There is a huge gap between wanting to change aspects of your life – whether it’s your work situation, a relationship, or even just doing more exercise – and reaching the end of the change process. We need to convince ourselves that the change is going to be good for us, but then we have to overcome the hurdles, including our emotional attachment to routine, that our brain puts in our way.
The first step to changing your perspective is being comfortable in an environment of change and to acknowledge that it is happening. If you try to avoid or ignore a process that is already happening or inevitable, the protective bubble you’re hiding in will eventually collapse under outside pressure. It is not always possible to welcome change – and it can make us feel uncomfortable – but denial is not your friend.
It is important to understand that change is one of the few constants of human existence and it is part of our physical, emotional and spiritual growth. Change can be rewarding when it is embraced rather than feared and when it is something we do for ourselves. Once we can acknowledge the process of change, we can begin to manage the stress, and it will be stressful. Even positive change that we actively seek out for ourselves is likely to be stress inducing. We also need to be ready for the stress and anxiety our change might manifest in other people. It’s out of our control, but we have to acknowledge that it might happen.
Often, when we know that something in our lives has to change, we find a stubborn core of resistance that holds us back. Sometimes there is a good reason for this resistance. Maybe, we’re not ready to make the leap; maybe it really isn’t the right time; or, perhaps the change we think we need is not actually what we need. In those situations, our intuition is telling us to rethink our decisions and we should listen. But what do we do when the change we seek is the change we need, but we still can’t commit? In such moments our reluctance or fear of the new holds us back. There are several reasons and our resistance could be one issue, or a combination of factors that ends up with us being stuck where we are. It’s worth taking the time to examine the resistance indicators in our Survival Guide for Change so that we can assess whether our reluctance is helpful or holding us back.
Coping with change
A “no change” scenario is fine in a situation where we are genuinely happy, healthy and content. But we cannot thrive in an unhappy environment, or an unhappy state of mind. If we can’t overcome our resistance to change, then change might still happen but not on our terms. In the moment when we know that change is necessary, unwillingness to go forward is actually moving us backwards. How then can we prepare ourselves to accept the need for change and the act on it in our own best interests?
Planning for change
How do you actually make change happen? One way is just jumping in and seeing which way the current is flowing. That might be fine if you’re a confident soul and very strong willed, but it’s more likely that some unforeseen consequence will bring you undone. The smarter way to manage change is to acknowledge that it is necessary then make a sober, sensible plan to tackle it.
Knowing that you have to change something major in your life is a good and important first step. Knowing is always better than not knowing. The next step is actually carrying through on the promise to yourself that you are going to make the change. Having a plan is useful and FEEL Collaborative’s Survival Guide for Change outlines the steps to creating a good change plan.
As much as possible you should stick to a regular schedule. This might sound a bit weird in a situation that is changing but holding on to a few constants – particularly the good aspects of your routine that are healthy and nourishing – will keep you grounded.
This means looking after your body by getting regular exercise and maintaining a healthy food intake, and it means looking after your mind and your spirit by getting rest, finding things that give you pleasure and keeping your eye on the prize. Positive change is its own reward and, if you’re looking forward to the change then keeping your spirits up is even more important.
If you can approach the change in a proactive manner you will start and finish in a stronger place. It is even possible to turn a reactive response into a proactive response. This is good to remember in situations where the change is being introduced from outside or is the result of external forces that you can’t control. Use the Survival Guide for Change prepared by the FEEL Collaborative to assess the change scenario and then get on the front foot. Even if the change is not your call, figure out how you can make it work for you and don’t be afraid to articulate your needs to those driving the process.
If you’re finding the change process difficult or confronting, don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for support. You will still have to go through the process, there’s no substitute for that, but you don’t have to do it alone. If it’s work change you should take advantage of any Employee Assistance Program your employer offers. If it’s personal or relationship change you might want to talk to a counsellor, or even a trusted friend.
Finally, it is essential to understand that resistance is futile.
Change is a central part of our lives even if we prefer to hide from it or deny it. Being willing to change, recognising the benefits that will flow and being resilient enough to cope with unexpected change are valuable life skills. On the other side, recognising when change is necessary and planning to take positive action to achieve it is empowering and liberating.
In any given moment we have two options; to step forward into growth or backward into safety Abraham Maslow