Change happens all the time, in all the different spaces of our lives.
In my former life as a change lead and coach, helping people come to terms with change was as much part of the job as planning, implementing, and sustaining the change itself.
As a futurist, I work with clients to sense what is changing around them and consider what to do about it.
But today I’m reflecting on my work as a facilitator – specifically facilitating a short program that helps people come to terms with change – change they don’t want, didn’t choose, but have to learn to live with.
As we look at different models for understanding change and how we respond to it, there are some core messages that I keep coming back to, that help provide a sense of calm, acceptance, and agency. Even when it feels like the change is happening to them, not with them.
How you’re feeling right now? That’s normal
I reassure them that it’s normal to be in a state of flux.
Change is a constant, and we are not alone with the amount of change we are experiencing. We check in about the levels of change we are each experiencing, and everyone reports they are experiencing moderate to high levels of change across the many different aspects of their lives.
There is no single, correct response
Different people respond in different ways to different types of change at different times.
Two people can be going through the same change, but have very different experiences of the change at any point. Over time, this experience changes as we move from shock to acceptance (or decide to exit).
How we respond to a particular change is influenced by a lot of factors, including:
- if we are seeking this change, or if it is being thrust upon us
- how much say we have about the change, and if we can see evidence that the impact of the change on us has been considered
- what else is changing around us and how much bandwidth we have available
- how significant or impactful the change is for us (or people / things we care about)
- our own attitudes and beliefs about change.
Resisting and despairing is a normal part of the process
While there is no single, correct response to change, there are general patterns that people move through as they come to terms with a change.
Along this path, we find ourselves in the Pit of Despair as we start to understand how disruptive this change is and have not yet seen any benefit.
In the Pit of Despair, we are grappling with a choice – do I lean in and find a way to work with what’s changing, or do I bow out? When we are in this place, it is normal for our productivity and resilience to be at an all time low, and to feel more sensitive and vulnerable.
Here, we are prone to resist.
And sometimes what looks like resistance on the surface is actually something else entirely. We become ‘Immune to Change’ when we are torn between competing commitments that are pulling us in different directions.
Start where you are, use what you’ve got
I encourage participants to get curious about their own experience of change, and use the frameworks and models we use to understand change to gather clues about what helps them navigate change.
We explore attention, and how where we place our attention shapes our experience of the change.
By focusing most of our time and energy on what we can control or influence, however small, we find a way to actively engage with the change, building our agency and creating new pathways forward.
We talk about how the change on it’s own is a neutral situation, neither good nor bad on it’s own, merely transforming from one state to another. It’s the story we tell ourselves and each other about that change that gives the change it’s meaning.
By playing with the story, staying true to the situation but experimenting with different ways of seeing what the change means, we often find new meaning that helps us step towards acceptance.
Finally, we anchor it to our own health and wellbeing.
I reassure participants that it’s common to experience stress when going through change. During times of significant change, it’s particularly important that we take action each day to help our body discharge accumulated stress to prevent this from becoming chronic.
When I’m going through significant change myself, I return to these ideas. I reassure myself that how I’m feeling is normal, even if it feels at odds with my usual disposition.
I try to be curious, and compassionate, about how I’m feeling, and focus my attention where it can have the greatest impact – on things I have some ability to influence.
And I remind myself that taking care of my wellbeing is part of the job, not a luxury.