Dealing with change
When it comes to change, big or small, in work or life, it’s important to remember to look after yourself and approach it with positivity.
Here are four tips on how to do just that…
1. Change is pain
The first thing to know is that change…ANY change…is registered in the same part of the brain that recognises and processes actual physical pain. When people tell you that they’re finding change difficult, hard, even painful, that may well be the reason. So when faced with change, we often find ourselves in a fight, flight or freeze situation, where our brains are telling us that the change is a threat that we need to fight (reject), run away from (avoid) or freeze in the face of (panic or deny). So if you recognise the brain’s typical response to change, it can start to help you make your way through a process of re-interpreting it in a more helpful way, perhaps as something which can have benefits, or which isn’t quite so threatening.
2. Navigating the change curve
People talk about ‘the grieving cycle’, sometimes the change curve, here we will use the D.R.E.C. curve, as this describes most people’s response to change well – the letters stand for Denial, Resistance, Exploration and commitment. The first two happen before you have accepted that a change is real and isn’t going away, the second two after you’ve accepted that the change is happening so you may as well start looking more closely at it.
In the early stages, people often avoid change, they keep looking back to how things were before and thinking that it will all get back to ‘normal’ soon. But as time goes on and this doesn’t happen, the next stage of response can be to become more anti and emotional. This is the Resistance stage. You don’t think this is how things should be, and you might feel upset, disappointed, or angry about it. But then the change doesn’t stop coming and you might start to feel pretty low, unheard, negative. But most of us don’t want to stay in that phase for long, so we start to move through the bottom of the change curve and explore what the new world might look like, what benefits might it bring, etc.
Quite often though, it is easy to slip back into negative emotions related to resistance. It’s important to realise that this model isn’t totally linear because neither are we. Once you’re spending more of your time exploring rather than resisting, you’re firmly in the third stage and you start to integrate the change into your life. When you start to commit to the change, you’ve reached the fourth stage. This is when the change is accepted as reality. This model is often useful in figuring out where you sit on the curve, on the curve and what stage might be coming next. Humans are messy and complicated so that’s not always the case, but generally, it helps to know that this is the process that most people will go through and we can provide appropriate support at each stage.
3. Change is pressure
Change adds to our mental load. This means that we have less capacity to think straight and come up with good quality thinking. The result of this is that the things we usually are good at, the positive qualities we are known for, are at risk of going into overdrive. For example, you might have a
Results Focused strength which, under normal circumstances, energises you and helps you get stuff done. But under pressure from change, you can over-rely on that strength, becoming too focused on results and forgetting to include other people, getting irritable when others aren’t delivering their stuff on time. This can happen with ANY of our positive qualities when under pressure. So, it might help to dial up another strength that can balance the one that’s in overdrive. Using the example of too much Results focus, you might rely on your Empathy strength to remind you to consider others more, or a Collaboration strength, to help find out what matters to them and try and discover a way forward that works for both of you. So, when pressure causes your strengths to go into overdrive, remember to counter this with other strengths that will help bring balance to the situation.
4. Change is drain
If you like change or challenge or learning, it may be easier for you to deal positively with change but even people who are strong in these areas can find that change can drain them. The best approach is to recognise this and give yourself a break. Refresh, replenish, and restore yourself so that you don’t feel wiped out. In short practice some self-compassion. Most people aren’t naturally good at this, so it might mean taking time out of your day to go for a walk, or leaving work a little early some evenings so that you can do something for you. Make sure you’re eating and sleeping properly as these are often the first to go when people are facing change, and are one of the easiest ways to burn out quicker than usual. In essence, take the time to feel more positive again, and give yourself a boost.