PLAN A binder in trash with PLAN B binder in foreground

“There is no normal. There’s only change and resistance to it and then more change.” ~Meryl Streep

CHANGE IS HERE TO STAY

Once we accept that change is a constant in our lives, it becomes easier to surf along the surface of life. 

We get to see that riding along is safer and smarter than fighting since we can only at best influence the outcome of events—never fully control them. 

CONTROL YOURSELF

The only thing we can control is ourselves. Or in the first person, the only thing I can control is myself.

That clarity gives me greater responsibility and agency for myself—for my physical well-being and my mental and emotional health.

It also totally destroys the illusion that I can control anything beyond myself.

Think about trying to get anyone or anything to do exactly what you want—from a colleague, employee, or vendor to a child or even a companion animal.

How successful have you ever been IF they didn’t want to do exactly what you wanted them to do exactly the way you wanted them to do it, and exactly when you wanted them to do it?

I can tell you that I have not been successful. 

And on top of the failure of not getting people to do what I wanted them to do or have things happen the way I wanted them to happen, what stings me more is accepting that I chose to waste all that time, experience all that stress, and probably wasted money and other resources as well, only to end up disappointed. 

An essential lesson here is not to blame anyone, not even myself—but to definitely accept responsibility for my choices.

It’s only through accepting responsibility that I will make a different choice in the future.

If I continue to try to blame others or avoid responsibility for my choices, I will probably and foolishly attempt to do this again hoping for a different outcome.

BEYOND YOUR CONTROL

So basically everything is beyond your control.

There is actually tremendous freedom in that statement.

A few things are possibly open to your influence, but even that is subject to change.

Once you accept that everything other than you is beyond your control, things often begin opening up in that ironic, “I never looked at it that way before” kind of way.

One of the benefits of this discovery is that you harness your own personal resources and marshal them much more carefully.

You stop wasting time trying to make things happen that you cannot make happen and instead focus your energy on the things you can make happen—like doing your work.

And showing up on time and fully present for all your relationships, professional and personal.

Even as you settle into the idea that things are far less certain than you thought.

Of course, they were always uncertain but chances are you had some unexamined assumptions about how life was going to unfold.

You may have even tried to bargain with the universe that you would of course embrace change … once … and then nothing would change after that.

But it seems like every time something shifts, we get another chance to experience surprise and either upset or excitement, as we struggle with our own expectations.

EXPECTATIONS = RESENTMENTS UNDER CONSTRUCTION

I don’t think it’s inherently wrong to want things.

My Buddhist teachers would only point out that things get rough once longing or craving takes over and we start to obsess.

And that obsession looks different for each of us.

For some it may be planning and trying to control every outcome. Even after you know that you can’t control the outcome. 

Apparently some old habits are hard to break.

Others may pretend to be indifferent hoping that if they make no choice, they won’t be disappointed when they don’t get what they want. 

For myself, I’m mindful of not creating many expectations.

I want lots of things, and by things I don’t mean stuff.

I mean experiences.

I want more speaking opportunities, more coaching assignments, more travel, more clients.

I want more dinner parties, more naps, more time to walk on the beach, and more chances to sweat in hot yoga.

And while I want all of these things, I work consistently to not create an expectation around any of them so that if they don’t show up exactly as I imagined them to, I am not disappointed.

Unlike the person who pretends indifference, I’m not indifferent.

I definitely want these things to be manifested. What I’ve let go of is any expectation of how, when, or what it looks like.

What I’ve learned over time is that when I create those kinds of parameters, I will often sell myself short—I’m frequently surprised at how much better things turn out than I could have imagined or would have settled for. 

I have a mantra I got from a colleague: everything is always working out for me

I remind myself of that often because it’s pretty true. 

When I have the right mindset.

A mentor also taught me that inside every disappointment is a seed of an equal or greater opportunity and that has proven to be true consistently as well.

So that’s what my outward-facing seeking typically looks like.

I want experiences, I take action to manifest them, and I let go of any expectation of the result.

Where I get into trouble is when I’m tired or feeling overwhelmed.

CHANGE IS EASIER WHEN I’M FIT

Here’s where tired and overwhelmed comes in.

I am grateful that people trust me with important responsibilities in their businesses and lives. 

I find deep value and meaning in being helpful and useful.

And yet sometimes, I get overwhelmed that there isn’t enough time and there are too many demands on my perceived limited resources.

It doesn’t matter if it’s true, of course—when I’m feeling it, it seems true.

So when I’m in that state of mind—tired and overwhelmed—and things change, I can fall back into frustration and disappointment.

It’s like I have a momentary lapse of what I know to be true—that I have no control over anything other than myself.

That is easy to remember when I’m feeling strong and centered and calm.

And, again ironically, those are typically things I do have control over.

I have several tools that I can use if I am feeling weak, off-balance or frazzled.

Sitting meditation is one of those tools.

So is taking a walk.

Getting a snack.

Taking a nap.

Exercising in any way—move a muscle, change a feeling.

Calling a colleague or friend.

Writing a little bit about my state of mind/being is another one. I hesitate to call it journaling, just because that sometimes gets a bad rap and feels more personal than professional, but that’s basically what writing about yourself is. 

What all this shows me is that it doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about “good” changes or “bad” changes—things we hope for or things we’re trying to avoid—when something shifts and I’m out of sorts, it’s possible I won’t welcome the shift, I’ll resist it.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Here’s the thing: whether we think we can control or influence the changes happening in our lives or not, the one thing we can definitely alter is our responses.

And our reaction to change is influenced by our state of mind.

When someone gives you a new task, be it more responsibility or a move to a new department at work, a new assignment in school, or a new role at home, do you rejoice or do you bristle?

Do you find yourself resenting change, even when it’s something you were anticipating or wanting?

That’s one expectation that is sure to be satisfied—if we meet change with a chip on our shoulder, it’s practically guaranteed we’ll be unhappy.

So what if we unstuff our attitude?

Since this moment, this situation, this life is what we have to work with, let’s let go of what’s not useful.

Ask yourself: Is my complaint helping me get through the task at hand?

Is my blossoming resentment inspiring my creative problem-solving abilities?

If I zoom out, will I see that I have spent more time being upset than just getting things done?

Would I rather be right or happy?

Taking it one step further, can you start to choose everything you do, instead of allowing or perceiving things to be foisted upon you—particularly the things you must do?

Because you’re going to do them anyway.

And probably for a good reason—whether that’s to keep your house whole, feed your family, further your career, or simply play your part in a community you have chosen.

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About The Author

Andrew Mellen's picture

Andrew Mellen is an organizational expert, public speaker, and the #1 best-selling author of Unstuff Your Life!

Andrew has helped tens of thousands of people worldwide to declutter and simplify their lives while regaining time for the things that matter.

A sought-after authority on organizing and productivity, Andrew's addressed audiences from The Great British Business Show to TEDx. 

Corporate clients include American Express, Genentech, NetApp, Time, Inc., and the US Depts. of Education and Homeland Security.

The media has dubbed Andrew “The Most Organized Man in America.” He writes a featured column called “Ask The Organizer” in Real Simple. In addition, he has written for and/or appeared in: The Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, Oprah Magazine, America Now, The Lisa Oz Show, The Nate Berkus Show, Oprah & Friends, Martha Stewart Living Today, ABC, NBC, CBS, CW11, HGTV, DIY Network, LiveWell Network, KnowMoreTV, Better Homes & Gardens, Ladies' Home Journal, Woman's Day, Family Circle, USA Today, GQ, InStyle, All You, Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, Healthy UK, American Way, numerous trade and travel publications, and NPR.

He leads workshops and speaks internationally while maintaining a private practice working with clients ranging from Fortune 100 companies, trade associations, and non-profits to CEOs, award-winning filmmakers, and authors, as well as overwhelmed parents everywhere. 

In 2013, Andrew founded Unstuff U®, the world's first completely virtual personal organization training center, offering classes, workshops, and other online resources for businesses and individuals. 

Andrew is a member of the Experts Collective and serves on the faculty of the New York Open Center in New York City. He speaks frequently on the intersection of spirituality and organization at places including Omega Institute, San Francisco Zen Center, Tassajara, All Saints Church, JCC Manhattan, and the Center for Spiritual Enlightenment, among others.

Previously, Andrew was an award-winning playwright, actor, producer, and director and the former Artistic Director of Alice B. Theater (Seattle), DC Arts Center (Washington, DC), and Shuttle Theater Company (New York). He is a contributing author to Yes Is the Answer: (And Other Prog-Rock Tales).

Andrew lives by his motto: More Love, Less Stuff!® 

Find him on the web at andrewmellen.com.

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