Essential Conversations with Dr. Amy: How to overcome obstacles to positive life change

I like to think of life like a book with many chapters. When we are younger, we are often eager for the next chapter of our life. For example, my eighteen-year-old daughter is impatiently counting down the months until she leaves for university in September. Many of us bring that same enthusiasm into chapters where we launch families and careers.

However, not everyone faces the later chapters of life with the same excitement. These changes may feel out of our control and not as welcome. Perhaps our next chapter is launched because of health challenges or the death of someone we love dearly. Because upcoming change may not feel welcome, it’s common to try to hang on to a chapter of our lives, even if it no longer serves us well.

Follow your instincts

The good news is that we can do planning that supports our ability to maintain our choice, control, and independence as we age, as well as allows us to more readily embrace new chapters in our later years.

We can use this planning method for many areas of our life, including our friendships, how we spend our time, and where we live. Long before we make an adjustment to an area of our life, we may have little inklings, thoughts, or feelings that something isn’t quite right. To maintain the most control in our life, it’s important not to ignore these instincts.

For example, we may notice that we are starting to have trouble maintaining the home we have lived in for years. We may have to devote more of our time and energy to both daily chores and bigger maintenance jobs than we want to. Or we may find that many of our friends have chosen to move. Perhaps we may even start to have health challenges that make it harder to enjoy our home the way we have in the past.

When we have these types of thoughts, we have an opportunity to explore two areas: triggers and hurdles. Triggers are the things that indicate it is time to make a change. There are both “pull triggers” and “push triggers.”

Explore your “push and pull” triggers

Pull triggers are the ones that draw us to making change. For example, we may visit a retirement residence and recognize that we would have an easier lifestyle with more free time and the opportunity to enjoy the company of like-minded people. We feel drawn—or pulled—to make a change based on those factors. We usually feel excited and like we have choice and control in our lives when “pull triggers” are creating the change.

In contrast, push triggers may occur when we are pressed into making a change. We may experience a health challenge without any warning that causes us to need to move quickly, or someone we love has health challenges. Even when there are push triggers, we can still maintain the feeling of choice and control in our lives if we acknowledge ahead of time that one or more push triggers could occur, and, as best as possible, identify those.

For example, my Uncle Al recognized that if he were no longer able to drive, he would not be able to stay in his home easily. Acknowledging that possible push trigger let him do appropriate planning for where he might want to live next. He actively explored retirement living and found a retirement residence he wanted to move into. He was comfortable waiting for the push trigger of not being able to drive to determine when he moved. This planning and exploring kept him in control of where and when he moved!

The next step is to have Essential Conversations with the most important people in our lives where we share these triggers. If we do so, they will be able to support us when those triggers start to appear.

Identify hurdles so you can overcome them easier

The final step is to identify the hurdles in our lives to making a change. Hurdles are both emotional and practical. In the example of moving, many people know they would be better served by a different living situation. Yet, the hurdles seem so great they can’t make the move.

Emotional hurdles could include leaving a home where you raised your children, or the home where your spouse last lived with you before passing. Meanwhile, downsizing can have both emotional and practical elements to it; memories associated with the things that are being let go of and the shear difficulty of the task can all get in the way of moving forward.

The good news about emotional and practical hurdles is that they can be overcome. Once we identify hurdles, we can seek the support of friends, adult children and professionals in “jumping over” those hurdles. This doesn’t mean it’s easy, but it’s doable. Recognizing that when you move from your home you may grieve the passing of that chapter of your life can actually help you move through it, rather than avoid it. The truth is to move forward into a new chapter we can’t avoid hurdles; only jump over them. And needing the support of others to accomplish this simply makes us human!

Exciting new chapters can occur at any age. We just need to be open to them, identify the triggers that tell us it’s time to move into that chapter, and acknowledge and face the hurdles that, if avoided, could keep us from experiencing new adventures and having the best quality of life possible.