather can bring about change that may seem scary, uncertain and tumultuous but these waters can also help us to grow and improve our lives if we sail them with an open mind - it's all dependent on how we adjust our sails. In sailing terms, whether we choose to "tack" (turning the vessel’s head into the wind to change direction) or "jibe" (turning the back-end of a vessel into the wind to change direction) determines which direction we go.
So, what are some common types of transition and change that we experience in our lives? Below are a few examples, but keep in mind there are many more types and that we all can experience them in different ways and at different stages of life:
Starting a new job
These types of transitions can bring about both positive and negative stress (learn more about the difference between the two here) but undoubtedly bring about change in one way or another. Transition within a marriage might include learning how to blend families, how to integrate separate views and beliefs systems and navigating new conflicts and challenges. Transition with divorce might look like reassessing your own sense of self and desires, as well as managing coparenting and changing schedules. Divorce can bring about financial changes and adjustments as well.
No matter what the life transition may be, they're all opportunities for us to slow down, take pause and readjust for deciding our next steps. No need to push away the emotions that come with change - they're reminders that we're human and that experiencing a range of emotions is all part of the normal, human experience. Just like the ebbs and flows of sailing, our emotions that coincide with periods of transition follow the same pattern. It's when we fuel these emotions with distorted and unhealthy ways of thinking, that it becomes more challenging to navigate the waters. Internally, we all have a unique set of abilities and skills to manage transition that have been adopted and utilized during previous times of transition and change.
You might be wondering what these abilities and skills look like. Here are some examples:
Maintaining an open mind
Non-judgement and acceptance
Healthy and balanced view of expectations
Can you think of times in your life when you harnessed any of these skills or abilities?
How did you do it?
Which ones are you strongest in?
Which ones still need some work?
A big component of navigating times of transition is trusting yourself, showing up authentically and examining what's in your control.
So, how do we do this?
The ability to trust ourselves is largely associated with our sense of self, self-esteem and confidence. Consider what this looks like for you and then try these steps:
1. Think of a time in your life when you showed up authentically. How did you do this? What were some of your obstacles?
2. What are your strengths?
3. Consider your core beliefs and values system - what are these beliefs and values?
3. What are some of your self-defeating thought patterns that get in your way?
4. Reframe your thoughts - how can those thought patterns help you learn alternatives?
5. Practice mindfulness based activities to ensure you're keeping your nervous system as still as possible. This promotes better physical, mental and emotional functioning.
6. Assess other aspects of your life that might interfere with feeling balanced (i.e. sleep, nutrition, exercise, etc.)
These steps act as a starting point to examining your own, unique, set of abilities that allow you to navigate change and transition. As is true for a sailboat sailing open waters - there are bound to be changing winds, weather and tides - but, if you consider the mechanisms of the vessel that allow it to function properly, you might find that your better built for times of transition and change than you give yourself credit for.
If you would like to learn more about how you can improve your ability to manage the changes and transitions in your life, we can help! Book your free 15-minute consultation call with Kate here to learn more about how she can help you develop more effective strategies and techniques to harness these skills and put your best foot forward.