Will You Switch Gears or Stall Out in 2016?

Many years ago my wife and I bought a ’67 VW Bug (not an animal, but a vehicle). Great car, great gas mileage, but the downside was it was a stick shift.

First, if you know me, you know that the polio I contracted as a child affected my left leg – virtually limp, so consequently I wear a long leg brace that locks into place at the knee. Secondly, my wife had never driven a stick shift and we lived in Los Angeles at the time – one of the most challenging driving cultures in the world.

How do you drive a stick with these challenges?

We didn’t have lots of time to practice since we drove it immediately after purchasing. Talk about change management under fire! Just accelerating onto the 405 freeway and not getting killed was an experience I could write about forever. After a couple of days both of us had become comfortable accelerating and decelerating, braking, down shifting, etc.

Life is very similar in that it throws us into situations that demand we change gears – often without much warning or time for practice. Sometimes we can see life’s curveballs coming, but other times they come out of no where and knock us off our feet.

A little thing called “sudden change”

Sports coaches refer to such circumstances as “sudden change”. They practice these moments daily in order to mentally and emotionally prepare players. As a result, the players develop resilience and the ability to remain on balance and able to perform at full throttle during these situations.

So, how do you handle changes in general – those you know are coming, but are difficult nonetheless, AND those unseen, untimely, and unbearable sudden changes that you’re unprepared for and uncertain about?

Put your mind in neutral

When dealing with change from a spiritual perspective, generally the objective is to gradually bring the mind to a state of stillness, cultivating a sense of presence in the here and now.

In automotive terms, you downshift from 4th to 3rd gear, then to 2nd, then to 1st , and then finally to neutral. By practicing this self-awareness and mindfulness, you develop the capacity to put your mind in neutral. Once in neutral, we’ve acquired inexhaustible patience and the ability to remain (or regain) balance in any circumstance.

When the gears won’t shift

On the other hand, imagine you just purchased your brand new dream car. You drive off the lot with joy and excitement….but there is one little problem…

You can’t shift gears!

You’re stuck in 1st., 2nd, 3rd, or 4th gear or even worse…stuck in reverse! You panic, the gears begin to grind, and before you know it you find yourself stalled out on the side of the road. And then what? How do you move forward when you’re stuck in gear?

First, recognize when you’re stuck — focusing on the same anxious thought about the future over and over again, or stuck in reverse — ruminating over the past again and again. Second, push the clutch in and change gears – NOW! Recognize and shift!

Mastering the clutch

For some shifting gears is easier than others. Spencer Johnson and Ken Blanchard captured the essence of change and mastering change management in their great short story, “Who Moved My Cheese?” I’ve mentioned the story before. it’s a quick read that’s totally worth the 60 minutes it’ll take to read it.

Here’s some of the guidance they provide on mastering change (recognizing the moment and shifting gears) in everyday life, and the benefit of learning how to do so:

  • Develop an attitude of open-mindedness. Be able to listen to another point of view with such concentration and detachment – even when your opinions are being torn to shreds — that sometimes you’ll say to yourself, “Hey, I can learn from him/her.” This is the beginning of kindness, and kindness is the foundation of humility and harmony in relationships. Hurry, on the other hand is the freeway to unkindness.
  • Become a stranger to insecurity, anxiety and depression. When your mind is racing at breakneck speeds, stuck in one gear, those 3 characters are riding shot gun. However, when you down-shift into a lower gear, you slow everything down and enable yourself to choose freely which thoughts you think. The 3 characters that were sitting shotgun are left on the curb – hitchhiking.
  • Save huge amount of energy. Practicing mindfulness and shifting gears back into neutral lets you park your mind and save a great deal of energy and vitality. This energy and vitality strengthens your immune system and vital organs, lengthening your life as a result.

Gearing up for 2016

As we kick off the new year, I urge you to keep Dr. Johnson’s underlying message in mind:

Instead of seeing change as the end of something, learn to see it as a beginning. Learn to shift gears because – “If you do not change, you can become extinct.”

For a life not to be wasted, it demands a level of risk and adventure. If you are willing to live this way, change loses its horror. In fact, the advancing person purposely creates change because the world is not currently how they would like it.”

Those who continually seek security, ironically, are wracked by the possibility that they may lose it. By learning to shift gears you discover that breaking through them is what makes you free.

Now…put the pedal to the metal and get to shifting!