Whether at work or home, life is nothing more than a series of changes. Or as Forrest Gump’s Mamma told him, “Life is like a box of chocolates.”
Big and Small, Gradual and Sudden
Some changes are subtle. You’ve aged. You’ve gained knowledge and if you are like me, probably lost a few facts that used to be easily remembered, but no longer are. The tree canopy in my neighborhood is a little greener than it was last week.
Some changes are abrupt. This past week a rainstorm meant that I had to figure out how to deliver a workshop with pants that were soaking wet. Road construction meant finding a new way to a client site. A request to take a relative to the airport at 4:30 AM meant getting through my day on a little less sleep than I like.
Big or small, gradual or sudden, change keeps us on our toes and occasionally knocks us on our butts.
Learn to Navigate the Changes
You can’t avoid it. Change will find you. Your only choices are how you plan for and respond to it.
I’ve found eight strategies that work for me. Check them out to see if they work for you too. In the comments, add any that I have missed.
#1: Examine Your Feelings and Thoughts
Change stirs up powerful emotions. The two most common are fear and sadness. We are afraid about what the future will bring, because often it isn’t clearly defined. We are sad about what we’ve lost. We liked the way it was, and wish we could retain it.
Our thoughts create our feelings. Often those thoughts are based on beliefs and assumptions that are not true. How often have you thought this during a change?
- I won’t like it.
- I won’t be competent.
- This is going to make my life worse.
- It will never work.
This strategy’s goal is to determine whether or not your feelings are based on accurate assumptions and if your beliefs are true. This examination provides you with perspective that helps moderate strongly negative feelings. It moves you to a more accurate conclusion that sounds like what Forrest’s Mamma concluded, “You never know what you’ll get.”
#2: See How It Plays Out
And because we don’t know, we may as well not guess.
When in transition, sometimes the best strategy is also the simplest. Be neutral. Assume a wait and see attitude. Observe the process. Notice your emotions. If there’s not a need to react right away, don’t.
Think about all the changes that happened to you in the past that at first raised your blood pressure, but later turned out to be no big deal. Experience tells us that a little patience goes a long way when navigating change. Let yourself sleep on it for a night, a week, or a month. Try the new system. Live in the new conditions. Since you don’t know what’s coming, there’s no sense in passing judgment now. Let it play out.
Time works wonders when it comes to easing our anxieties. Give yourself the time you need to let your concerns melt away.
#3: Talk with Supporters
The worst part of being in transition is feeling like it’s only affecting you, and that your feelings and concerns are abnormal.
It helps to work through changes in the company of others. If you attempt to tackle it yourself, you may feel overwhelmed and hopeless. It’s also common to feel like your experience is unique.
If others are in the same boat with you, seek them out. Ask them how they feel about the change. If it is your change alone, find some people you trust. Talk through your thoughts and assumptions. Share your stories. Here’s what you are likely to discover:
- Other people have similar feelings. It feels good to know you aren’t strange or different.
- People are there to help and support you. That brings comfort and reassurance.
- Another perspective that you hadn’t considered.
- New information that clears up some of the mystery about what’s coming.
- Ideas for how to move forward.
When a big change is challenging you, it’s time to buy a friend a cup of coffee. Ask for help. That’s what friends are for, and that’s what you are willing to do for them when they need the help.
#4: Count Your Blessings
When change happens, almost all our thoughts focus on what we’ve lost. We forget what we haven’t lost. The middle of a transition is the perfect time to reflect on what you still have. Doing so provides perspective.
I remember being laid off. It felt like a big deal. I suppose at the moment it was a big deal. I immediately recognized what I lost: Security, self-esteem, and my ability to pay bills. When I got home with my box of possessions, Marie suggested we go out for pizza. The next day I connected with some friends. Soon I was putting my skills and experiences to new uses. While I did lose a few things in that transition, it became clear that all was not lost. More accurately, most was retained.
#5: Own Your Choices
When in transition, we always have choices. One of the most important choices we can make is how we will react to what has happened. The hard part is remembering we have options. Questions such as these are on the table for your consideration:
- How should I feel about this?
- Should I support it or fight it?
- Will I accept it?
Recognizing that we do have choices helps us feel more in control. And feelings of control usually reduces anxiety and stress.
#6: Influence the Process
When you can’t influence whether a change happens, the next best thing is to influence how it will happen. As an example, here are the steps you can take to influence changes at work.
- Ask the decision makers questions. Demonstrate your interest in creating a successful outcome.
- Learn all you can about the change.
- Volunteer to be part of the implementation team. If one doesn’t exist, suggest it.
- Make your suggestions to whoever will listen.
The trick is to demonstrate you aren’t trying to derail the change, but rather want to help make things better.
#7: Look for Opportunities
“When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.” Alexander Graham Bell
Chances are you’ve heard this quote many times. The important take away is that the opportunities are there, but only if we look for them. When faced with a major change, take time to reflect on questions such as. . .
- How might this change create something better for me?
- What does this change allow me to do?
- Where are the possible opportunities in all this?
- What might this transition teach me?
#8: Make and Implement Your Plan
The opportunities are out there, but only for those who are willing to act. Figure out what you want and then take the necessary actions to make it happen.
If you prefer to think about the change as a problem, then the smart thing to do would be to solve it. Put all your energy into finding a solution.
I’m a big believer that those who ultimately win life are neither the smartest, strongest, nor most charming. It’s the people who can flex and adapt.
Change will always mean challenge and often pain. But it doesn’t need to completely wipe you out. There are plenty of things you can do. I’ve provided eight ideas. Do you have more? Add them to the comments.
If your employees could benefit from learning these strategies in a hands-on, workshop setting, I’d be happy to deliver it at your work place. I’m only an email away.
Image credit: Kevin Dooley via Flickr (cc)