Turn Change Into Opportunity
7 steps to making the unexpected work for you
Posted Nov 30, 2015
Life is change. Outwardly, every day is a new experience; even if you do take the same route to work there are different cars and different drivers and your view might be different. Inwardly, we know that our bodies are changing, too. Change is happening outside us and within us all of the time. By the time you finish reading this article, you may not feel like the same person who started reading it!
If change is this constant, natural process, why do people resist it so vehemently? Many times it is because they don’t think they are up to the task of handling the change. Human beings have changed and adapted for generations, and all have the inherent skills to respond to new circumstances. Think of the older people for whom social media did not even exist in their early lives who are now ardent users of it.
There are many reasons why initially the reaction can be “don’t put that change on me” or “I liked the old way of doing things.” Some of these include the fact that changes:
- Are not always predictable. When we plan our changes, it is much easier to manage the transition process, compared to those times when circumstances simply shift and we come face to face with change completely unprepared. Sometimes changes are forced on us, so on top of the surprise element, we must cope with the feeling of helplessness as well.
- Bring uncertainty. People like and develop habits for a reason; habits give us comfort and reassurance, they allow us to build and continuously support our “comfort zone.” Changes pull that certainty rug out from under our feet, and we can experience a sense of displacement. Neurological studies have demonstrated that ambiguity created by changes triggers the part of our brain called the amygdala, which prompts the brain to send a threat response to the body, increasing our level of discomfort.
- Create fear: Fear of the worst, fear of not having control, fear of failure, fear of shame and many other fears that preoccupy our thoughts, drain our strength, undermine mental stability and skew our judgement. When we fear something, we can become paralyzed, not knowing how to respond. Many of us avoid change in the same fashion that we avoid other things that scare us.
- Can be really disruptive. Some transitions are so incredible that not only certain aspects of our lives change, but our personalities and general overlook transform as well. We like our lives to feel “normal” and build many support systems to reinforce a sense of normality, so when great changes happen they feel like deviation from what we have come to know, understand and learned to function within; they take our “normal” away.
Change is going to happen. It’s a fact of life. Understanding your responses and making good choices to manage the change might make the difference between your chance to capitalize on an opportunity or spend the time resisting and miss your chance.
Consider whether any of these seven steps could help you prepare for the next big change that’s coming:
- Understand what you are facing. Accept change as natural. Recognize it and, rather than resisting it, be objective about what’s happening. Oftentimes, it’s not what we see that makes us feel apprehensive – it’s what we don’t see and therefore don’t understand. Do your homework, talk to people, gather facts and information, and remove as much uncertainty as you can.
- Understand what you can control. When change comes unplanned, you might feel like there is very little that you can control regarding it. But remember that change can sabotage your rational thinking and ability to reason clearly, and so you may be wrong about what and how much you can control. There is no situation in which we have zero control; no matter the circumstance, there is always at least one thing that we can control, and that’s our attitude. Every change is different, and sometimes there will be more aspects of it that you can control whereas other times there will only be a handful. In either case, it’s important to remain calm and collected and identify the elements of the change that you can control, can influence and those that lie beyond your control. This will help you focus your effort on what can be done, instead of wasting it on something that won’t change no matter how hard you try.
- Approach change as a process, not an event. The bigger the change, the more adjustment it will call for. Sometimes there will be many aspects of it that you must tend to, and it’s easy to begin feeling daunted by the sheer number of things that require your attention. In order to avoid feeling overwhelmed by change, try breaking it into steps or stages and work with them one at a time. By completing one step after another, you will feel more in control and will see that you are actually making progress in adapting to change.
- Pace yourself. You don’t want to make rash decisions and later come to regret them. Staying patient is essential when undergoing changes; it will help you cope with potential stress and prevent disappointment, frustration and burn-out. If you manage to prioritize well and don’t get fixated on trivial details, you will be able to conserve enough energy to carry you through the whole process and not just the beginning stages of change.
- Eliminate negative self-talk. Lose the “victim” mindset and keep your motivation up. “I can’t deal with this”, “It’s too much to handle”, “Why does it have to happen to me” and the like will do nothing to help you manage change; on the contrary, such negative thinking will make you feel insecure and more helpless than you really are. Remember how good you are, all the skills you have, and the things you have accomplished in life, and don’t let unexpected or unpleasant developments bring you down.
- Talk to someone you trust. Coping with change alone can be quite hard for many people. It can make you think that others don’t understand what you are going through. However, you never know what other people have gone through and how those experiences affected them. Why not share your concerns with a close friend or family member and see for yourself what they have to say? Talking to another person can help you notice hidden opportunities, get new ideas and good advice, and if nothing else, it can help you vent your frustrations.
- Don’t lose sight of the bigger picture. Major changes often become a center of our personal universe: They preoccupy our thoughts, diminish the importance of other things, and narrow our focus to just the change that’s happening. When it’s happening, you can fail to appreciate other aspects of your present. Don’t put your life on hold while dealing with that one particular experience; let other aspects of your life help you manage the change by, for example, providing support, distraction, rest and comfort, or by reinstating a sense of stability back into your life.