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Keep Your Coat Handy: How Expecting Setbacks Can Help You Spring Forward

Thanks to Laurie Budlong-Morse for being a guest author at Thought Tonic!

Once, about this time of year as the first signals of spring began to say hello, I found myself captivated on an ordinary walk around my neighborhood. Tiny, purple crocuses were beginning to bloom amid the still brown grass, an eager bee delighted in the almost forgotten taste of pollen. The contrast was striking, vivid colors against muted hues, new beside old, spring and winter sharing the same space. To capture the scene on camera, I laid down on my belly in the mud, despite what the neighbors must have thought.

The natural world has much to teach us about the process of change, and spring is a worthy instructor. The transition from winter to spring is never a smooth process, particularly not here in Indiana. Temperatures swing wildly from one day to the next, confusing tender new blooms and migrating birds as well as us in our wardrobe choices.

There is an adaptive strategy many of us adopt to survive in the midst of such wild weather roller coasters. We embrace these early, spring-like moments with whole-hearted abandon — we go for walks, do our yard work, play outside, fire up the grill. Yet (here’s the secret), we keep our winter coats hanging at the ready. We live in love with the taste of spring now, but we also know this warmth is fleeting and remain prepared to enter back into winter’s chill.

When the cold inevitably returns, it’s paradoxically both more frustrating and more tolerable. Going back indoors and bundling up feels especially stifling after we have recently felt the freedom of fresh air and bare arms. Yet, we can also be encouraged by the vivid reminder of the temporary nature of these last cold days. We put our ready-to-wear coat back on and keep comfortable enough while we wait for spring to arrive in full.

What if we could adopt the same adaptive mindset in our process of change?  

We often like to tell ourselves that change unfolds in our lives in smooth and steady ways, gracefully, and settling in gradually. But spring teaches us that change can just as beautifully present itself in fits and starts. Change can come on suddenly, then appear to leave us as quickly as it began. Change can tease us, eluding us at just the moment we believed it was ours to possess. Just as soon as we think we have mastered a new way of being or relating, there we are, humbled to find ourselves back in the old.

(Here’s the secret:) Keep your coat handy.  

In other words, welcome change fully, play in it and with it, delight in the new experiences and sensations it brings into your life. And, expect this welcome change-visitor to come and go for a bit in the beginning. That way, when the chill of past problems returns, you can grumble with frustration, but you can also be encouraged by your recent encounter with change, knowing it will return to you soon enough. These past-problem-days are now numbered.

When we can anticipate setbacks to be a temporary but regularly occurring part of our change process, we can be less distressed by the appearance of cold snaps. Remembering that we are prepared to move through past problems when they resurface allows us to gently create an unhurried opening for change to return to our lives. Celebrating change fully in the moment it appears while holding it loosely as an unexpected visitor frees us to be present to the process with less self-judgment and greater calm.

These early days of change, when the old and the new exist side by side, see-sawing back and forth, are not for the impatient nor the faint of heart. Yet, there can be surprising beauty in this transitory space … if we are willing to pause, lay on our bellies, and look with open-eyed wonder.

Featured Image: Photo by Allef Vinicius on Unsplash

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