Let’s face it, change is constant. And uncomfortable.
All of the transitions in our lives have a pattern, and when we take the time to understand these patterns, it will take the stress out of managing change and allow us to make tough times easier.
Lately I have been watching a number of people go through changes and have been managing change in my own life. Especially when the change is GOOD, we still struggle with it. I’ve had quite a bit of fun observing what’s happening, how people react emotionally, and ways to move through change more effectively. That’s what today is all about. Plus you get a bit of an awesome book summary…
Even good change is stressful
The funniest question I get asked when I have worked with clients for a while is, “What happens if all of this works?”
They vocalize this concern after we have worked through challenges, identified solutions, and they see the new way forward. It is almost clockwork that it hits them like a ton of bricks. “Holy crap, I may actually be able to do this!”
That is quickly followed by a big, “Uh oh, I may actually be able to do this! I’m scared.”
It used to make me feel weird when clients would say this because my first thought was, “haha, that’s what you hired me for. To make more money, have more opportunity, grow your business.” But now I realize that we need to have this conversation sooner. Before the stress hits.
Think about how you will feel when this actually works.
- What else will have to change?
- Who do you need to become through this?
- Who should you surround yourself with?
- What other implications do we need to consider?
- What secondary plans should we consider beforehand?
- Are you emotionally ready for this to work?
These are some questions you can ask yourself too. Whether it’s in your business, relationship, or life, when things start to go well, we naturally feel the stress of the new beginnings.
Have you ever felt that way? Where some things started to go really well in your life and you saw the near future and began to worry about just what that change would bring?
And it’s normal.
I have gone through a number of transitions in my life, and it’s crazy to know that the uncomfortable feelings are almost identical, regardless of whether the next phase is scary or exciting.
You may have had these feelings when you got a new promotion, had a baby, landed that big client, or found love. Even though you were getting what you wanted, psychologically, it was difficult to cope, right? And perhaps you felt terrible for feeling this way and didn’t want to tell anyone because you should be happy. And then guilt and shame may creep in because of it too.
I have often asked myself, “Am I crazy for feeling like this?”
Well, again, that’s normal.
Not in his goals, but in his transitions man is great.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
Change is fundamental to nature
I recently read a great book called Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes by William Bridges which was released in 1980. He wrote the book during a period of managing change in his life and found that there weren’t really any good resources to help him. Once he finished, it sold over a quarter of a million copies.
Pause for a moment and read the words Bridges shares with us about change in nature:
Throughout nature, growth involves periodic accelerations and transformations: things go slowly for a time and nothing seems to happen – until suddenly the eggshell cracks, the branch blossoms, the tadpole’s tail shrinks away, the leaf falls, the bird molts, the hibernation begins. With us it is the same. Although the signs are less clear than in the world of feather and leaf, the function of transition times are the same.
Think about that. In our lives, change happens. It’s just not as obvious as an egg hatching.
Start by first understanding…
Transition in nature is essentially a process of disorganization, death and renewal. You will probably nod your head at this, because as humans, we intuitively know this. But take a step back and understand that managing change in any way means you have to acknowledge all parts of the process.
It is the same in organizations as well, and why change management is such a huge topic. Read my post Four Stages of Team Development: Leading Through Change for more ideas.
3 Phases of change
The best piece of advice I have ever received is to not focus on whether the change in my life was good or bad, but rather to look at it objectively as it applies to my life. Is it important? Will it alter my path? What new possibilities may come of this? Even if it is a seemingly small change to manage, it may well end up being a huge new direction. We just need to simply be open to change and be aware of the process.
Bridges breaks down the three phases of change in his book as:
To have a new beginning, you must accept that something else ends. This is the one area of change that people often forget to realize. No matter what you are leaving behind (good or bad), you are still losing a part of your life in the transition. Admitting to yourself that it is okay to mourn the loss of your former self is okay. Starting a business may mean a loss of identity and security, having a baby may mean a loss of freedom and time, getting a promotion may mean a loss of structure and independence. It’s just nature, baby!
Take a moment to reflect on how simply understanding this may help keep your emotions in check. If we make a choice to change jobs, pursue higher goals in our business, or have a family, just be aware that the first phase comes with some disorder. And that’s totally cool.
In many traditional cultures, it is customary to take someone out of their normal life so they can go through this phase. Usually during this time, we feel disengaged from our normal selves as we work through it.
After that, we often have a sense of disidentification where we don’t quite know who we are any more. This can be very scary to feel that you have lost your identity and that your motivations may have changed.
Following that stage, we may start to have feelings of disenchantment or that feeling of “What have I done?” Additionally we may realize that the ways we previously viewed the world could have been wrong. Even though endings may feel bad, we should understand that they are not the end of us. This stress is actually a positive signal for change.
2) Neutral Zone
When we journey through the endings phase, it’s only natural to want to break through as quickly as possible to get rid of those uncomfortable feelings. Keep in mind, however, that these periods could very well be the most important ones in your life. It is when your mind is most open to new ideas, new possibilities, and new thought and behavior patterns. It’s during this period that you are best prepared to consider new ways of being and doing. Bridges suggests in his writing to make the most of your neutral zone time and pause to reflect:
- Find alone time: In our busy lives, it’s hard to find time to pause and be empty in our minds. Eliminate distractions and just find some space to be one with your thoughts. You may have some revelations, and you may not, but the key here is to not hide from the process and be okay with what happens.
- Journal: I can’t stress the importance of journaling enough when you are working through transitions. It is a chance to ask yourself questions and work through thoughts. Keep a log of what you are thinking and feeling and write down things you are grateful for, the direction you would like to go, and the ideas in your mind. In fact, it is your opportunity to re-write your own story.
- Do some self discovery: When you are in these moments of reflection, think about what kind of person you would like to become through this. Are you feeling as though you have done everything you can in your life? If not, what’s missing? What else can you identify to change in this crucial juncture of your life?
There is a surprising power in stillness, so take advantage of this neutral zone and embrace the opportunity to seek within. Many of the great historical figures understood this need to go into the desert, the woods, or retreat into themselves to find the answers.
3) New Beginnings
This is the moment of the journey towards your new reality. You will be different, and things will become more comfortable, and eventually this future reality will become your current reality. The best part is that you will not know that you have experienced a new beginning. This only happens in retrospect. There will be a moment in time where you transition out of the neutral zone. It could be a song you heard, a book you read, or a conversation you had. And when you look back, you will realize when exactly you knew things would be different from that point onward.
Try it. Look back on your major life changes and see how a singular event moved you towards new beginnings.
Be okay with everything
In my video last week, I gave you the simplest and best idea you can use – Just don’t die. Get up each day, and don’t die. As you work through these natural cycles, realize that it’s all okay. Change is normal, it’s natural, and it should be welcomed.
By recognizing these stages, it is far easier to cope with what life throws at us.
I had a conversation with a fried today about how we like to label ourselves. Like if you drop a glass, it shatters, and you exclaim, “I’m such an idiot!”
Ask yourself…Am I really an idiot? Or did I simply drop a glass? In what ways am I NOT an idiot?
As we move through life, it’s important to accept our emotions, but at the same time to be as objective as possible so as to not let them get the best of us. When we start to observe and become more objective with the right perspective, most of the stuff we stress about actually seems really silly.
I know it’s Friday and this one is a bit deep, but I was in the mood. Hope it gives you some fresh eyes and helps you manage change moving forward.