Change and coffee

Change and coffee

Who knew coffee could teach me about accepting change?

A few months ago, I started working with a nutritionist to address some digestive issues that had been dragging me down for a long time. The treatment started with two tests to analyze any potential infection or illness, as well as sensitivity to certain foods.

I got tested for one hundred and seventy foods and food preservatives. I knew I would have to stop eating for three months any food I was reactive to, while I followed a supplement protocol to heal my digestive system. After that, I may be able to re-introduce some foods, one at a time.

I told my nutritionist, “As far as you don’t touch my café con leche [coffee with milk] in the morning, and my chocolate in the evening, I will be fine.”

When the results came, I was happy to see I was only highly reactive to soy and moderately reactive to seventeen foods, many of them either out of season, or not my favorites. But guess what was included in the list? Cocoa and cow’s milk.

“How am I going to have my coffee in the morning?” I lamented. “I can’t have coffee without milk! And what about my nightly chocolate treat? I’m going to miss it so much!”

I waited a couple of weeks to get used to the idea of depriving myself for three months of two beloved daily pleasures. Finally, I decided to give it a go.

The first morning I had my coffee without milk I discovered, to my surprise, that not only I liked it (as far as it was still sweet) but I preferred it without the milk. As for the chocolate, after a couple of nights feeling the sting of withdrawal, I didn’t miss it anymore. (It helps that it won’t be banned forever.)

This simple experience made me realize how I cling to my habits. I was so scared of a small change —no milk in my coffee— that I didn’t even contemplate I might like better the new situation. Imagine when I’m facing a bigger change, like selling my house and moving somewhere else. My husband and I had been talking about doing just that for over a year, but we were paralyzed with fear. We finally told our realtor this week that we will put the house up for sale in May. Even though I know it’s the right decision  —we always knew we would eventually downsize so we could have more financial freedom— it scares me to death, because we still don’t know where we want to go next.

Social neuroscientists who study the brain and how humans relate to each other, have concluded that the motivation driving our behavior comes from the principle of minimizing threats and maximizing rewards. We are primed to fear change because the brain craves the certainty of known rewards. We fear the unknown because we will not be in control of our surroundings, and we may be less skilled at performing at a high level or simply doing things well. And we cling to old stories instead of creating a new and healthier one, because they feel more familiar. Uncertainty takes our focus away from our goals, and it requires us to use more resources to process the moment-to-moment experiences, which can be exhausting. But when you learn to accept change, you can adapt and thrive.

My experience has taught me that often the biggest the change the biggest the reward. Moving to the U.S. was a huge leap into uncertainty. I came with hope, but also panic, and it wasn’t an easy transition. Three months after I arrived, I had an ulcer. Yet it has been a journey full of richness and growth, that I would have never enjoyed had I let my fear control me. Now I need to apply this open mindset to my upcoming change of house, neighborhood, city and maybe state or even country. Wish me strength, equanimity, and an adventurous spirit, because I’ll need it.

Are you facing a big, difficult change?

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