Very few would argue that this past year has been like any other in recent history. The global pandemic touched everybody, in a variety of ways, from personal to professional.
When big events hit that have (what some might consider) monumental consequences, reminding yourself that change is constant can be difficult. But the point is exactly that: Change is always happening.
Of course, not all change is equal. Some personal transitions, like rearranging your schedule to accommodate an important meeting or taking some time off to nurse an injury, are smaller. Others, like starting your own practice after working for someone else or moving from working full-time to retirement, feel huge.
Still, there are tips for navigating change that can help us better manage both the small—and the big—shifts and transitions we all face at one time or another.
Why We Resist: Understanding Why Change is Hard
Linda Mitchell, a massage therapist and professional transition coach who founded Living Inspired Coaching, describes the feelings of fear and anxiety that, for many people, accompany most every instance of life change, whether planned or unexpected. “When you think about a change happening in your personal and professional life, often people get a lump in their throat or an uneasy feeling in the pit of their stomach,” she explains. “We can all agree that change is an inevitable part of life. Whether we see it coming and prepare for it or it blindsides us completely, change is unavoidable.”
OK, so many of us find change difficult, even when we are the ones who put the change in motion or have seen the transition approaching and have had time to prepare. Now what?
Don’t Get Stuck in Fear
There are a couple of ways people generally deal with change. One way is to focus on everything negative and the other is to simply get stuck and paralyzed by fear.
According to Mitchell, change is a vital part of our life, but also something we continually resist, and this resistance is more often than not rooted in fear. “Fear is the greatest roadblock to smooth and stress-free change,” she says. “We’re creatures of habit, which is why we resist and fear change.”
Fear works to keep us stuck where we are, as Mitchell explains: “Sometimes we convince ourselves that lying in limbo, hanging out in our comfort zone, is just easier than the challenge of change,” she notes. “Most of the stress associated with change actually comes from staying stuck and resisting the need for change.”
A good strategy for dealing with fear is to make a plan. But, Mitchell warns, don’t wait until you have everything figured out to get started. “Once you begin to create a plan and take small action steps, you usually find the road ahead a lot less rocky, and the strategy unfolds as you go,” she explains. “But action is key. Often people believe they should have it all figured out before they embark on change, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.”
Making a plan, even when the plan isn’t solid, is a great way to gain clarity, Mitchell says. “Figuring out what works for you, what you like and dislike as you move forward, is part of the process,” she adds. “Clarity comes with action.”
Refocus Your Perspective
“If we realize that change doesn’t always have to include loss and fear, our whole perspective changes!” Mitchell explains, and although being told to broaden your perspective may feel too general and unworkable for you, she does provide some guidance.
First, think about the beliefs you grew up with and how your family treated change, Mitchell suggests. “Did your family believe change is a normal and easy part of life, or did you learn that change is hard, scary and overwhelming?” she asks. “It’s worth taking a look at the habitual patterns stored in our subconscious that relate to our beliefs around the process of change.”
Mitchell reminds us that our beliefs are connected to our thoughts and actions, and, eventually, our results, so understanding where we might be getting hung up, consciously or subconsciously, is a good first step to getting unstuck.
She also draws on an updated definition of fear she learned about a decade ago: False Evidence Appearing Real. “This helps me reframe fear and negativity,” Mitchell explains. “When we learn to rewire our brains and look for the positive in every situation, we become empowered and can take great strides forward with less stress and great ease.”
Celebrate small progress, reminds Mitchell, which allows you to get more comfortable about change and attach new and positive feelings around the process. “When you feel empowered, fear takes a back seat,” she adds.
Work to Reach Acceptance Sooner
You might be thinking that accepting change sooner rather than later is easier said than done, and you wouldn’t be entirely wrong. Mitchell understands, especially when the change is fast and big, like when COVID-19 hit and businesses needed to suddenly close, that this work isn’t always easy.
But resistance often makes change more difficult. “We may not like what we’re facing, but struggle is born of nonacceptance,” Mitchell says. “The sooner we come to terms with our new reality, the sooner we’re able to find a new path forward and ultimately find the treasure in the transition.”
Mitchell is very careful to note, however, that she’s not suggesting that any feelings of grief, sadness or loss around change simply be buried. “Allow yourself to feel the uncomfortable emotions,” she encourages. “I always say we need to feel and deal before we can heal.”
Then, get creative. “Really think about what you want and what you don’t want,” Mitchell says. “What we think about comes about, what we focus on expands, so it’s worth the effort to begin to explore the positive opportunities that can result from change.”
Recognize the Benefits of Change
“Many of the benefits of change go unacknowledged unless we take the time to reflect on our experiences,” Mitchell explains.
She encourages people to ask themselves a few questions in order to help put in focus some of the benefits that change affords us:
- What is new and good now that this change has happened?
- What opportunities do I see now that I didn’t even consider before this change?
- How have I grown as a result?
- Do I feel more resilient, empowered and confident now?
Mitchell believes people can find that change is the start of a lot of personal and professional growth. Take retirement, for example. When viewed as an opportunity to put your energy into things you enjoy and are passionate about, a transition that might feel overwhelming can begin to feel positive.
In a year that’s brought change to everyone, finding the positive and focusing on how change can bring growth that propels us to a better place, whether personally or professionally, can be hard. But, as Mitchell reminds us, change is inevitable, and so finding a way to shift our perspective, work toward acceptance and resist the temptation to get stuck in fear can help us find a path forward.
“Faith and fear both require you believe in something you can’t see,” Mitchell says. “Ask yourself which you will choose and create your new reality from that vantage point.”
Getting Past the Fear and Embracing C.H.A.N.G.E.
Over her 20-plus-year career in massage and coaching, Mitchell's found there are three main reasons most people find change difficult:
- They get comfortable in their discomfort.
- They hang onto the belief that change has to be hard or that it will create loss.
- They feel they can’t make a change until they have complete clarity around what’s next.
“Change can be either scary and overwhelming or galvanizing and exciting,” Mitchell explains. “It’s all about perspective.”
To help people move beyond what is holding them back, Mitchell created an acronym that is designed to get people thinking about what they want, the action they need to take to make progress and how they can let go of the fear to get to the positive side of change.
C Clarity: Decide what you really want.
H Harness the help of others: Don’t be afraid to reach out to loved ones for support; they want you to succeed.
A Anchor ideas with action: Small, consistent action steps create big change.
N Nix the negativity: Negativity will keep you stuck.
G Guided visualizations and gratitude: Consciously visualizing what you want gets you halfway there and gratitude is important.
E Embody worthiness and expect good things: You are valuable and worthy of good things, so expect them!
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