While conducting a session on Life Coaching recently, my client was narrating certain instances from his life.
All through the conversation, I heard the word ‘adjust’ several times.
“Why should I adjust?”
For instance, when he was speaking about how he took a job transfer that took him to a smaller town, he came up with a lot of details on how he had to ‘adjust’ to life in that small town.
He had been quite an outdoors person in his younger days and when he got married, his spouse did not share his enthusiasm for travel. For that reason, he had given up on his travels. He again came up with the word, ‘adjust’ – how he had had to ‘adjust’ to his spouse’s likes and dislikes.
As his two children were growing up, he had to ‘adjust’ to the new responsibilities. Both the children happened to be quite demanding and his spouse needed his active support to manage them.
Next came the financial adjustment – the couple had to ‘adjust’ its lifestyle to suit the evolving financial demands.
Then came the ‘adjustment’ to new responsibilities at work, ‘adjusting’ to changing managers’ styles, and so on.
His concern was around his continued ‘adjustment’ in his life. I sensed that he was feeling that he was being taken for granted by everyone around him – that it was only his obligation to ‘adjust’ to others.
I also sensed that he was feeling overwhelmed and angry at the same time.
As I continued listening to him, I was drawn to the word, ‘adjust’, and another word, ‘adapt’.
Just as a layman, ‘adapt’ gives an impression of being a more natural and free-flowing act while ‘adjust’ is more of a deliberate or forced act, accompanied by a certain degree of reluctance – a compromise, perhaps!
I listened to him fully.
Adjust vs. Adapt
When it was my turn to speak, I explored with him if he would like to consider ‘adapt’ rather than ‘adjust’, wherever appropriate.
He was unclear and asked me for an example.
I spoke about my current circumstance.
My wife and I are avid travelers and we are great company for each other. We have been traveling together for decades now – at home and abroad.
We live as a joint family. My mother is now 87 years of age. Given my mother’s advancing age, we have now decided that both of us cannot travel out together. We have decided that especially for long travels, it will be just one of us traveling at a time.
We have ‘adapted’ to this new circumstance. To us, it is not an ‘adjustment’ because there is a genuine and respectful realization of what is needed in the current situation.
When we traveled together, it was a different circumstance. Now with the evolved circumstance – which was only to be expected with the passage of time – we have adapted to this new reality.
If we begin to feel that we have had to ‘adjust’, it could make us feel like victims – helpless with a generous dose of self-pity. We could get angry, defensive, and begin blaming others for this state of affairs.
However, when we consider that we have ‘adapted’ to this new reality, it actually tells us that we have been determined, even courageous, to fully accept – without rancor – the current circumstance.
It is like while holding a kaleidoscope, a slight change in perspective changes the whole view.
Reframing the incidents
I requested him to reframe the incidents in his life and divide them into ‘adapt’ incidents and ‘adjust’ incidents.
‘Adjust’ events are those when I am not in control – I could even be justified to paint myself as a victim. ‘Adapt’ events demonstrate my courage to take appropriate action – not necessarily pleasant but acting in the interest of good.
Something told me from his body language that the idea appealed to him.
He returned to the next session with his homework. Given that some time had elapsed after our last session, he had added more of such events. However, most of such events were listed under the ‘adapt’ category and only a few appeared under the ‘adjust’ category.
While explaining the rationale behind the lists, he gave me some examples. For instance, he had voluntarily sought a transfer to a smaller town in the interest of his career. Even before he relocated, he already knew what to expect in that small town. In the three years that he spent there before returning to the big city, he had actually ‘adapted’ to the slower rhythm of the small town and had made some new friends.
Likewise, he had shared the load with his spouse in bringing up their two children. It was about ‘adapting’ to a new family responsibility and not an ‘adjustment’.
As he continued to read out from the list, I spotted a sense of lightness in him.
From my example from the last session, he had also spotted a new possibility. If his spouse was not so keen, he could always travel alone. He didn’t have to blame her. He was ‘adapting’ to a new circumstance.
I have always believed that how we frame our conversations in our minds shapes the perspectives through which we live our life.
Self-talk matters! Words matter!
Self-talk matters. The words we choose to engage in that self-talk obviously matter.
Like the choice between the words, ‘adjust’ and ‘adapt’.
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