They say change can be as good as a holiday. But what if you’re utterly sick and tired of life’s unexpected ups and downs? A clinical psychologist shares the strategies to help you thrive through any future twists and turns.
Few people, even at the best of times, genuinely welcome change – even if it’s planned. We might say we’re up for it, but only tend to invite it if it’s in the direction we want to go. When it involves too much personal disruption, we can think of many reasons to rail against it, or outright avoid it.
Change can also stir up other emotions, like grief, confusion and distress. It can leave us feeling empty, adrift, or even chaotic, as we get our bearings within the new arrangements.
Too often, those struggling with change can be seen as being ‘glass half-empty’. They can be rejected at work as holding progress back, or the ones in the family who appear to be controlling everyone else. All of that could be true – but perhaps there could be more going on too.
Acknowledge that change can sometimes be a loss
Almost all transitions and change involve loss of some kind. For example, graduating from primary school to high school involves a big shift in friendships, routines, and ways of learning. For businesses, even changing software is a loss of familiar work routine.
As a society, we tend to gloss over these losses, thinking if we only focus on the positives the changes might be easier to tolerate. But in fact, calling out losses enables us to wrap our heads more easily around the scale of transition involved.
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Seeing change as potential
The space between old and new can be a space of creativity, energy and potential if we can pace ourselves, suspend judgement and roll with it. It can allow us to look at fixed routines we’d like to shake up and establish new directions. Standing on the threshold of change can offer a vista of possibilities. Equally, it can enable us to clarify what might be a step too far.
But is it all easier said than done?
People who’ve had positive change experiences in the past, or who have support around them, will have more resilience, and can adapt to change more effectively. It will also depend on what’s going on for you at any particular time. If your partner has just left you, you have a sick child, or you’re already under considerable work stress, then your bank of goodwill could be empty. We can only stand so much.
How to work through change effectively
After you’ve acknowledged the losses, seen the opportunities, and weighed everything up, how can you shift your mindset and work through change constructively?
1. Get the facts. Make sure you really understand the reasons for change and the arguments around their value before you jump to conclusions. It’s easy to start reacting from the get-go if you have an emotional response to the change.
2. Accept the rejection of change as part of the process. The greater the temptation to resent change, the more you need time to fully entertain all facets of your reaction. Find space to acknowledge the losses, uncertainties and doubts. That doesn’t need to hold you back; it might unlock the resistance.
3. Consider the inside and outside components of your reaction. It can be tempting to use your energy to shoot ideas down but take ownership of your reaction. Why do you feel so strongly about it? What part of your reaction reflects more on you, rather than the change itself?
4. Talk to others. This isn’t to fan the flames of your discontent – although that might happen too. Speaking to others can give us broader perspectives, including from those who know you well and know how you cope under pressure.
5. Look after yourself in the change process. If your emotional resources are low, you’re not entirely convinced by the change, or you know you find disruption stressful, build in more self-care to get by. Avoid spending a lot of time in negative conversations. It might feel supportive initially but can also make you feel worse. Try and hang out equally with others with an open mind or different perspectives.
6. Consider a leap of faith. If others have a good case to make, you can see some benefits ahead, or just know the change is inevitable, consider deliberately choosing an open-minded position. Being in charge of the journey will be less stressful, and within it you can find ways to pace yourself and put your own stamp on the change process.
7. Remember that change is a relational process. All change will involve others, and it’s likely that within any group there will be wide variations about how people manage change. Playing the role of nay-sayer will have relational consequences, which means we have to be responsible with our feelings and arguments. Trying to shape the change process in constructive ways will both help with personal control, as well as keep respectful connections with others.