“Just change your pants, George.”
“I’m gonna change my pants, Alice. But if I change my pants, I gotta change my jacket! If I change my jacket, I gotta change my shirt! If I change my shirt, I gotta change my tie! I hafta change my belt! I gotta change my shoes! I gotta change my socks!”
“Just change your pants, George.”
This interchange from the movie Beethoven (1992) takes place because Beethoven, a large St. Bernard dog, drooled on George’s pants and by doing so, “destroyed” George’s morning schedule – which George feels is the start to an overwhelming pile of problems.
These few lines make Beethoven one of my favorite movies of all times. It captures the thinking we all experience on those “bad” days when nothing seems to go our way and when we see problems everywhere we turn. More importantly, it represents the panic we all experience when change is required.
Sometimes, all we can see are the negative effects of change, blinding us from the opportunities for growth and happiness that are in front of us. In George’s case, innumerable problems confront him if he accepts the need to change his pants: he’ll then have to change his jacket, shirt, tie, belt, shoes, and socks. In the moment, George cannot see that changing his pants presents him with the opportunity to, on the most basic level, go to work with pants that are not full of dog saliva, but also with a more important opportunity: the chance to start his day over, look and feel better, and, most importantly, change his attitude about “life”.
This scenario is a humorous depiction of our tendency to “not be able to see the forest for the trees.” He is so caught up in the details that he misses the opening into the clearing. We all have the tendency to do that sometimes. The details overwhelm us and we lose sight of the bigger picture. Like George, we get caught up in the anticipation of change. It is the anticipation that often overwhelms us, not the actual change.
Change is an inherent part of life. We change physically, mentally, and emotionally every day. Most of these changes go unnoticed. It is the larger changes – the ones we anticipate – that cause us to worry.
As I have written before, worry is simply an indicator that some kind of change is necessary. So the key is to minimize the anticipation of the negative “what ifs” and keep our eye on the goal – that change is natural, that it represents an opportunity for our growth.
Let me provide some examples:
- The start of the school year brings changes in schedules, routines, and expectations. A parent gets caught up in the chores that are part of the start of school – the need for backpacks filled with supplies, the need to prepare breakfast and lunch, the need to get to the bus on time. They anticipate that if their child is unprepared in some way, that the teacher will get annoyed, the teacher will have a bad opinion of their child, the child will have a bad year (in other words, the pants, jacket, shirt, tie, belt, shoes, socks of school). They forget that the actual goal is to prepare their child to enjoy school, to enjoy learning, and to listen to the best and worst parts of the child’s day. Once that goal is recognized, the chores can become part of the solution. If the chores are done together, as a family community, then chores provide an opportunity for chatting and for listening to each other. The change that occurs is positive and reflects the natural growth in all members of the family.
- Generally, the rule in elementary school is that everyone in class must be invited to a party. As that rule changes, a child anticipates that not getting invited to a specific party represents the end of their social life. The spiral of catastrophe (they will never have friends, their social life is over, school will be awful – the pants, jacket, shirt, tie, belt, shoes, socks of school social life) is all that is seen. If they focus, instead, on the goal of having friends who share their interests, and values, and who are kind, then the change in rules provides an opportunity to learn how to be more selective in our friendships – a lesson that we learn and re-learn throughout our lifetime.
- A couple considering their future together is often confronted with a considerable amount of negative statements about commitment. They are bombarded with information that tells them that people are not meant to be monogamous, that long term relationships get boring, that they will get on each other’s nerves (the pants, jacket, shirt, tie, belt, shoes, socks of commitment). They worry that the commitment will lead to a negative change in their relationship. If they focus instead on the goal of making each other happy, they will continually find ways to do that, making their relationship a “living” entity that must be nourished and attended to as it grows (changes) over time. If they want to make each other happy, they will find ways to do that. They may not (in fact will not) be able to do that all the time, but the want provides a path toward happiness.
The next time you feel the anticipation of change, don’t let it impact you in a negative way. Think of the anticipation as a sign that change is necessary. Try to identify the goal – the change that is required – and let the goal help you find a solution to the problem. Recognize that the anticipation is almost always worse than whatever the change will actually be. Remember that change is natural and necessary; change represents an opportunity to start over, to improve, to add to our lives. Remember to just change your pants, George, and it will be okay.
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