by James Cassese LCSW

Change is happening around us, all the time. Even the changes that we expect, such as the seasons, can be different each year. Many of us have been wondering what to make of the weather this year, from the winter that never seemed to want to leave to the relentless high summer heat wave. Could Spring and Autumn be shrinking as Winter and Summer expand? It seems like nothing stays the same.

Despite being surrounded by change, many of us have a hard time coping with it. We might welcome some developments, like the arrival of a new child. On the other hand, we may be frustrated in our unsuccessful attempts to change our waistline, or perhaps alarmed by changes in the economy.

As a psychotherapist and life coach, one could say that I'm in the business of helping folks with change. I've observed people whose lives transition around them without their choosing.

it, in events such as divorce or death, or in trying to advance but falling into the same ruts. For others, transformation is as smooth as a horse cantering across an open field.

Some shifts just happen, with or without us, like the weather. But what I've learned from working with people is that conscious change requires leaving one's comfort zone. It's more than just thinking outside of the box; you have got to get out of your box to achieve the progress you desire. It may be uncomfortable or even terrifying, but that first step sets it all in motion.

Like humans, horses have their own issues with change. Despite being able to cover miles in a day when grazing, horses generally prefer routine and consistency. I've often heard people refer to the horse as "stupid" when he reacts to changes in his surroundings. "It's the same

pitchfork he has seen everyday, it's just a few feet away!" Far from being stupid, that horse is observant. In the wild, the horse with the best chance for survival is one who attends to his environment and notices when something is out of place.

Many times, riders will over-anticipate their horse's reaction to a new element in their environment. They will constantly scan their surroundings to be sure that there is nothing that might spook their horse. Ironically, this has the opposite effect, often putting the horse on high alert that something dangerous might be lurking. When that wheelbarrow shows up where it doesn't belong, the horse responds as though a dragon suddenly appeared.

We do this ourselves as well, when we anticipate obstacles to our advancement. When we think of change, many of us think immediately of what might impede our progress or of what might happen if we fail. We are like that rider on the horse, constantly looking around for what might go wrong.

Instead, whether you are trying to make a change, or coping with one that has happened to you, it can help to picture yourself on the other side of it. Okay, so the wheelbarrow is in a different spot than it was yesterday. Now what? Let your horse have a look and keep going.

If you are trying to lose weight, for example, try to summon an image of yourself at the size that you strive for. If you are at a crossroad in your career or home life, think about where you would like to be a few years down the line. Don't worry about how you will get there just yet. Think positively.

Once you have that picture in your mind, the next thing to do is to make that first move. Often the first step is the most intimidating, so just as you'd let your horse have a look at that wheelbarrow, you start with an activity that is new for you, but is also reasonable. Sign up for a class or a workshop. Take an afternoon off and treat yourself to a movie - in the middle of the day. Try something different, and pay attention to the changes that follow. You may notice that you have built up your confidence by having done something new.

Now, keep going! Try not to rest on your laurels just yet. Remember, change requires, well...change.