Changing places – From looking back to moving forward

Niamh Gaffney is here today with an inspiring and motivational article all about the impact of change on our lives and how we can ultimately use it to our advantage.

No matter what we say or do we cannot control change. From the second we were conceived we are impacted by change. Most of it we don’t even notice. We are a child until one day we are an adult. We are young until one day we realise we’re not able for those nights out anymore! We are a sleep-deprived parent until one day we realise the baby has grown up and moved out. We are a high-flying executive until one day we collect the pension. We are healthy until we receive a life-changing diagnosis. We are sick until one day we’re better. We are ignorant until one day we know. Most of the time, we’re ok with changes, simply because we ignore them – we don’t notice the small tiny daily changes. We create this virtual reality where change is something that happens to someone else. We believe our normality is safe from change, where nothing can get us. We maintain a sense that we are in control of it all.

The problem comes when something smashes through that semblance of control and threatens this safe haven of our ‘normality’, our comfort zone. This ‘change’ can be something relatively simple, like a presentation at work, or an argument with a friend, or it could be a bereavement or a cancer diagnosis. Big or small, complex or simple, a change that is seemingly out of our control is just awful. We feel it as a threat to our sense of ‘normality’. This threat can cause us anything from mild stress and anxiety to immense and soul-destroying confusion and terror. And when this happens we crave normality, we crave calm, we try to avoid the messy feelings and pain, and stress and anxiety. We freak out and we try our hardest to get back to normal. We’re safe there. Nothing changes there…

The reality is that life, like your heartbeat, is all about the ups and downs. Chasing a ‘normality’ that is seemingly unchanging is like wishing for a flat heartrate – someday, things WILL be smooth, flat, unchanging.

But you will be dead.

So, the ups and downs happen and that’s all part of the wonderful chaotic messy glorious thing we call life. If we want to live we don’t have a choice in that. We can’t control that. Change is life. Life is change. One doesn’t happen without the other, no matter how much we ignore it.

My life has changed more than I could ever imagine in the last 5 years. My experiences, even the crappy ones I would never wish on anyone, have changed me. They have made me the person I am today. I’m here. I’m here in spite of change. I’m here BECAUSE of change.

I’m here because no matter how much I wished it so at the time, and no matter how hard I tried, it is simply not possible to ‘go back to normal’ after a change like that. I couldn’t unexperience all the cancer stuff in the same way as I couldn’t unknow what it meant to be a mother. I had no choice. I had changed.

Because this is what happens in life. Changes happen and we change as a result. Trying to get back to our safe haven is a fruitless exercise, we’re a different person to the one who was there before, but over and over we waste so much time and energy, and we put ourselves through so much mental and emotional torture to try to do this. Every living thing on this planet has gotten to this point as a result of adapting and changing. Charles Darwin’s work explains how this agility is the difference between the survival and the extinction of a species. Humans have evolved into the creatures we are now, and we continue to evolve. We have taken with us what worked, and we have left behind what didn’t. It served the human race better to walk on two feet, and so, over time, the whole human skeleton has changed to accommodate that.

We get to do that too when it comes to the challenges we face. Our reality changes to accommodate our new selves, we create our new normal and life is so much easier as a result. All we have to do is simply reach out and turn on the light, taking back some of the control we once thought was lost to us.

Because, even though we don’t have any control over the things that happen to us, we do have a choice in how we react to that change. We can control what actions we take. We can choose what we let go of and what we bring with us. We can change where we focus our attention. We can create a new normal, one that takes those changes into account, one that evolves with change.


So, choose what’s important to you – that gives you great clarity not only on where you want to go, but also on where you are and the direction you’re facing in. This gives you great power over the change that has happened in your life. This helps us every time we are lost and confused and anxious as a result of change.

No matter what whirlwind we get caught up in if we know what is important to us we have the signposts we need to regain control over our situation. Being clear on what was important to me has given me the courage to make career changes and life choices that have brought to the life I have today.

Choose the life you want. Choose what you want. Choose what’s important. Choose your own normality. As the film says, Choose Life!


Our brain is a miracle of efficiency. There are huge upsides to this, but one downside is that we are all prey to automatic thoughts, it’s easier to always see things in the same way. Knowing that we have the choice on how to see things lets us take control over our perception of a situation. Have you ever heard the phrase “The problem is not the problem; the problem is how we see the problem”? Well this is all down to personal choice.

It is easier, certainly, to automatically blame x,y,z when you don’t get a promotion, or when something goes wrong, but that train of thought leads to anxiety, distress and despair. Taking personal responsibility and challenging yourself to see the situation in a different light allows you to control your reaction and gain new understanding about the situation.

Try looking at your situation through someone else’s eyes. What would your idol do if he/she was faced with your circumstances? How would your 90 year old self suggest you deal with it? What about the random person you see as you cross the street, or the person in the chair 3 seats up from you in the chemo ward? How would they see your situation?

Seeing your situation through another’s eyes creates positive relationships with yourself. You are pushing out of your own safe reliable comfort zone, and you are growing. You grow in confidence and you learn to trust your own instinct and reactions more. New perspectives allow you to say Yes to things you hadn’t even realised you were saying No to. It allows for creativity and it creates solutions. It creates bravery. It creates possibility. It creates control.


But neither knowing what matters or changing your perspective will make the slightest bit of difference if you don’t actually DO something about your challenge. This is the part that is totally and utterly within your control.

SO how do you do this? Its ridiculously simple but not always easy.

You decide on an action.

And you do it.

That’s it! There are two basic principles to bear in mind. The first is that you can always do something, and the second is that action creates confidence, and confidence is a great antidote to the fear of change.

Challenge yourself to filling a whole page of a journal with “I can” actions, things that you CAN do which will help you make your situation better. These can be as small as having a cup of tea and allowing yourself to think for 5 minutes, or dressing your bed in the morning (also proven to be a great motivational tool!).

Having to fill a whole page forces your brain to start thinking creatively, but the important part isn’t filling the page but rather picking something, and DOING it. The momentum that you create will make the next step easier, and the next until one day you’re a thousand miles away from where you started, and you’re actively, consciously enjoying your new normal.

When we look at a problem or a challenge, we often look at what we can’t do, and what option is not available to us. We blame everyone and everything. We become a victim of that change. And that’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we see that it’s a problem then it’s very definitely a problem.

If, however we know what’s important to us, and we’re aware of a variety of options that are available, and we understand that not only can we always do something but that it’s our responsibility to do something, then we regain control over the situation. We’re no longer the victim. We key in the destination, we get behind the driving wheel and we drive off. If we get a puncture, if our road is blocked, if we have to pull over and rest for a while it doesn’t matter. We are in charge.

We can’t eliminate change from our lives, nor would we want to when we think about the alternative. We can’t control change. Cancer comes. Relationships start and end. Babies are born. People die. We move countries. We make new friends. We learn new things. We grow. We create our new normal every single day and with every single change.

My new normal is an incredible one. One where I teach and support clients all over the world to develop their own mental and emotional fitness. One where my children see their mother not as a cancer survivor but as simply mammy. One where I choose how I react to change. One where I feel in control… well, most of the time!!

Every single day we are impacted by change. We get to choose the impact. We can change as a victim, or we can change as a driver. No-one else can do this for us. This is on us. We can drown or we can surf the wave. We can choose. We can change. We can control. We can live.

Niamh Gaffney runs coaching consulting company Directionality. She was 35 and a new mum to a gorgeous 6-month old baby girl when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. In the year that followed, she dealt with surgery, fertility preservation treatment, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and then faced redundancy from her executive level role. The fall-out of that crazy whirlwind of a year was a shock; she seriously struggled with the aftermath, with trying to get back to normal until coaching helped her realise that there was no going back – she needed to find her New Normal. When the dust settled she understood how much coaching could help others in similar situations and so Directionality opened its doors in early 2016.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.