Today more than ever understanding and coping with change is vital. Navigating change is a skill set we need to help us and everyone in our circle of influence.
Life is a series of changes. So, learning to understand and manage its effects will help us avoid common problems and be more effective. It will help us safeguard our health and wellness. Scientific research suggests that most people follow similar patterns dealing with change. We experience the same hurdles. Our personality and instincts dictate how we respond.
Understanding and Coping with Change
Most people realize on an intellectual level that everything is always changing. And they recognize change itself is unsettling and uncomfortable. But we forget about it. We get used to and take it for granted until effects sneak up on us or when we encounter a drastic change.
We ignore change because we are focusing on the goal. We are eager for something new and better. So, we make a large change. We take a new job opportunity. Take on a new hobby or relationship. Sometimes major changes just happen. We lose a job or a loved one. That’s when we realize we are feeling the effects of change.
We Think We Are Ready
Our first assumption is that we ‘think’ we are ready. We even welcome changes. Then, during change, the emotional side kicks in. We weren’t expecting the overwhelming emotions that changes can generate. And it often brings up multiple emotions.
Fear about how the change will affect us is one of the most common. It brings up self-doubt about your ability to learn the new way. Then there’s anger, betrayal, incompetence, loneliness, just to name a few others.
Change brings up memories too, both the good and the bad. It can overwhelm even for the best planners, the toughest, and the smartest. We simply forgot about all the emotional things change brings with it. Understanding and coping with change is more than an intellectual exercise.
We forget that we accepted this part of the mission because we didn’t expect that it could be this overpowering. However, that’s a distant memory. And it’s too late to turn back or stop now. Most times, we aren’t in control of the changes taking place. Nor can we control the pace of the change.
So, with this in mind, here are a few basic principles to keep in mind as we venture into the realm of any type of change. It doesn’t matter whether the change is regarding work or personal situations. Understanding and coping with change requires us to look inward.
To understand change, we must go beyond the process, policy, or practice. It’s not just about a change in doing things or relationships. It also includes the emotions, dreams, and memories that are attaching themselves to the change. Most people don’t know exactly how these things connect.
Successfully navigating change requires us to look inward. This personal level isn’t something that we discuss at work. In fact, most companies aren’t equipped to handle this aspect of change. They are afraid to devel into this area. It is likely to bring up issues that most organizations don’t want to handle.
Managers don’t want to get into the employee’s personal life. This opens the corporation to several legal exposures they would rather avoid. Second, most managers don’t have the expertise to handle these kinds of issues. They would rather refer them to trained psychologists. So, it’s important for managers to be able to spot warning signs. This way can direct employees to the best resources for help.
Some progressive employers are using the Enneagram of Personality profile as a resource. This will at least help them understand their default personality and instincts, and how change may manifest through them. Navigating change is a multifaceted endeavor. You cannot manage change without understanding its effects on the individual.
Physical Pain & Emotional Distress
Yes, change can be physically painful. Psychosomatic pain is your body’s way of responding to stress. This can occur when you encounter new ideas conflicting with your current way of thinking or doing things. One way this pain manifests is cognitive dissonance.
This internal conflict brings everything to the surface. Business and personal issues get tangled emotionally. The result is that you “think” you are dealing with either a purely work or personal issue. But, in reality, you can’t separate them. You are one “whole” person. As much as you’d like to keep work only at work or personal only at home, you can’t. So, whatever emotional issues come, it doesn’t matter the catalyst.
Cognitive dissonance is a psychological term for the pain one feels when trying to reconcile opposing ideas. It is the result of psychological stress. This can happen any time we confront contradictory views, beliefs, ideas, or values. The best way to deal with this is to identify the specific areas of conflict. Develop a plan of action to address or at least minimize the conflict. Don’t ignore it. Otherwise, it will manifest in other ways. The discomfort is telling you that you have something that you need to deal with.
Stress is a byproduct of changes. This causes many other types of physical distress. It can make people sensitive to things that didn’t matter before, such as the smell of perfume or someone’s messy desk. Stress also leads to insomnia and fatigue. This leads to more conflicts and mental mistakes. It is a downward spiral that is sometimes difficult to stop. So, during times of major change, people file mental stress claims to get a break from the stress.
Any disruption to the status quo of your paradigm forces you to make mental adjustments. Your paradigm is your world view made up of all your beliefs about spiritual reality. When you mess with this filter, you can easily upset your emotional equilibrium. Here cognitive dissonance again. It’s telling us the trying to balance mutually conflicting ideas causes emotional distress.
Focus on the Reasons Behind the Change
To be able to handle change, you need to understand the reasons behind the change. But, understanding isn’t enough. You must be able to accept the reasons. If you know the reasons but reject them, you will not move beyond the effects. Accepting the reasons is an important requirement for understanding and coping with the effects of change.
Sometimes the “why” is hard to accept. Sometimes the connection between the reasons for the change and how you feel about it isn’t immediately clear. We tend to use denial as an unhealthy coping strategy. We might say, yes, sure I accept the reason for the change, but deep down, we do not.
Again, most workplaces are not equipped to devel into this level of personal experience. But, again successfully navigating change means we need to find out why we cannot accept the change. Accepting the change doesn’t mean agreeing that it’s the right thing. It just means we accept that this the change that is taking place and we understand the reasons.
For example, they implement a new work process. This changes the way we do our job. We understand the changes but continually find you are making mistakes. This may have nothing to do with the work. It’s your paradigm that is fighting to hold onto the old ways simply because you are comfortable with them. Unless you address the issues within yourself, it will take you a much longer time to adjust.
The stress in our lives manifests in work performance issues. Thus, the cycle downward continues. You make more errors in judgment. Your manager does not understand why you’re having so much trouble. Now your job in jeopardy. This is why understanding your own paradigm is so important. If you understand the change affects your internal values and thinking you will be better at handling the change.
Get Comfortable with Unknowns
Once you understand all the reasons behind the why and accept the reasons given, then you are better able to move forward. Once you do this, it will be easier to see the internal and external effects. Accepting these changes isn’t as simple as snapping your fingers.
You must decide to keep the previous paradigm intact despite evidence to the contrary. Or, decide to venture into unknown territory leaving behind beliefs and values which may be anchors for your paradigm. You must learn how to become comfortable with the unknown. This is a great strategy for life in general. It’s the modern version of the Buddhist idea of non-attachment. Don’t let things become anchors you can’t cut and leave behind.
Partner with the Positive
To feel confident and move forward and thrive in the change, you need the right information, skills, and support. Find other people who despite the unknowns are consistently positive. Yes, everyone gets frustrated and down sometimes. However, you want to seek people who can help you through the obstacles.
Anxiety, self-doubt, and depression are often a part of our natural response to change. Your support system is vital in dealing with this aspect. Don’t go it alone. Remember, 95% of our responses result from our previously held assumptions and views. Hopefully, by this point, you see the information you have will help you deal with the change. Understanding change is both intellectual and emotional. Positive emotional support goes a long way.
Coping with Change Takes Time
Everyone processes the effects of change at a different rate. The emotional effects of change can temporarily reduce our ability to process information by up to 80%. So, it’s important to take your time when confronting ideas conflicting with your current paradigm. Be gentle with yourself. Be gentle with others too. The change may be a small one but if you have a lot of emotions attached, it’s huge for you. Ask questions. Repetition is one of the keys to understanding change and the issues with it. Ask yourself “why am I feeling this?”
Our reading ability can drop to a 4th-grade level during times of change. Again, be gentle and patient with yourself. Take a ‘time out’ from the hard inner work and simply enjoy life. Being able to spend time outdoors in nature. Even just a few minutes in the environment can help return your emotional equilibrium. Learn to meditate. Spend time in your creative hobbies. Learn basic seated and walking mindfulness meditation techniques and use them. Learn how beneficial it is just to be in nature (Forest Bathing).
As you can see the transformative process can be challenging, but the rewards are worth it. It draws us to the spiritual because it is our nature to explore. If you find yourself slipping into physical or emotional distress, take a timeout. Talk with people so that they understand you are having issues with the effects of the change. It has nothing to do with physical change, the people, the processes, or the organization.
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Joseph Campbell & Joseph Campbell’s book The Hero’s Journey, Wikipedia