Change, as is oft quoted, is inevitable, and as human beings we have become successful as a species entirely because of our adaptability in changing circumstances. However the quote above talks of surviving, not thriving. It is one thing to get through a period of change, it is an entirely different proposition to do so mentally well and taking positives from it. In my work in the health service I spend the vast majority of my time supporting and managing through change processes. I am also currently experiencing much change myself, both professionally and personally, so this post - a brief look at some techniques for managing change, seemed timely and relevant.
There are many well documented models that give an overview of how we generally experience change. These are often also adapted for use in grief situations, which of course is ultimately the reaction to a change. Whilst such models simplify many complex and interwoven emotions and thoughts and therefore will, ultimately, never truly speak to the individual experience, I find them a useful starting point for contending with this topic. They help to normalise the emotional responses, especially in the early stages, and point to the kind of strategies we may wish to deploy to aid us through the challenge. The model I tend to lean on most is the Kubler-Ross Change curve:
1. Acceptance: The first stage in managing change is ultimately acceptance for 2 things. First that change is inevitable and second that what you are initially experiencing, in terms of strong negative emotions, is entirely natural. When we first experience change we can feel isolated into a tiny little bubble, that we are the only person in the world to be experiencing this and that we have been unfairly singled out. Using acceptance as a forcing function to gain perspective can help us break out of that mindset to see that change is constant, inevitable and, ultimately, necessary. When we are experiencing the early stages of the negative emotions we can often dig ourselves deeper holes by getting frustrated at our own reactions, self talk of "why do I feel like this" or "I'm better than this" can creep in and further exacerbate the negative feelings. By practicing acceptance of these feelings, understanding where they come from and why (the role they played in our evolutionary past) we can be present to them and, rather than fight them, let them pass naturally.
2. Emotional Support: There is no rule to say that we have to experience these things on our own, situations are rarely a cross solely for us to bear. Getting stuck into an emotional negative spiral can be exacerbated by a type of martyrdom (one which I am all too guilty of!) where we shrug off help and support, determined to tread the lonely road on our own. if the goal here is to navigate the change quickly and positively then this isn't going to help. It is ok not to be ok and, using the acceptance we have already practiced, we can reach out and get help to navigate the frustration and depression that are a clear feature of the change curve. This doesn't have to take the form of anything intensive or scary, simply talking to a close friend about how you are feeling, engaging with a coach or mentor or speaking with someone appropriately qualified in a talking therapy will lift the emotional burden from your shoulders and allow you to pick up the pace of your walk through the transition. Even if the talking options aren't palatable for you there are simple journaling exercises you can incorporate on your own which will lighten the load. Ultimately the goal is to get that tangled mess of thoughts out of your head, to relieve the pressure and give you perspective. It's ok not to be ok. It's not ok to do nothing about it.
3. Amor Fati: When navigating turbulent periods I feel it is crucial to have a personal philosophy to lean on which facilitates you making meaning of what is happening. As I have discussed many times before on these pages, I turn to Stoicism, which I feel provides an excellent framework for dealing with change specifically. The ancient Stoics did not believe in Gods as such, instead referencing 'Fortune' as the big player in matters of the universe. They would see challenges in life as being laid down by Fortune as a privilege for them to help them garner greater meaning from life, practice virtues and ultimately develop their personal philosophy further. There is a fantastic Victor Frankl quote that neatly sums up this approach:
“Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.”
This approach can also be summarised with the Latin phrase of 'Amor Fati' which translates to 'love of fate'. If we can see that the responsibility is on us to make sense of whatever change it is that we are experiencing then it places the power in our hands, now we are the masters of our fate, and that is a situation that we can love.
4. Reframing: The key to translating the philosophy above into the practical progress is through a simple psychological technique that allows us to change perspective and refocus on something that is useful for us. Reframing is literally that - changing the frame through which we are looking. The advice laid out above has allowed us to navigate the emotionally turbulent periods of change, now it is time to make this situation useful. All of this boils down to a simple question: 'What is the opportunity'? In every situation in life, no matter how harrowing, there is an opportunity. This may at first seem an uninviting one such as 'I'll learn something' or 'It'll be character building'. The Stoics also talked about the opportunity within difficulty of practicing virtues such as patience, courage or humility. Whatever the answer this is where we must now commit our attention and our energy. Think back to past negative experiences, what did you learn, what have they now given you? Listen to successful people being interviewed, do they credit their success to the times things were handed to them on a plate or the difficult struggle through changing times? Change facilitates growth and is at this point where you need to decide what that growth will be.
As discussed at the start, any time we attempt to simplify human experience to a basic model we fail to take into account the vast individual differences inherent within human experience. In this brief foray into the process of change we have talked in generalities as a result of this. However I hope that within this there are some universal truths that can be applied to your own situations, for there is one universal element in all of this and that is that you will experience massive change in your life, if not now then very soon, and many more times after that. This race called life is not won by the fittest but by the most adaptable, so train accordingly.