Shift Happens: Six Tips to Ease the Angst of Change
Posted by Renita on Thursday, September 6, 2007
“After the age of 21,” renowned life coach Martha Beck once said at a seminar I attended, “people do everything they can to avoid change.” We all laughed sheepishly, acknowledging that as long as you’re alive, change – whether incremental or momentous – is pretty much unavoidable.
Back in the ‘60s, psychologists Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe conducted extensive surveys, collecting data to develop the Social Readjustment Rating Scale, which listed the 20 most stressful changes we experience in our lives. These included obvious suspects such as illness, death and divorce, as well as marriage and significant personal achievement.
Fifty years ago, it was estimated that most people would experience ten to twenty of these major life events, but with the combination of longer life spans and change-spurring technology, it’s safe to say that we may experience more of them and more often. (The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that today’s learner will have 10-14 jobs by the age of 38.)
Though we don’t have control over the events that happen, we do have power over how we perceive and respond to change. It’s helpful to remember that, in the majority of cases, it’s not the factual occurrence of events themselves that affect us – we’re rarely dealing with an immediate crisis such as our pants being on fire – but our response. If a friend is ill, you don’t react until you become aware of the fact, which means then that your response is a choice.
Obviously, “choosing” your response is easier said than done. So here are a few tips from my own personal cheat sheet on how to not only deal with, but thrive on, change:
CHANGE IS NOT INHERENTLY GOOD OR BAD.
Getting fired is not necessarily “bad” if you’ve been miserable at your job; being promoted is not necessarily “good” if it means added stress and longer hours. If you and your family are moving to a different city, your spouse’s response will likely differ from that of your teenage daughter and again from your grade-school son – same event, different reactions depending on each person’s perception of what the change means.
EVEN A DESIRED CHANGE IS NOT ALL ROSES AND SUNSHINE.
Change curves, originally developed by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross to explain the grieving process, can also be used to map out the reaction to a positive change.
Take the example of having a planned first child. No matter how thrilled you are, it is common after the initial euphoric honeymoon phase to experience doubt and lack of confidence in your readiness for such a momentous change and “grieve” for the loss of your previous lifestyle. Instead of wondering: “What’s wrong with me – this is something I wanted!” be reassured that it’s perfectly normal to go through a stage of denial, confusion and even depression before regaining confidence to explore and accept the new situation.
Resistance is natural.
Recently, during a group coaching for corporate employees on change management, we did an exercise in pairs where both people held one arm out in front of them. When I asked one person to push his hand against the other’s, the other person, without prompting, pushed back. The point? Resistance is simply a natural initial reflex and doesn’t necessarily reflect that someone is against change.
The resistance is in the transition.
So you’ve moved to a different city or changed companies. It’s helpful to realize that it’s not so much the “new way” of doing things that you’re resisting but the transition period between giving up the old routine and getting accustomed to the new. And, in fact, the current routine that you’re now attached to was at one time the “new way” you were resisting.
The suffering is in the resistance.
The corollary to “resistance is natural,” however, is that the more you resist, the more painful it is – as if you are fighting the current of an ocean, struggling to dive to the bottom when the waves are rising up. Instead, why not learn to gracefully accept change that is inevitable, going up and down in tandem with the water.
Change isn’t always visible.
For those frustrating times when you feel stuck, in stasis, and change isn’t happening fast enough, remember that it is happening even if you can’t see it. Take a look back over the last three or six months and make note of how much you’ve learned.
Continuous growth happens as you adapt to change. As Charles Darwin says: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”