When you discover that you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount. (Dakota Indians)
A patient I saw not long ago had a sudden insight into his sadness. He realised that he was in a rut, an old rut made of bunches of behaviours that belonged in his past and were no longer useful. He recognised that he was stuck and that he had a certain yearning for the past.
He told me that the rut meandered around a bit and made him feel like he was going somewhere but, really, not going anywhere meaningful at all. Instead he was going through the motions that led to his sadness and a certain anxiety.
This topic often comes up with people who have been confronted with significant change in their lives. COVID-19 has been such and event, when our normal routines have been completely disrupted. I find that when a new situation presents itself, people hang on to the old habits, familiar ways of behaving that no longer work. It is as if there is a longing for what has been lost. This might involve the loss of a partner, kids leaving home, having to move house or jobs, being locked down due to the plague, getting older, or retirement, for example.
When change happens, it is time for the reinvention of the self: letting the past go and moving into a new future. No matter how old you are. It’s a time to develop new routines-they make us feel more secure. Time to find a new niche perhaps, meet other people, develop new hobbies, take up a cause, get out from under your partner’s feet, volunteer. Make something happen.
In a recent webcast I made about COVID-19, I made the point that we need to develop new routines to replace old ones that we can’t use. It’s the same for any major change.
As Kathy Sullivan said on Radio National a few weeks ago when asked about the huge odds she faced becoming a female astronaut given how competitive it is to get on the astronaut bus, ‘If you don’t try, you have zero chance of success’.
Of course it’s not easy, of course you have to get out of your comfort zone. It is not simple to let go of the past and move into an uncertain future. But you’ve done it before. You’ve adapted and changed to changed circumstances in your life, haven’t you? Maybe getting married or living with with a partner, having kids, changing jobs, giving up smoking: whatever it was, you know how to change.
What it takes, most of all, is courage and getting over the fear of fear.
Maybe start by doing just one thing different, change the pattern, and it can give you more confidence to do other things. Sometimes changing one thing is all that is needed.
Dr Stewart Hase is our guest blogger, sharing his insights into Frontline Help for Mental Health, Heutagogy, Leadership, Neuroscience and Neuroleadership: “A Master Class on Neuroscience and Leadership”.