Navigating Change in Uncertain Times

Here’s a truth we’re all facing: none of us is invincible against the winds of change. But we also don’t have to be defenseless. When confronted by tumultuous times, as we have been in 2020, we each have the power to make choices that can move us through uncertainty and difficulty.

Regardless of how change happens – whether by your own action or in-action or due to circumstances beyond your control – it’s important to “dig deep” and become fully aware of your needs and your fears. This self-awareness allows you to more easily accept what is, clarify priorities, and identify new strategies that help us flourish and meet needs that matter most.

When we allow fear to drive our actions, we become defensive, often taking sides and disregarding different points of view. We see this happening within families and social organizations, between political and religious institutions, and in our online social networks. Fear promotes unclear thinking and makes us reactive as opposed to being consciously and intentionally responsive. We do things just to get them done, without considering the timing or consequences of our actions. This is how we become a victim of our circumstances. Only when we are self-aware, grounded emotionally and mentally, can we spark hope in even the most chaotic and challenging moments.

Often we hear of people who soar through adversity: The surfer who lost a limb in a shark attack at age sixteen, only to win the biggest surfing championship event a year later. The person who lost everything in a natural disaster, only to rebuild her life and her community in the year to follow. Siblings held captive by their own relatives, only to escape and go on to lead empowering lives and have healthy families of their own. What characteristics do these people possess? Clearly, they are resilient. Where does it come from? What makes up this type of resilience? Research points to a number of attributes:

Self-worth. People who beat adversity are aware of themselves as actualized beings who, no matter what, can exert influence over their situation, even in the smallest way. They believe in their innate goodness, no matter how bad their circumstance; in other words, they recognize their own self-worth.

Realistic Optimism. They don’t expect to be rescued by a superhero. While they have dark days, they don’t let that darkness infiltrate their mind and heart. They hold onto hope of a better tomorrow and stay focused on how to create that.

Grit. Survivors of hardship display grit: a combination of resilience and perseverance. They don’t succumb to the mental trap of worrying about the future or holding on to what was lost from the past. Since we can’t go back and change what was, nor predict the future, worry over either of these is a disempowering loss of energy. After the initial shock of whatever has come their way, Grit-y people have the ability to manage their emotions and see hardship as an opportunity for growth and to explore new possibilities. They stay focussed on the choices that are within their power and formulate plans, in the smallest steps, to move toward a new future (perseverance).

Relationships. We encounter chaos in life in many ways: losing a job, an unexpected medical diagnosis, or civil unrest and feeling unsafe in our own community. Seventy years worth of research shows there’s one thing that consistently contributes to our health and happiness: Good relationships. Feeling connected to others proffers many health benefits such as helping the nervous system relax, supporting brain health, and reducing intensity of emotional and physical pain. If you aren’t close with family, a support system can help you manage chaos. This can be a personal coach, counselor, spiritual advisor, friend, or formal support group.

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Ackerman, C.E. “What is Self-awareness and Why is it Important?” posted 9 Jan 2020 PositivePsychology. Accessed 13 October 2020:

Borysenko, Joan Z. (2009) It’s Not the End of the World: Developing Resilience in Times of Change. CA: Hay House.

Curtain, M. “This 75-Year Harvard Study Found the 1 Secret to Leading a Fulfilling Life.” Posted in Accessed 7 Nov 2020: This 75-Year Harvard Study Found the 1 Secret to Leading a Fulfilling Life

Gordon, James S. (2009) Unstuck: Your Guide to the Seven Stage Journey out of Depression. Penguin Books.

Denby, D. “The Limits of Grit.” The New Yorker posted 21 June 2016. Accessed 7 Nov 2020:

Richardson, G.E. “The metatheory of resilience and resiliency. Journal of Clinical Psychology. (2002) 58: 307-321. (print)

Additional research articles by Professor Richardson indexed at,_PhD/research/index.hml

Pinker-Pope, T. “How to be Happy.” Well: NY Times Online. Accessed 23 Nov 2017: “What is self-awareness? How can you culitivate it?” Accessed 13 October 2020:

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