There's a lot to be gained, even in our health, when we embrace change, says environmental health expert Dr Peter Dingle.
"Withinevery setback there is contained the seed of an equalor greater advantage or benefit": Napoleon Hill's observation afterstudying successful people for 22 years.
Change is inevitable, we can't stopit. Within everything is the seed of change. The lawsof physics recognise that it is the nature of all matterto change. Change is the natural state of the universefrom the smallest sub atomic particle to the most complexof organisms. Our cells are constantly being altered,created and destroyed, as our bodies are renewed. Thereis no such thing as an enduring status quo. The lawof continual change applies to physics, biology andall aspects of our lives including our personal growth.To try not to change in a world that is changing aroundyou is not only futile, it's self defeating. Doing whatyou did in the past will only get you to where you wantedto be yesterday. To succeed tomorrow you need to dosomething different today, to change both what you aredoing and how you are thinking. Einstein himself said,"The level of thinking that has got us to wherewe are now is different to the thinking we need in thefuture".
If we accept that the only constantin life is change, then the important questions arehow to embrace change; how to manage the effects ofchange; how to manage our lives and ourselves duringtimes of change and how to create beneficial changesin all aspects of our lives. When Charles Darwin proposedthe survival of the fittest, he was not necessarilyreferring to those with the biggest muscles or brains.He was also referring to the most adaptable - thosewho can cope with change most readily, those who aresufficiently flexible to grow and develop.
The desire to meet and overcome challengesis fundamental to being human. Obstacles, setbacks andhard times have the potential to make us the best wecan be. The capacity to respond to change is what tookour ancestors out of the trees in Africa and has enabledus to build cities and taken us into space. Challengeis what we seek in our youth and we respect and admireothers when we see them meet it. Seeing someone elsemeet a challenge can touch the deepest part of our emotions.
We don't usually change our habitsand conditioning unless we are challenged, so changingis also about the courage to examine the choices wemake in our lives and challenge our behaviour and ourthinking. We have to make the choice, the consciouschoice, to continue to grow and actively pursue thepersonal challenges we set for ourselves. Then we needto have this in the forefront of our minds and to keepprompting our subconscious mind with how we want tomaintain and sustain our body, mind and spirit. Meetingthese challenges is what will make us. Our other choiceis to stagnate, to go backwards, stultifying our creativityand potential.
Change creates opportunities for usto make new and beneficial choices. Within every challengeis the potential for a new and alternative future, onethat you may have never envisaged but for that setbackor obstacle. Adapting positively to change, or makingchanges for yourself now, will repay you many timesover in the future. In hindsight, you'll see those changeswere so obviously necessary and beneficial that youwill wonder why you didn't make them earlier.
Sometimes change is painful, but difficultchallenges can bring us the greatest rewards and deepestsatisfaction. Without a willingness to change and tochallenge ourselves we remain trapped in the past, lockedinto our conditioned patterns of behaviour. Life changingevents such as a major illness, loss of a job, the breakdownof a relationship or the death of a loved one bringwith them our greatest pain, but also the greatest opportunityto challenge ourselves. Whether it be emotional or physicalpain, this is an enormous opportunity to grow. Or asParamahansa Yogananda said in Journey to Self Realization,"Your trials do not come to punish you but to awakenyou".
Successful people are those who havethe capacity to meet adverse circumstances and growby the experience. The changes keep coming and theykeep meeting them. Creating change or adapting constructivelyto it, takes time, energy and focus. Some of these circumstancesare enormous in their impact, others small. Whateverthey are, they help us improve in everything we do.In fact, changing ourselves is one of the most importantprotective mechanisms we have.
We grow only when we push ourselvesbeyond our normal limits. We can build muscle bulk andstrength by systematically challenging it. Our immunesystem also grows stronger if it's challenged. As kidswe suffered with various childhood illnesses. Thesemade our immune system more robust through the developmentof antibodies, giving us protection. As we adjust tochange we also grow stronger, and have more resourcesto meet future challenges. There is, however, a crucialfactor here - the need for a period of recuperationand consolidation. Just as our bodies seek balance andharmony through the process of homeostasis, so we alsoneed to allow times of rest and renewal, establishinga period of equilibrium. Too many changes too quicklycan be destabilising and depleting.
There is overwhelming evidence thatif you keep challenging your mind your risk of dementia,including Alzheimer's disease, will be lower. Cancer,heart attack and stroke patients who challenge theirdiseases live longer, with better quality of life andhave a better survival rate. In a study of 1600 patientswith diverse health problems, from back pain to cardiovasculardisease, prolonged bed rest resulted in a longer averagerecovery time. Those patients who challenged themselvesto get out of bed as soon as possible recovered morequickly. Stroke victims who use their 'good' or unaffectedside, such as their right arm, to do all the work, canget by quite well, but will lose a lot of the functionin their other arm. However, if they tie their 'good'arm so that it can't be used and challenge themselvesto use their damaged arm, their chances of recoveringthe ability of that arm are dramatically increased.These sorts of challenges are extremely difficult, requiringmuch persistence and patience, and a high tolerancefor frustration.
As young children, we continuallychallenge ourselves. Ask a five year old if they cansing, dance or run super fast. Their response is "Yes".Ask if they want to learn a foreign language. You'llget the same response. Ask a 15 year old those questionsand most of the answers will be "No". We soonlearn through peer pressure that it's "safer"to conform, that it's 'cool' to be part of the group.At puberty we become acutely conscious of what everyoneelse thinks of us and we begin adopting what we perceiveas more "acceptable" modes of behaviour -the behaviour of the group to which we want to belong.Many of our greatest innovators were ridiculed in theirday. Great thinkers, musicians, artists, inventors,and those involved in social and cultural change werelabelled as eccentric, even crazy or stupid or timewasters by the powers that be - those who resisted change.
Throughout our childhood and throughoutlife we are conditioned, and we develop a comfort zone.As we age, we fear stepping out of this comfort zoneand our fear is often far greater than the situationwarrants. We may associate with friends and developpursuits that keep us in our comfort zone and reinforceour old conditioning. We are influenced and conditionedby the media in all its forms, particularly television,all types of advertising and movies. We find we areliving a life that is non-challenging. The problem withour comfort zone is that it becomes smaller and smallerunless we take steps to expand it. Once you start pushingthe boundaries of your comfortable limits you'll feelmore comfortable with change than with complacency.It's the acceptance of the comfort zone that preventsmany people from being successful. Most people don'tsucceed because they don't challenge themselves.
Challenging our thoughts, beliefsand actions is difficult. Repeating the same patternsand rhythms every day is what the ancient reptilianbrain loves. Nothing out of the ordinary. You know whatis going to happen. The mammalian brain thrives on thestimulation of challenges and change. Challenging ourroutines and habits demands energy and focus. Whetherthe change you initiate is avoiding certain foods ortaking up an exercise program or meditation, brain scanningtechniques and laboratory experiments have shown thatcertain types of activities require more 'brain energy'and greater brain activity. Challenges, complexity andnovelty are the things that light up both hemispheresof our brain.
We are often so busy in the 21st centurythat we say we cannot find the time to invest in ourown wellbeing or challenge the patterns that are slowlykilling us. As a result we just keep plodding alongin the same direction. Beneath the "being too busy"to change is often the denial and avoidance of our unwillingnessto change. Avoidance can be a useful short-term skillwhich will help you through difficult times. However,long-term it only compounds the problem and createsmore obstacles.
We often choose to ignore informationif it does not suit us (our conditioning). People eatnutritionally empty foods, don't exercise, make healthdepleting choices and then are surprised when theirhealth deteriorates and they become ill. Illness isalso change but not necessarily a positive one for ourphysical wellbeing. We can prevent some illnesses anddisability by making better choices, and we can makethose choices now rather than become the victims ofour own complacency.
Challenge is never far from the horizon,and we are better off going to meet it than trying tohide from it. It is easy to continue to do what youhave always done. It is too easy to drift along withoutmaking any effort to change your habits or your attitude.Inaction leads to more inaction and one day inactionhas insidiously taken control of your life. Lack ofchange and challenge isn't only boring for our mind,body and spirit, it is deadening: "If you're notripening you're going rotten."
Albert Einstein said, "Life islike riding a bike; once you stop, you fall off".
Maybe it is time to get back on thatbicycle and challenge yourself?
Dr Peter Dingle