Our initial reaction to the unexpected is usually anything but constructive. We feel vulnerable and even threatened by the changes at hand, including those that we may have already anticipated. As a result, we tend to find ourselves in the midst of three familiar stages as we come to terms with the unknown:
1. Surprise -- The first stage is surprise. No matter what's happened or how much we may have expected the impending changes, once they take place we often find ourselves in an initial state of shock, wondering why it's happening to us.
2. Panic -- The second stage we experience is panic, which is largely focused on how the changes will impact us directly. It isn't long before we begin to question ourselves and wonder if we are competent and able to handle what's in store for us.
3. Blame -- The third and final stage we encounter is blame. When people feel threatened, they often retreat to the safest belief system they can find. If we can point to external factors such as "unrealistic" customer demands or an unsteady economy to help justify the cause of the change, we will. This relieves us of all accountability and portrays us as a helpless victim in the matter -- a very easy and convenient escape, indeed.
If you've experienced one or even all three of these phases when faced with change, you are certainly not alone. But the reality is that none of these stages will actually help us cope with what's in front of us. Why? Because none of them get to the core of the real problem at hand. You see, change in and of itself is not hard to deal with. It's our readiness for it, or perhaps even more importantly our lack thereof, that truly makes the difference. Simply put, change is only hard for the unready.
For example, imagine that you've been relocated for work and you have serious anxiety and stress about your new hometown. What will you do there? How will you make new friends? What if it isn't what you thought it would be? Before going to the dark side and deeming it a bad place to live, do your research. What does the city have to offer that falls within your personal interests? Are there social groups or networking events you could get involved in to help you meet more people? What are others saying and what serves as a draw for those in the local community? Once you take a closer look, you might find your new home has more potential than you think -- and all because you took the time to prepare yourself for what you could expect once you are there. The change, or the move in this case, is no longer as tough to deal with as you thought. You've prepared yourself and now have a better idea of what to expect, which is really how we handle life's major changes.
It's important to acknowledge that change comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, and some forms will certainly be easier to deal with than others. But resisting or deflecting the inevitable is nothing more than a drain on our time and talents. And when we've taken on this mindset and change does come our way, it's no wonder why we feel backed into a corner or defensive. If we aren't ready for it, how can we have the knowledge and wherewithal needed to move forward and persevere? This lack of readiness is what causes us to suffer the most during times of change.
Preparing ourselves for what's next is a much more productive use of energy that will actually help rather than hinder us in moments of uncertainty. So how can we achieve this? My advice is to remain open-minded in times of change. Rather than viewing it as a detriment, see it as an opportunity. Consider a higher reason for why the change could be happening and trust that it's for your own good. Instead of living in fear, consider whether or not the changes will serve as a teachable moment or make you stronger in the end. And when all else fails, drop the "c" word (change) from your vocabulary and simply reframe the situation by focusing on what's next.
Life is full challenges. So why do we insist on making it harder than it already is? Whether we believe something to be possible or impossible -- either way we are right. Working on our beliefs, staying open to what could be and leaning into change requires less energy and leads to better outcomes. Dealing with change doesn't have to be a struggle. It's only as tough as we make it. So let's be kinder to ourselves and vow to be ready and willing to handle whatever 2016 has to offer for a happier, more productive new year.
I'm up for the challenge. Are you?