How has your world shifted in the last four months? I suspect that most of us have felt a sea change. We may not yet understand all the ways our world has changed or will change, nor have we fully grasped all the ways we have been and will be impacted. The changes can at once feel both exciting and overwhelming. I have been reflecting on the saying from Jon Kabat-Zinn, “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.”
As the world around us is changing, we may find that our own plans are shifting, including our work plan or our retirement plan. For those who choose to continue working, the way work looks has and will change in most cases. Some folks who were soon ready to retire now feel they can't or don't want to retire. There will be many others who hadn't yet planned to retire, but now suddenly find themselves retired. It may be that while we were previously focused on finding something meaningful to do, now we may be more focused on how to just be well and content in our downsized world of options.
The reality is that no matter what our transition, it takes energy, whether positive or negative. If it lasts over time, we need to be particularly present to taking care of ourselves. How are you doing that? Let’s take a look at what we know about the dynamics of change and some simple strategies for how we can take care of ourselves in the midst of this time.
When we look at change, William Bridges’ model is one of the most widely known. Bridges names three stages:
The stages don't neatly line up in a linear fashion, where one ends before the next begins. They overlap and we are often experiencing aspects of more than one at a time. We can go forward or backward in our stages, much like grief.
It is common, when going through change, that we want to get “back to normal”. Yet the truth of change is that we aren’t going back to the old normal. There will be a next normal at some point, but we don't know it yet. Getting ready to go back to the old is a common and very human reaction to change.
Another common reaction is called ‘change-back’ where we will see a faction of a group or even a part of ourselves deny change is happening and seek to make sure the new ideas and behaviors developing don’t work. This, of course, delays the inevitable. The longer the neutral zone is, the more change-back we see.
In these past four months, we have encountered a number of waves of change. We've experienced some endings (some we may not even realize yet), and we may be beginning to see some of the new that is emerging. I suspect most of us are feeling the restlessness of a long middle. It is not easy to be in all three places. We will each move at a different pace through change. There is no right or wrong pace, only great ways to take care of ourselves as we move through. With all these waves of change, are you learning to surf? It is as important as getting to the other side. Here are some simple questions to ponder and ideas to let soak in as you journey through each stage:
In the Midst of the Neutral Zone:
Moving into New Beginnings:
Finally, and most importantly, how can you make this fun and easy’? When I work with people in the midst of transition, that is always part of our quest. How can you take what seems overwhelming and break it into a really simple next step? Can you find places to laugh along the way? Giving yourself ease is one of the kindest things you can do for yourself and it is a way of knowing you are truly surfing the waves.
How are you doing now that you are staying home? I've found each person I've talked to having their own unique experience. You may find yourself noting noting one or more of these:
This is such an incredible time of change for us, accompanied by plenty of worry and uncertainty and grief. We each get to process that in our own way and I hope you will be gentle with yourself as you process your own presence.
As I thought about my own plan for this time of being thrust into a new life pace, I realize how, in addition to just staying well, adjusting to this time shares some elements with what I know about adjusting to retirement...but maybe with less elation and more anxiety. They both involve a profound break from what has been our routine and the search for a new daily reality.
When talking about healthy patterns in retirement, I often use a model I refer to as 'The Three Keys'. The research has shown that each of these three keys has incredible health benefits for us. I decided I would offer these up to you during this unusual time to ponder and start to organize your thoughts to build a gameplan for your days ahead. I've also shared some questions that you can think about with each key as you do your planning.
Structure forms a frame from which we can live our life. With all our disruption right now, many of us are building a new frame. How are you introducing some routine into these days that are anything but? Having structure will keep you grounded when everything around you is changing. It also helps your biorhythms settle in to help all your systems function better and is a springboard for creativity.
How can you be intentional about forming a daily routine for yourself? And how can you do it in a way that gives you space to be with this experience and the days that may include lack of productivity, fatigue, and sadness?
Here are some simple questions to get you started:
This time is impacting all of us differently. It is perfectly normal to be feeling some disorientation, or weariness, or inability to focus. Go easy on yourself. If you need to break this down into simple pieces, simply focus on holding some routine in your days, one step at a time. You don't need one more long list of things you 'should' do. As time goes on, the other two keys will feel more important so you can dip into them as you are ready.
The trick to structure is not to engrave it in stone. There has to be a little wiggle room for spontaneity, just not a wide-gaping hole of chaos or emptiness every day.
How are you reaching out in the world? Connection gives us the opportunity to feel like we are part of something greater. Connection is going to be crucial as we spend more time at home these next weeks. For those of us who live alone during this time, this has to be even more intentional. For those who live with others, keeping this extended time together with others light, kind and respectful may be the order of the day.
We’re seeing virtual happy hours, fashion shows, yoga hours, exercise classes, bingo, concerts, and dance parties spring up online. What clever ideas can you come up with to stay connected with others?
Meaning connects with a deeper part down inside of us that tickles our sense of presence, purpose and significance. It is not the part of you that is built from shoulds, but the part that is deeply captivated and satisfied by a certain activity. It may involve doing something of purpose out in the world, which is much needed, but that doesn't always scratch that place of meaning. It could also be something that you do with and for yourself such as art or reading or music or writing. What is important is that it is something that connects with that deeper part of you and lights you up, makes you lose track of time, connects with your gifts, and enthralls you.
It is all too easy to get caught up in watching and responding to the latest developments in the media. Doing something that satisfies your curiosity or captivates your imagination or furthers how you want to live life aligned with your values helps anchor you. It provides a way to be grounded when so much around you is changing. And if life is moving all too slowly for you, having an activity to build some meaning into your days is one of the best remedies.
Keep these three keys in mind as you shape this time ahead. Most certainly, pay attention to maintaining your physical health. We also need to focus on getting through and emerging from this time emotionally and mentally healthy. With attention to these three keys, you give attention to the latter, with benefits for the former!
50 FUN THINGS!
Now a bonus for you! Last week, I attended an online session done by Teresa Thomas. Teresa is one of the most gifted networkers and facilitators I’ve encountered. She does live events called 50 Fun Things (www.50funthings.com) which are creative and inspiring. The particular session I attended was done online and was entitled "50 Fun Things to Do While Cooped Up". Over the course of a half hour, everyone who tuned in offered up ideas of fun things to do to pass the time on these days. We came up with a list of 108 ideas. You can source it by clicking here...50 Fun Things While Cooped Up
Teresa will be doing other fun online versions in the next days if you would like to join. To do so, join her Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/50funthings or follow her on Instagram here: https://www.instagram.com/50funthings/
Most importantly, I hope you are focused on keeping yourself grounded and whole. I wish you not only to be well, but enriched, during this unusual time in our lives. I hope there can be a bright side in it for you. I am available and happy to do 30-minute or 60-minute online sessions if you are feeling out of sync and want help coming up with a gameplan for these days ahead, for your life in general, for your retirement, or if you just plain need to break up cabin fever! You can contact me at email@example.com
Be well and be at peace.
Ruth Tongen helps people plan and live meaningful, fun and healthier retirements.