During a Black History Month event called Celebration of Gospel, Jazz and Poetry that I attended last month, I listened as a singer threw his head back and crooned the wistful words of “A Change is Gonna Come.”
Written by Sam Cooke in 1963, it became an anthem for the Civil Rights Movement. The song makes you believe in change, for the world and for yourself.
Change, however, is not always welcome. When it comes upon us before we feel ready for it, we tend to struggle.
Dealing with change takes skill. One of the measures of psychological resilience is how well a person manages life’s unpredictable transitions. We can fall to pieces, retreating into a safe, impenetrable denial, or we can stand and face what is with courage and creativity.
Mark Harrison, author of “Change Your Life in 30 Days,” teaches that in order to manage change well three character issues must be present: a high ambiguity threshold, a constructive internal dialogue, and a good reservoir of energy.
The threshold for ambiguity simply means you are able to creatively shift and maneuver yourself in times of uncertainty. You don’t worry too deeply about all the negative outcomes, but work toward keeping your head above water with whatever is happening right now.
Say, you lose your job. If your tolerance for ambiguity is high, you will try not to meditate on all the worst-case scenarios. You might take inventory of your bills, perhaps calling each debt agency to alert them to the situation, and create a short-term plan. You might begin doing odd jobs for neighbors to have a small cash flow while you think about a more cohesive plan for managing the crisis. Not having a high tolerance could cause someone to be so overcome with fear and worry that they delay making important decisions.
A constructive internal dialogue is simply choosing to listen to an inner voice that is kind and optimistic. These people believe that they are still powerful and can control certain aspects of their situation. Taking control of what you can control defuses some of the stress change always brings.
When Sam Cooke wrote about change, he had undergone his own dose of difficult transitions. His young son had drowned several months prior, causing him to become more introspective. He was arrested in Louisiana and charged with disturbing the peace for attempting to check into a hotel before a musical performance. Previously, his songs held a light, upbeat note; but as his inner world transitioned he expressed this new position by veering from his previous musical genre. He used his creativity and his understanding of the power he had as an entertainer to do make an impact on the world in the midst of the social and deeply personal maelstrom he was facing.
Having a reservoir of physical, emotional, and mental energy simply means you have taken the time to keep yourself as healthy as possible so that you are strong enough to handle what is ahead. This means working towards feeling and being our best selves when nothing is going on in order to be constantly on the “ready” for the predictably unpredictable adjustments of our lives.
Tabi Upton, MA-lpc, is a therapist at CBI-Richmont Counseling Center and founder of www.chattanoogacounselor.com, inc. E-mail her at email@example.com.