Mark Your Thresholds: Our Favorite Technique for Dealing With Change
We all know that change is inevitable.
We’ve been warned about it a million times, in cliches, fables, stories about someone moving our cheese…
But that doesn’t always mean we’re ready to face those changes.
So let’s talk about how we can get better about expecting change, adapting to change, and ultimately making peace with change — all through the idea of marking our thresholds.
As we’ve seen over the past few months, the way we live our lives, the ways we work and learn, the way we approach career exploration — all of that can change nearly overnight. And none of us saw these changes coming.
So…if you can’t even imagine the kinds of changes you’re going to face, how can you prepare for them?
Well…you can’t! You’re not going to be able to anticipate every change—you might not be able to picture what the next big change might look like! But what you can do is develop a more change-friendly mindset, one that puts you at peace with the very idea of change, making you more ready to tackle it when it comes.
Our preferred change-ready mindset revolves around the practice of marking our thresholds—a technique taught to us by Roy Remer, executive director of the Zen Hospice Project in San Francisco.
When Roy was in his late thirties, he experienced a death in his family — and he had trouble dealing with that loss.
To help him wrap his head around the idea of death and the massive change it’d inflicted upon his life, he left his stable career in publishing and started volunteering at the Zen Hospice Project, providing end-of-life care to patients in hospice.
The experience of working with hospice patients showed him that most humans are completely unwilling to confront the idea of death. They prefer to put it out of their minds…until it suddenly forces its way into their lives.
But he also found that when humans do confront these big, scary ideas—when we face death, change, or loss head-on, instead of pretending it won’t ever happen to us—then we’re able to go about our lives with a deeper sense of peace.
Here’s his advice on how we can all make peace with the idea of change:
“Practice dying while you’re living.
For example, if you recently graduated high school? That person, the high school student, is gone. It’s over. We need to say goodbye to this prior stage so that we can allow what’s coming next to emerge.
So mark your thresholds. Mark our lives’ transitions, whether it be graduation, divorce, a death in our life.
Say, this is who I was yesterday—that’s gone. This is who I am today.
It frees you up. It opens you to all the possibilities.”
Roy’s view of change may seem radical. OK…practicing dying? That’s totally radical! But can it realistically help you deal with change?
Our adverse reaction to change tends to come from the feeling that we’re shifting away from “normal.” Humans like stasis! So right now especially, you might be thinking, “When will things just go back to normal???” Or maybe the rise of the phrase “the new normal” terrifies you.
But it’s only when you let go of what felt comfortable or normal for yesterday’s you — whether that be your stable publishing career, or your usual school schedule — that you become free to tackle whatever today brings with an open outlook.
So say goodbye to the old you! Stop hanging on to the idea that you can go back to the way things were. Honor and acknowledge what’s changing in your life right now—and then start to look forward.
It’s important to acknowledge that, even as you clear your slate and say goodbye to yesterday’s version of you, it obviously doesn’t mean you’re going to forget everything you’ve learned and experienced along your road!
You’re still you, and you’ll still be you tomorrow. You just have the opportunity to shed any expectations from today, learn from the changes you faced, and become You 2.0. A new you, who’s ready to move into the next phase of your life.
So how can you mark the big, important threshold that 2020 has become? How can you make peace with so many enormous changes at once?
One thing you can try is writing a letter to the person you were a few months ago.
Thank the past you for the work they put in, and the experiences they acquired — but try not to dwell on them, or miss them, or warn them of the huge changes to come! Simply let them know that you’re about to cross an enormous threshold. You’re about to open a chapter on a whole new you, with new expectations, new goals, and a new outlook.
And then…say goodbye to that old you.
It might feel weird, writing a letter to your old self, but it’ll help to see an “outsider’s” perspective on how the massive changes in your life have affected your current mindset. Once you step outside of your current situation, you might be surprised by how well you’re already handling this change!
If that’s not your style, simply take a few minutes to meditate on the person you are today, and the person you’ve been for the past few years. Meditate on what you consider to be your “normal.”
What would you like to let go of as you cross this huge threshold into the next version of you? Fear? Stubbornness? Resistance to change?
You may not magically create a whole new you overnight, but you can become aware of what you’d like to let go of, and you can start considering those traits as part of the past version of you.
Now, as for the next version of you — what do you need to build up, or where do you need to grow in order to thrive in your new normal?
Maybe your industry is changing, and you need to develop a new skill. Maybe you just need to practice flexibility as you get used to a new work or schedule.
Once you know what you need to let go of, and what you need to go toward, keep meditating on this moment. Hold one foot in the past and keep one foot raised toward the future — and then take that step. Pass through that threshold in your mind.
You’re now free to open yourself up to any of the possibilities — and changes — tomorrow will bring.