Our lives are not as unpredictable as we want to believe

pexels-photo-908308.jpegThe first 60-degree days (16 degrees Celsius) are blossoming where we live in the Upper Midwest of the USA, and short-sleeves are proliferating. The visual contrast of people in short-sleeved shirts and athletic shorts as they stroll past stubborn, shadow-dwelling snow drifts got us to thinking about the nature of change and our reactions to change.

When the temperature falls in autumn to 60 degrees, people start pulling on sweatshirts, light jackets, and sweaters, but when the temperature rises to 60 degrees in spring, people remove their sweatshirts, light jackets, and sweaters. Same temperature, different reaction. Why?

Over time, the body tends to adapt to the rising and falling of temperatures in a predictably effective manner, year after year. But do our emotions respond in similar ways? Just because we can adapt doesn’t mean we enjoy adapting! Whether or not we can find  beauty in the cooling of temperatures (the changing color of leaves, migrating birds heading south, the smell of wood smoke in the air, the taste of hot cocoa) may depend on where we fall on the optimist-pessimist continuum.

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If we are optimistic, we might revel in new, exciting experiences–such as falling in love. In this case, we might take any sign of returned affection–for example, a kind word or the holding of hands–as a warm day in the coming spring. As we begin to imagine all the wonders that await us with our partner, we take off our sweatshirt and breathe in the warming air no matter what season it really is.

Conversely, if we are a more pessimistic person, we might range from skepticism to disbelief that another person could ever love us. We might interpret someone’s kind word as pity or a mistake, or the holding of our hand as a threat or mockery.

When contrasted with the seasons, the events of our lives seem unpredictable, out of our control: finding a life partner; job satisfaction and stability; health (physical and mental); reliability of our possessions (technology, transportation), to name a few. It can be hard to believe that someone can love us or hire us or that we can survive an illness in the same way that we have faith that spring will finally arrive–even after a 16-inch (41 cm) April snowfall!

Not so fast.

In reality, we probably exert some control over these seemingly less predictable circumstances. If we don’t like our job, we can take steps to update our skills for new/different employment, network for new opportunities, discuss with our boss what we find dissatisfying, practice job interviews.

If we keep dropping our phone and breaking the screen, we can invest in a reliable protective cover. Traffic is not only relatively predictable, but we can also access mapping technology before we leave (and en route) to alert us to delays and direct us the fastest way.

And in order to develop relationships, we probably have to make ourselves vulnerable. We are making ourself vulnerable in writing this blog. You make yourself vulnerable when you choose to comment, to stand up and say, “Yes, that happens to me, too.” We made ourself vulnerable telling our best friend that we were in love with her. (Spoiler alert, we’ve been married for 20 years!)

No, our lives don’t function as predictably as the changing of the seasons. And, still, we can take some actions in our lives to change what we don’t like, whether we are optimistic or pessimistic. To balance our budget, we need to spend no more than we make–which means we can make more money, spend less, or both. We may not want to work a second or third job, and we still can. We may not want to give up our Starbucks, and we still can.

Losing weight over time is a similar formula: We must create a deficit of calories, which we can do by taking in fewer calories, burning more calories, or a combination. We may not want to eat less or exercise more, and we still can.

When it’s cold, we can put on a sweater, and when it’s warm, we can take one off. Whether or not we grumble or sing as we do so doesn’t negate the act of self-care. A sweater is a tool. The more tools we bring with us (metaphorical as much as physical) and the more willing we are to use them, the more adaptively we can function. If we don’t have a sweater, we can buy one, borrow one, or learn how to knit. We’re still allowed to complain about the weather.

What is not effective is to complain and do nothing. Do something. We are worth it!

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