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Episode 209: Life Changes



And hello to you and welcome to the Richard Nicholls podcast.
The personal development podcast series that's here to help inspire, educate and motivate you to be the best you can be. I’m psychotherapist Richard Nicholls and this is episode 209 it’s titled Life Changes and if you're ready we'll start the show.


It's another January again. Yay! Theres one every year isn't there. Some things just don't change, even though everything else does. If we're honest, life is pretty much always in flux we don't stand still for very long. Never have really. Even Plato, the ancient Greek philosopher is quoted as once saying "Everything changes and nothing remains still. You cannot step twice into the same stream" theres nothing new under the sun so I think he probably got the idea from Heraclitus who said

“The only constant in life is change” so even 2 and a half thousand years ago we knew what we were up against. That change is normal and needs to be accepted. But that doesn't make it any easier when big things happen does it? Because sometimes life does come with big changes. We can lose a family member or we can gain one. We can lose a job or we can move jobs. We can move house, move country.

We can move in with a new partner. We can get married, get divorced. Change gender. Our pet can die. Our child suddenly isn't a child anymore and moves out. And it can all feel very scary. Because change doesn't always come with a gain. We have to dig quite deep sometimes to find that there are more than just losses. But try telling someone who's just been diagnosed with terminal cancer that they're gaining something. I mean they might be.

They might be gaining a new perspective on life and the only way to get that would be through facing mortality. That's quite common, really common actually. It's a little like something I read earlier in the year on a forum where people were sharing their mental health stories, it was a suicidal ideation support site actually. And someone wrote that a few years ago they'd made the decision to take their own life. Their depression was too bad, they felt they could never get better,

they were lonely, they had no sense of belongingness anywhere, and decided that tomorrow was going to be the day that they were going to take their own life. They knew just how to do and they'd made a plan. And the scary thing is when someone gets like that they so often feel an enormous peace. They know that their pain is going to come to an end and so they stop worrying about it. So this person decided to go and enjoy their last day,

they went for a walk and said goodbye to the world by appreciating it, they spoke to strangers for the first time in months, and struck up conversations with people. They looked at trees and plants and they watched people going by with a...with a...humanistic appreciation for everything. They loved that day because they knew it was their last. So the next day they wanted to do it again, and they realised they didn't want to die,

that they never had done, they just didn't want the life they had. And facing it made them realise that a different perspective was possible. I'm sure it didn't suddenly cure their depression, but they lived. And that's important. They lived to share that story. Amazing. So yes it is possible in the face of something like the serious prospect of losing your life we can gain insight we can gain the knowledge of what matters most to us. That others might not gain.

But with big changes, there's usually a messy mixed bag of emotions. We need to accept that as normal and acknowledge how we feel. Because as well as feeling fearful of the change we might also be feeling proud. We can be excited about the future but at the same time feel vulnerable because we don't know for sure what the future is going to bring us. Anyone whose ever laughed whilst they're crying knows that you can feel opposite ends of the spectrum at the same time.

Be ok with that. It's just that our brain loves routines. Whatever happened yesterday must be safe because we're alive today to tell the tale so our brain wants us to do the same thing again, and when things are different and its expectation isn't met it chucks a spanner in the works and starts turning a new set of cogs instead. Making us feel unsafe. Yet at the same time we can be really happy. It's ok to be conflicted.

When my son grows up and moves out its going to feel awful for me and my wife. I'm not sure who's going to feel worse. My wife because she's got to let a baby that she carried around inside her go off and make his own decisions and mistakes outside of her control. Or me because I'll be missing my best friend and have no-one to watch sci fi and super hero stuff with. But we'll both be gaining so much too. Pride for one, space for another.

Freedom to make as much noise in the bedroom as we like, the ability to stop out all night if we wanted to or make last minute plans to meet up with people without having to get back. Look for the gains in the changes not just the losses. And look for the things that you can control rather than focus on the things you can't. My son's 17 and if he goes to Uni that's not much more than 18 months away and using that sort of change as an example,

if I feel loss, if it feels like grief and emptiness. Then my wife and I are both gonna need to look at that. And by acknowledging that I feel sad because it feels like I'm losing him, someone I see every day to talk to and laugh with, by acknowledging how I feel. That rather than just "Sad", because I'm feeling all the other stuff, then I can do something with it. I can't do anything with "sad" but I can do something about feeling like we're disconnected because then I can make plans to talk, to meet up,

To have him round for dinner, to go to him. I can focus on the things I'm going to gain then. Not the things I'm losing. Because it's just change. It's not all loss. If by changing jobs we feel that we're going to lose friends then tell them that. Tell them "I'm worried that I'm not going to see you any more" because saying things IS in your control. Keeping in contact with friends IS something you can control. But even in the face of all things uncertain there are still constants in your life.

And if a big change in your life is tricking your brain into thinking the world is a dangerous place and creating a load of anxiety then make specific effort to look at the things in your life that haven't changed. Train your brain that even though SOMETHING'S changed there are still things that haven't. And as long as you don't have obsessive compulsive personality disorder, these certainties can be very reassuring. You might already be using them actually. This podcast series might be an anchor to security actually.

I know I have some rituals. I get up at the same time every day and go through the same routine. The way I unload the dishwasher the way I make my coffee in the same way every day and sit in the same place for 20 minutes drinking it and reading graphic novels checking the same websites for news and weather. It anchors my mind into a place of safety, of familiarity and reassurance. It's why religion brings security for so many people.

The routine of church on a Sunday. Or the poetic words of a Catholic Mass that those that go know like the back of their hand. Even the lords prayer, I'm an atheist humanist but I still remember the lords prayer from childhood, mind you I also still remember the lyrics to snooker loopy and the chicken song and you know they can provide just as much security maybe. Something that's always there. Like Mecca for Muslims.

Theres something to be said about the rituals of religious practises, they do help us to feel grounded. They're a bedrock that provides a buffer for the uncertainties of life. So that if we feel that life is pulling us in a hundred different directions there is still something underneath it all that is solid and dependable. Now I'm certainly not saying that you need to become a Budhist and start religiously meditating with some affirmations every morning and you don't need to pray to Mecca or pray at all.

But you can understand why people do can't you. So maybe you can meditate that's a good routine actually and you don't need to be religious to learn to focus your attention onto something. So is exercise, so are deep breathing exercises. They can be things that are always there for you. Like a security blanket. Even a to do list can help people here. Even if that list is constantly changing, the process of going through it and ticking off the things you've done is really helpful.

Especially if you're making changes in your life. If you're emigrating for example, that's a massive change. You're definitely going to need a to do list as a security blanket. A list of things that you know are getting ticked off bit by bit that give you evidence that you're on the right path, to stop you from getting overwhelmed with stuff, and stop all the worst case scenario thoughts. Quick lesson on the brain. Or a quick reminder for most of you I'd have thought.

The brain has 2 processes running, conscious processes and unconscious processes. The unconscious stuff is the older prehistoric instincts that pre date our ability to think consciously when we were fish and lizards and basic humans without frontal lobes. But we can also make things unconscious when they become a skill or a habit. The neurons become so well insulated that the electrical signals flow really fast too fast to probably notice

and require less effort, less energy, electrical energy, glucose whatever, it's just easy. Now, One thing that happens to us when we're stressed is that it puts a lot of demands on the conscious part of us to do things, especially in the face of big changes. So it cuts corners and makes assumptions. We call them heuristics, and they usually make our life a lot easier to navigate. We've learned that chairs of a certain shape and size will take our weight when we sit on them,

We don't test them first just to see if they're safe. So these shortcuts can be useful. But we also override them a lot too because we can think consciously as well. Unless we're quite stressed that is. When we're stressed we fall foul of things like the framing effect where we value something more if its framed positively and value it less if its framed negatively. So meat that's labelled as 80% lean will be thought of as healthier and is more preferred

over the one that's labelled 10% fat. We are more likely to create dichotomous thinking. As if everything is one thing or another. Black or white thinking with no grey area, so things are either good or bad. Safe or dangerous. Which tends to make people jump towards dangerous more than safe when things should be in the grey area. We're seeing that a lot lately with vaccine hesitancy. But if you've got the head space to examine your thought patterns

and assess how rational they are or not, you're going to find you can influence your thinking towards creating a more resilient and optimistic personality trait. That's why I include a load of hypnotherapy tracks on my Patreon page for my lovely patrons, the link is as always in the show notes if you fancy coming on board there. Become an annual subscriber and you get 2 months free and not only then do you get weekly podcast episodes there are my hypnotherapy tracks too.

So that you can learn to slow down your mind to help you feel more in control of it so that you can better evaluate any changes and frame them more positively. One way of helping to create more positive thoughts and feelings about life changes is by taking some time to remind yourself about changes you've made in the past, the challenges and problems you faced and successfully navigated through. If you've moved house before, did everything eventually turn out ok?

For example. Was everything alright when you changed jobs last time? That sort of thing. Therapists do this in CBT sometimes they encourage you to make a list of ways you’ve been resilient in your life in the past, to help you see that you already have the traits you need and are capable of doing the things that you need to do already. It encourages you to focus on your strengths instead of your weaknesses, so that you can feel more empowered to meet whatever lies ahead.

So go forth you beautiful people, he says, checking the time. Embrace the changes that life throws at you, I'll be back next week as always for patrons although you can get my weekly episodes by subscribing on Apple Podcasts if you're not interested in my hypnotherapy recordings too by the way, either way I can be a consistent anchor for you if you need it, even if it's only through these monthly episodes and my social media channels.

Feel free to follow me on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter if you want to keep seeing my cheesy face pop up more regularly too. If you're not a patron I'll be back next month and if you are I'll be back on Monday where I think the episode is going to be about Acceptance, yes. Have a great week, have a great month, or just have a great sandwich. Make something great and I'll speak to you again next time. Take care.