This first decade of the new millennium is certainly challenging times! Perhaps the greatest challenge is: rapid change.
Over the years — through research, working with others, and our own life experiences — we have learned some techniques that can help you move from reacting to change to proactively rising to its challenge:
#1: Recognize that change involves loss.
Even positive change, by the way. For example, a job loss (whether through layoff or career advancement) means losing coworkers, familiar routines and surroundings, and a reassuring feeling of competence.
Get in touch with that loss. Experience it and put it in context with potential gains entailed in the change.
#2: Accept or reject the change.
If the potential gains do not outweigh the losses, you may choose to reject the change. For example, all things considered, a particular promotion may not be appropriate for you at this time in your life.
If the change is initiated by outside factors, e.g., layoff or death of a loved one, the option to reject the change may not be apparent. And that option may, indeed, not be the preferred choice, but it should be considered. This may lead to a discovery of creative alternatives that would not otherwise be contemplated. For example, if you and many of your coworkers have just been laid off, a healthy and productive way to reject the change (i.e., re-channel the resentment and financial worries) might be for several of you to form your own company.
Often, however, the preferred option is acceptance. This does not happen overnight. [See Step 3.] You may have heard of the Serenity Prayer (which can be viewed as a religious prayer or a secular self-dedication):
…grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change
Courage to change the things I can
and the Wisdom to know the difference.
#3: Approach change as a process.
Don’t expect instantaneous comfort with the change. It’s like a new pair of sneakers. That old pair is well worn in and comfortable. But it’s ratty looking and starting to fall apart. A new pair just doesn’t feel right, yet. But we know it will, after a few days. So we bear with the temporary discomfort.
Some changes may be welcomed, e.g., a new job, house or child. Some may not, e.g., going on without a loved one. Either way, change can be disorienting and uncomfortable or even painful, initially. But, this too shall pass.
And, typically, there are stages we move through. The following SARAH model, outlining classic stages of grief, applies to all types of change:
Shock — numbness, confusion, disorientation
Anger … or (directed inward) — depression, sadness, fear
Rejection … including denial of emotional impact
Acceptance … or (negatively) — resignation, i.e., hopeless “acceptance”
Hope — positive focus on the future
Although the manifestations, timing and sequence vary from person to person and circumstance to circumstance, we must accept and move through whatever stage we are in, in order to reach full acceptance and hope. Otherwise, we can get stuck in one or more stages, e.g., bitter resignation or vacillating between anger and rejection.
#4: Develop a positive outlook.
Negativity is a killer (sometimes literally)! Stress, brought on by negative thoughts and actions, can lead to a reduced immune system and a greater possibility of illness.
In this context of rising to the challenge of change, negative thoughts are paralyzers – telling ourselves (incorrectly) that we can’t do what we need to do.
Turn those killer thoughts into more positive (and more realistic) internal dialogue. Practice the following process [presented in our article on Self-Talk]:
- Recognize: realize that you’re thinking negatively
- STOP: visualize a STOP sign and tell yourself to Stop It!
- Restate: reframe into a positive statement
- Reward: even if it’s just giving yourself a pat on the back
- Oh, this is impossible. I’ll never be able to do this!
- Stop That! That’s not true.
- This is hard; and I’m not sure yet how or when I’ll succeed, but I will!
- Hey! I just changed a negative into a positive. Well done!
Initially, you’ll probably miss more negative thoughts than you catch, but you’ll get better and better; and the process will start to become automatic.
Have you heard that joke about the tourist in New York City, trying to find Carnegie Hall? He approaches a street musician and asks: How do you get to Carnegie Hall? The answer: Practice, practice, practice!
#5: Make a plan.
Translate your positive attitude into a positive plan of action. As with any good plan, include short-term goals and timetables. What will you do and when will you do it? Review the plan regularly and revise as appropriate. [See Step 6 below.] Get started and take one step at a time.
Perhaps most important, develop a support system. Surround yourself with positive people, who care about you. And let them in. Share the challenge you’re facing, your stumbles and your triumphs.
One of the best-known support systems is Alcoholics Anonymous — a wonderful model for coping with change. [We’ve already quoted from the Serenity Prayer used by that group.] Find a sponsor — your own personal cheerleader and coach — someone to turn to when the going gets tough and with whom to share successes along the way.
Better yet, a team of sponsors — working in coordination or separately. [A few years ago, we saw a TV news story about an entire town banding together to solve their joint unemployment problems in a very creative way.]
Perhaps that team is a religious or secular organization or consists of some combination of: a family member, a friend, a coworker, a spiritual mentor, a mental health practitioner, a professional life-skills coach, and/or training seminars.
#6: Allow yourself to be flexible.
Accept that life is a series of detours. The best laid plans…
Many times, when we least expect it, life throws us a curve. It’s not the nature of the curve so much as our ability and skill to handle the detour that affects the outcome.
Expect such detours. For example, you may want to develop strategies for coping with your worst-case scenario.
Don’t let the detours throw you. Simply revisit your plan and revise accordingly. Remember, you can handle this!