When you experience a change in your life circumstances that feels heavy, overwhelming or hard to bear, there are things you can do to lighten the load and avoid unnecessary suffering.
In our previous article on Navigating Change we talked about how we can adapt to changes in our life. We shared the KIT model of transition with its two phases of deconstruction and reconstruction.
In this article, we will discover more about the learnable psychological skills that sit within the transition process. These psychological skills support you as you unpack the change, and its impact, before reconstructing your valued sense of self and new direction.
Breaking down the change
When a change event occurs – a shift in work or life roles, a change in your relationships or environment – we start the process of transition. First we deconstruct the change by acknowledging the disruption it has created, and how it impacts you. Naming the change, the way it makes you feel, the thoughts or stories you attach to it and how they influence your behaviour is a good place to start.
1). Name the change When disruptive change occurs we often go straight into reacting to the event, getting lost in the initial emotions and thoughts, or spinning into fight or flight mode. Instead, slow the process down and start by simply acknowledging the facts of the change event.
Eg “My workplace has just made unexpected redundancies across the business.”
2). Impact check-in: Next you want to assess the impact this change is having on your thoughts, feelings and behaviour. As the adage goes, ‘you have to name it to tame it’. It is worth repeating this ‘impact check-in’ on a regular basis as your response will shift with time.
- Feelings: How does the change make you feel? Notice that your feelings may be mixed and will likely shift over time. If you have trouble identifying your emotions try downloading an emotional literacy App such as mood meter to help you put a name to it. For example, at first I felt shocked and angry. Today I feel fearful. I can feel tension and agitation in my body. My mind is racing and on alert.
- Thoughts: Name the thoughts that go with these feelings. What thoughts or stories about the change are appearing for you? These may be beliefs, memories, judgements, or future predictions. For example, ‘Why are they doing this to me? I can’t lose my job right now, I have family responsibilities and we only just moved house for this job. Last time I was looking for work it took me four months and was super stressful emotionally and financially.’’
- Behaviours: How has the change impacted your behaviour? Has it disrupted my actions, routines or relationships? For example, ‘I am being short tempered at home. I have stopped my morning exercise routine. I am avoiding talking to my boss at work and feel unmotivated to take on new projects.’
3). Control the controllable. Having named the change and its impact, it is then important to acknowledge the things that are within your control. We often spend too much time and energy focussed on things outside of our control, like wishing for a different outcome, or imagining a future that has not happened yet. The key is to change or influence the things you can, know and accept the things you cannot change, and have the wisdom to know the difference. In reality we can only really control our own response in the moment. Our actions may influence the future, but we definitely cannot change the past.
For example, ‘I can’t control the company’s workforce decisions, but I can ask my boss what I should prepare for. I can find a better way to process my emotions, and lower my distress, rather than take it out on my family and colleagues.’
Building a new beginning
The reconstruction phase is when we begin to integrate the change into our life so it no longer causes significant disruption, and we create a new status quo. The psychological skills that support this process include acceptance, connecting with values and taking committed action:
4). Acceptance and self-compassion. Change can be uncomfortable. The desire to avoid discomfort is inherently human. While having the occasional moment of wallowing in the misery or railing against it can be cathartic, the best way through change is acceptance.
This doesn’t mean giving up or giving in, it just means being willing to sit with discomfort. It is understanding that the discomfort is temporary, but necessary for us to adapt. Acceptance is also about approaching ourselves with compassion – being mindful of the discomfort and approaching it with loving kindness.
For example, saying to yourself ‘This is painful and hard. I am sorry you are going through this. What can I do to support you right now?’
5). Connect with your values. Our values are the principles that guide our life. When faced with difficulty, it is our values that remind us what matters most. They help us make sense of change or disruption in our life and remind us who we are and how we want to be in the world. Values help us to recognise the life goals and behaviours that serve us well and the ones that do not.
For example, “This repeated experience of job insecurity compromises my values of sustainably providing for my family, creating a stable life where we feel connected to our community and being able to flourish.”
6). Hopeful action: Our actions, goals and values are intertwined. If values are the map that guides you, our goals are the way markers that signal progress, keep us on course and motivated. Once we make sense of the change, in the context of our values, we can focus on taking action. Our daily actions are the small steps that bring us closer to our valued life goals.
For example, “Today I will re-start my morning exercise routine. I will make a conscious effort to be patient and kinder with myself and others at work and home.”
When a change event disrupts our valued life direction we may also need to re-evaluate and adjust our goals. Doing this builds a sense of hope, and who couldn’t do with a little more hope in their life?
Hope comes from having a viable pathway to attain our values-based life goals. To maintain hope in the face of challenges or disruption we need to exercise mental agility or flexibility. We either need to find an alternate pathway to our goals and/or re-evaluate the goal.
For example, “My boss said no more redundancies this year but could not rule them out in the future. That is my signal to actively explore alternate job options and possibly a career change that might give me greater stability and autonomy.”
The transition process is not neat and linear. It is an ongoing practice of checking-in, acknowledging what’s working for you and what is not, making adjustments, and taking action. As Benjamin Diraeli said:
You can recognise a successful transition by the amount of time, energy and attention the change event takes up in your life. As we adapt to change, it becomes quieter and demands less of us. We instead feel more present, connected and satisfied with our life.
We have grown and we have changed.
Our workshop Navigating Change explores the fundamental skills required to mentally adapt to change. Bring your change challenge to this workshop and we will guide you through evidence-based psychological knowledge and transition skills.
TMR Coach, our coaching service designed to provide clarity and perspective for leaders, teams and businesses. Support your people to lead, perform, think well, feel confident and make great decisions.
Values Card deck, The Mind Room.
Mood Meter, an app to develop emotional intelligence skills that can help you in all areas of life.