By Leo Babauta
With the world in so much flux these days, many of us are noticing how difficult it can be to deal with ever-changing plans.
It’s always been a challenge, but as with so many things, it’s become an in-your-face challenge these days.
Some people really struggle when plans are always changing — it can be frustrating and feel like there’s no solid ground under our feet. Other people seem to love having no solid plans … but their challenge is often that they can’t seem to commit to anything regular, don’t want to be tied down, and often have difficulty focusing.
Today I’m talking to those who struggle with rapidly changing plans.
What if you could learn to be nimble, flexible, resilient when plans are always changing? What if you could find focus in the middle of the chaos, and calm in the middle of the storm? What if you could learn to flow like a surfer riding a wave?
This is the promise of learning to relax with uncertainty and navigate uncertain waters.
Let’s talk about some key ideas …
Every change is a training.
When someone changes plans on us, we can (and often will) get frustrated with them for changing things up on us at the last minute. And while we can talk with them about it if it becomes an ongoing problem … sometimes changes are unavoidable. What if, instead, we embraced the change as a training opportunity to get better at being flexible, nimble and resilient with change?
We could then find gratitude for this beautiful training opportunity. Thank the person. And then turn towards our own frustration or resistance to change, as a way to grow in this area.
Use changes to stay present.
The training we can do, when presented with the opportunity of a change in plans, can simply be to remember to be present. Simply open to the experience of the present moment. When we’re frustrated with changes, it’s because we are fixated on what we expected things to be, on what is no longer true. What if we focused instead on what is right in front of us, the reality on the ground?
In this way, change training is simply mindfulness training. Learning to open to the moment that is unfolding, unpredictable, unplanned, but still breathtakingly wondrous.
Learn to relax with uncertainty.
When a change in plans presents itself, we often will feel a tug of uncertainty at our hearts. It’s the feeling of the rug being yanked from under us — yikes, things are not stable! So we feel a moment of fear. That can then be turned into a train of thought: “Why do they always have to change things up on me, why can’t we just stick to plans, why can’t I just have one day of peace?” And so on, until we’ve turned a momentary feeling of uncertainty into a huge deal.
What if instead we could feel the sensation of uncertainty in our bodies, and simply turn our attention on it and be with it? What if we could practice relaxing with the uncertainty? It doesn’t have to be turned into a frustrating narrative (though that might still happen), but could simply be a direct experience of change.
Practice flowing with changes.
Once we learn to relax with uncertainty and open to the unfolding ever-changing moment … we can learn to flow. Like a surfer flowing with a wave that’s always changing. It can actually be fun! Let’s see how good I can get at flow, let’s see how nimble I can get with change, let’s see how resilient I can be with uncertainty.
That means when there’s a change, we can relax with the uncertainty, and then make a very simple decision: what is best here? Then take that next simple step, with ease.
You can find focus in chaos, with practice.
With a lot of changes, we can have difficulty finding focus. It’s chaotic! I can’t focus! Actually, we can find focus, but it can take some practice.
The practice is simply this: pause to consider what you’d like to focus on. If you’re feeling chaotic, turn toward the sensation of that, and relax with it. Then create the space to focus, if possible — if you don’t have the time, you can simply do it when the space is available. But a lot of people actually have the time, they just don’t allow themselves to focus because they’re feeling chaotic.
Even if it’s 10 minutes of focus, you can practice it. Clear the space, give yourself one thing to do. Make it your entire universe. Pour yourself fully into it. Come back to this focus when your mind gets distracted. Keep practicing!
Structure is very helpful, but don’t be attached.
I highly recommend structure, as a way to create a little order for what you need to take on. If you need to regularly do some focus work, but also email, messages, finances, chores, planning, exercise … create spots in your day or week for all of these. It will help you actually get the important commitments done.
That said, when we get too attached to our structures, we can get frustrated when things get messy. Maybe someone sprung something on us. Maybe something unexpected came up. Maybe we don’t stick to the structure because we’re tired, and things get sidetracked. When these things happen, it feels like everything has fallen apart, and then we can get frustrated, discouraged, and lose focus or motivation.
The practice can simply be to hold the structures with as much discipline as we can, but without attachment. That means hold to them as much as we’re able to, but then when things change, to practice flow. What needs to be adjusted in the moment, when there’s a change? What would be best now that the structure isn’t possible at the moment? Then once we’ve made an adjustment, we can simply return to the structure as soon as possible.
Could you find joy in the middle of the storm?
Things can feel very stormy, and for a lot of people, that can bring anxiety and frustration. But what if we can learn to open up to the storm, to embrace it? To find the beauty in the chaos of the storm?
In my life, I have come to feel awe at the powerful beauty of storms, to delight in their swirls and unpredictability, to see the art in the middle of the gale. When I see this in an actual storm, it reminds me to practice seeing this in the chaos of my daily life.
What beauty can you find the chaos of your life today?