The start of this year has been quite different from previous years. Four weeks into 2018 and I am finding myself both excited and exhausted. Change is definitely on the agenda. In recognizing this, I reflected on how very differently I think about change and what I am doing differently to adapt and accommodate to the changes life brings.
For some reason, I am finding my living environment filled with objects that I used to love, but now have come to view as tired and worn out. Some have outlived their intended lifespan. For example, when my husband and I moved into our house, we bought a sofa bed. It is now on its last legs with the upholstery stained and faded, the stuffing in the cushions replaced once and needing replacement again, and a very sad and ancient mattress encased within.
The obvious solution is to get rid of it. In doing so, however, a chain of other changes commences. Do I purchase a new sofa bed or just go with a regular sofa? Do I change the color palette? Should I paint the whole room? What about a new rug? Having run through these scenarios, I quickly find myself feeling exhausted. So I put off doing anything for a bit longer.
When I was younger, change didn’t have that effect on me. I enjoyed a new challenge. I seemed to have extra reserves, and would go ahead anticipating the thrill of the change.
What’s so different now? My physical stamina for one. Another is an acquired ability to foresee consequences further down the road, and better capacity for planning. Still another is patience. Lastly, there is actual experience where I have learned from past mistakes that there are better ways to do things.
In neuropsychology, these are collectively known as executive functions. We can measure a person’s executive functioning fairly easily through asking what a person would do in a certain situation, seeing how they solve problems, and seeing how long they persist at a given task. These measurements give us a good idea of just how well the person in able to function on their own, and therefore, remain independent and safe.
When we get into ruts of thinking and behaving, change can become a barrier. Inability to adapt or accommodate to change is often a predictor of the success in implementing something new, whether this be changing diet, exercise, or medication routines, or moving into a new community or living situation. The rub here is that some routine is actually good for us, while resistance to changing routine can reveal deficits in executive functioning. Finding the balance between the two is the goal of most behavioral health interventions.
Opportunities to practice adaptation and accommodation to change seem to increase in frequency as we age. Our physical condition requires a lot of adaptation and accommodation. Mentally, we may find ourselves searching for names of people, and not being able to recall things as quickly or memorize things as easily. Emotionally we may be faced with loss on a more frequent basis, as friends, family, and others we knew and loved die. How we view ourselves sexually undergoes changes and sustaining an intimate relationship may become physically, emotionally, and psychologically challenging.
Strategies for staying present to adaptation and accommodation include challenging yourself with new ideas, exposing yourself to different ways of thinking about and doing things, and doing what a teacher of mine called “drawing with your other hand” – in other words, purposely pushing yourself to do something familiar in an unfamiliar way.
Making this part of a weekly experience is actually a fun and wonderful challenge. Check out 52 Creative Ways to Challenge Yourself for 52 ways to spice up your life. By the end of a year, you will find that you are more flexible about most things in your life and are enjoying a new sense of freedom.
There are some things that we cannot adapt to or find accommodation. These things are immutable realities that come with growing old. We are all going to die. We will all experience pain of some sort during our lifetime. We will be disappointed by people we love, feel anger at people who don’t understand us, and experience confusion as to how things turned out the way they did. In each of these instances, staying present with whatever the situation is and what it evokes within us is essential to managing the inevitability of the experience.
Perhaps this is the culmination of a lifetime of adapting and accommodating. We finally become able to accept things as they come, ride the wave, and then use what we have learned to stay afloat.
Thank you for reading.