Change. A simple word with a difficult meaning.
“I am convinced life is 10% of what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it” – Charles Swindoll
Charles Swindoll’s resounding words are used to illustrate a very important message in the Left Field Change Readiness workshop – As human beings we will experience change and difficulty throughout our lives yet we have the capacity to control how we respond to this change.
Change comes in many sizes, shapes and forms – relocating homes, changing jobs, breaking off relationships, changing managers, changing financial circumstances…and the list goes on.
I studied psychological science for six years, two of which I was provisionally registered and working with clients, and for almost four years I have been practicing as a registered psychologist. During this time I have learned a lot of incredible things about, the power of the human mind, the impact of thought patterns on behaviours, and the importance of understanding the emotional experience.
Despite having an in-depth understanding of ‘how humans tick’, I am not immune to the impact of change. Last week was one of the first times my understanding of change theory truly intersected with the reality of the experience…it was fascinating!
With this in mind, I reflected on how I have managed changes in recent years to make sense of the difference I was experiencing now. Over the past two years I have experienced a number of changes in my personal life, not to mention working within a business constantly in a state of growth and adaptation. In isolation each change has presented a medley of emotions, albeit transitory in nature, which I have moved through with limited disruption to other aspects of my life.
Fast track to April 2016 and I observe a full pendulum effect within a matter of days. It didn’t take me long to realise this was because the nature of the change was completely different to anything I had experienced in the past. What’s more, is that the places I would normally seek security and reassurance from, were not available to me. Another difference was that I was experiencing a number of changes at the same time. Whilst none of the events in this short period of time were unexpected, the impact I experienced was!
My Textbook Response.
Applying my knowledge of Bridges’ transition model (1991) I observed myself shift from New Beginnings to Endings. What does this look like for me? In New Beginnings I see myself generating ideas, asking questions and trying new things. I feel excited, open, secure and confident. The shift to Endings was clear…I avoided taking risks, withdrew from socialisation, felt more fatigued, and experienced inexplicable feelings of sadness, shock and under-confidence. Throughout the week I turned into my own case study!
What was most interesting about this experience, was how reassuring it was to know that my emotions were very predictable and very textbook. This allowed me to be more objective and actively live in to Swindoll’s words. As soon as I experienced the first strong emotion, indicating I was in a different headspace, it was as though I lifted out of myself and analysed my thoughts and behaviours. I was able to normalise the entire experience.
Whilst this level of awareness did not shield me from experiencing less desirable thought patterns and emotions, it significantly impacted my behaviour. I noticed that I was observing where others were in relation to me on the transition model to understand their perspective and intentions. I found myself considering my language and actions in an effort to create an environment of certainty and calm. And, I actively managed the emotions as they presented by removing myself from situations, applying resiliency techniques, and connecting with people around me in future-focused way.
My three insights to working with, not against the emotions of change…
1. Pre-Season! Engage in reflective practice once each week!
At Left Field we incorporate a ‘pre-season’ in our leadership development program. The idea is to create a plan for action, increase motivation and prime the brain for learning. When it comes to changes in our personal and professional life, we are not always blessed with ‘preparation time’. Based on my recent and unprecedented responses to changes in my own life, I really benefited from proactive self-care. This typically involves spending time reflecting on my thoughts, behaviours and emotions, and understanding how to choose my response in challenging situations.
2. Be a nerd! Sink your teeth into information about human emotions.
You would be amazed by the impact of insight. Understanding how human beings are wired gives you the opportunity to objectively analyse your own response to stressful situations. Although we may look, sound and smell different – we are pretty predictable species!! I felt an instant sense of relief when I recognised that I was actually supposed to be feeling this way, and this motivated me to take action to move back to a place of creativity, excitement, openness and confidence. See below for recommended reads and videos!
3. Keep moving! Take small, deliberate steps to move forward.
When you are in the thick of the emotions of change, it can feel like wading through treacle while everyone around you seems to be sailing! Small, deliberate moves are necessary to keep moving! This means focusing on specific actions that are within your direct control. As long as you are moving you are making progress – don’t forget to be kind and appreciative of yourself as you move forward.
My hope is that some part of this article resonates for the Left Fielders who are currently grappling with the impact of change. Remember it’s not too late to try something new: Pre-Season, Be a Nerd and Keep Moving!
- The Happiness Trap, Russ Harris
- Search Inside Yourself, Chade-Meng Tan
- The Emotional Life of Your Brain, Richard Davidson & Sharon Begley
TED X Talks:
- Why we all need to practice emotional first aid, Guy Winch https://www.ted.com/talks/guy_winch_the_case_for_emotional_hygiene?language=en#t-66579
- The science of emotions, Jaak Panksepp https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=65e2qScV_K8
- The neuroscience of emotion, Kerry Ressler https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a9LjXHtLvlY
~ Jessica Fraser, Senior Consultant Psychologist