Are Changes Getting the Best of You?

Six approaches to manage change when life throws you a curve ball.

Posted Oct 03, 2019

Everything changes. Typically, we welcome some changes and rebel against others. Will we dance with the changes or run away and try to hide? We have choices about how to respond.  

Gerd Altman / Pixabay
Source: Gerd Altman / Pixabay

William Bridges, PhD (2009) clearly differentiates between changes and transitions. Change is about the situation, for example, a move, graduation, birth of a child, illness, or retirement. In contrast, transition is the human psychological process of adjusting to the new situation or circumstances we face, which involves three phases.

Three Phases of change (Bridges 2009):

Phase 1: The Ending - Letting go of the old situation.  Acknowledging and dealing with the end, loss, or shift.

Phase 2: The Transition or In-Between Time - The wilderness between the old reality of what was and the new beginning.  This may be a time of many feelings, such as disorientation, sadness, confusion, distress, relief.

Phase 3: The New Beginning - Making the change work; embracing the new way (Bridges, 2009).

In other words, there is the change, and then there is a transition, the process of adjusting to the change: making it work, and optimally thriving as we move beyond it.

Our beliefs about our abilities and capacities to change can impact what we achieve in life and work.  Do we think we can grow or do we feel stuck?  Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck (2006) has researched the ways our beliefs influence us and has argued that people can have one of two related mindsets.  If we have a growth mindset, we realize that abilities can be developed and learned – we believe that with time, work, and effort we can walk a path toward opportunity.  We can learn, improve, and progress toward our goals.  On the other hand, if we have a fixed mindset, we believe that our abilities and capacities to improve are limited, our potential is fixed, and we are stuck with what we see as our deficiencies.  With a growth mindset, we can push past obstacles and changes and respond in adaptive and even transformative ways.

Six Approaches to Managing Change

1 - If you are experiencing a change or loss, let yourself recognize it. Feel what you need to feel. Seek supports. Consider sharing your emotions, thoughts, and reactions with people you trust.

2 - Figure out whether you have a growth mindset or a fixed mindset. Dr. Carol Dweck’s website offers a free self-inventory to Test Your Mindset at https://mindsetonline.com/testyourmindset/results.php. Realize you have a choice about your mindset. When you notice you’re speaking to yourself with a fixed mindset voice, shift to a growth mindset voice, “I can learn this and build my skills.” Then, take action (Dweck 2006-2010).

3 - Identify your strengths to help you move forward through this transition into new beginnings (Niemiec, 2018; Polly & Britton, 2015).  For example, if perspective is one of your strengths, you may want to look at the big picture and figure out where this change fits with all the aspects of your life.  If hope is a strength, you might consider some of the hidden benefits of the change. For more information on strengths, www.viacharacter.org is a great resource.

4 - Step in and start somewhere. When it’s time for the new beginning, it’s time to roll up our sleeves and make the change work. Motivational psychologist Heidi Grant Halvorson recommends that we “seize the moment to act on our goals” (2012). Decide in advance when and where you are going to take an action and do it.  Create a plan to use if you get stuck. This is called if-then planning (Oettingen & Gollwitzer, 2010; Halvorson, 2012). For example, “If I feel stuck, I’ll call (fill in the blank) to offer me encouragement.” If I feel tired while I’m working, I’ll pause, take a few mindful breaths, and remind myself why this is important.”

5 - As you consider your next steps, set SMART goals, and take manageable action steps to move forward.  SMART goals are Specific and clear, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. 

6 - Remember your sense of humorLaughter can be an effective ally to help you soothe tension and reduce responses to stress.

**This post is for educational purposes and should not substitute for psychotherapy with a qualified professional.

References

Bridges, W. (2009). Managing transitions: Making the most of change. Philadelphia, PA: DaCapo Press.

Dweck, C.S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York, NY: Random House.

Dweck, C.S. (2006-2010). How can you change from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset? https://mindsetonline.com/changeyourmindset/firststeps/index.html

Halvorson, H.G. (2012). 9 things successful people do differently. Boston MA: Harvard Business Review Press.

Niemiec, R. (2018). Character strengths interventions: A field guide for practitioners. Boston, MA: Hogrefe.

Oettingen, G. & Gollwitzer, P.M. (2010) Strategies of setting and implementing goals: Mental contrasting and implementation intentions. In J.E. Maddux & J.P. Tangney (Eds.), Social Psychological Foundations of Clinical Psychology (pp. 114-135). New York, NY: Guildford Press.

Polly, S. & Britton, K.H. (2015). Character strengths matter: How to live a full life. Positive Psychology News, LLC., USA.

The VIA classification of character strengths and virtues. http://www.viacharacter.org/www/Character-Strengths/VIA-Classification