In a previous post I outlined a proven process for embracing change while at the same time being a force for good in the world – http://pamela-thompson.com/strengthen-impact-world-dance-change/. In this article we will take a deep dive into the first step in this 5-step process: Shine the Light.
In step one of the Art of Change Framework we explore how you respond to change and why.
Reflecting on how you’ve responded to previous changes in your life will provide you with clues as to how you will respond to integrating new beliefs and behaviors into your life, and changing old beliefs, attitudes and behaviors.
A good place to start is to answer the question How do I typically respond to change on a scale from 1 to 10; 1 being “I thrive on it” and 10 being “It scares me to death”?
Another useful exercise is to reflect on past experiences with life changes and answer the question What have I learned that supports me to adapt and move forward when faced with change?
Barriers to Change/Moving Forward
A number of barriers to change have been identified in the literature including: becoming paralyzed by fear, procrastinating, blaming others, believing we can’t do something or are not worthy, always focusing on problems rather than solutions, getting stuck in old habits or denying change is happening, and not being willing to put in the effort required to make a change. It’s helpful to think about a change that has been recently imposed on you or was in the past. How do you feel about this change? What barriers do you have to embracing it? I invite you to take a few minutes to jot down your responses to these questions.
Overcoming Resistance to Change
M.J. Ryan in her book “Adaptability – How to Survive Change You Didn’t Ask for” (2009) notes that the ability to adapt is “the key indicator of success in these turbulent times. It’s the capacity to be flexible and resourceful in the face of ever-changing conditions.”
Aikido masters say that to be successful in life three types of mastery are needed: i) mastery with self; ii) mastery with others; and iii) mastery with change; meaning “the capacity to adapt easily without losing our center – our values, talents and sense of purpose” (Ryan, 2009). How can we learn to be change masters?
How can we learn to recover quickly from change and be adaptable so that when changes are “forced upon us” (e.g. a job loss) or we choose to make a change, we view it as an opportunity rather than a challenge?
There are a number of studies and tools in the literature that provide us with a better understanding of change and how to navigate it successfully.
Maddi and Kobassa (2005) in their book Resilience at Work: How to Succeed No Matter What Life Throws You analyzed data from 400 studies on organizational change and also conducted their own study of AT & T executives during reorganization. They found that those who thrived the most while undergoing organizational change displayed 3Cs: i) Challenge; ii) Control; and iii) Commitment. Challenge – meaning they saw change as an opportunity to learn and grow and were optimistic about the future. Control – meaning they believed that they had choices and could influence their lives and events around them. Rather than worrying about things they could not control, they focused on identifying what they could control and took action on those things. Commitment – meaning they lived their lives passionately and stayed connected to people even when times got tough.
Tips for Overcoming Resistance to Change and Moving Forward
- Change your perspective – View change as an opportunity for self-growth and learning; an opportunity to explore new solutions and ways of doing things; to put on a new “pair of glasses” and see the world differently.
- Slow down and go inside yourself – create some time and space for yourself rather than keeping yourself busy. Set aside time in your schedule for you. Spend at least 30 minutes a day meditating, journaling, walking in nature.
- Get in touch with and acknowledge your feelings rather that pushing them down and not experiencing them; this is important to begin the process of healing from the inside out.
- Express those feelings through drawing, journaling, painting, dancing, etc.
- Express Gratitude regularly – Create a gratitude journal or write down at least 5 things you are grateful for each morning or evening. Research shows that people who express appreciation and gratitude on a regular basis are more optimistic and lead happier lives.
- Believe in Yourself – think of all the positive things you’ve done and accomplished in the past. Recall a particular time you felt really proud of what you’d done and reconnect with the positive feelings you felt at that time.
- Nurture and Take Care of Yourself – make sure you are eating well, getting enough sleep, exercising regularly; do something special for yourself such as going for a massage, having a bubble bath, buying a new outfit.
- Reach out for support – to a friend, coach or counsellor; surround yourself with people who believe in you and are not judgmental.
- Identify the things you can control when you’re going through change such as your thoughts, stories, and language. (from Ariane de Bonvoisin, The First 30 days)
The more you understand change and the more self-aware you are about how and why you respond to it, the more easily you can embrace and move through it. This has a huge positive impact on both your personal and professional life and your ability to positively influence others.
I invite you to share your thoughts and perspectives below on any part of this article. Feel free to share it with others.
In these challenging and uncertain times you may be feeling fearful, sad, angry and uncertain about your future, the future of your family and of the planet. You may be feeling there is little or nothing you can do to make the world a better place. I believe there is much each of us can do to be a force for good in the world, and it’s easier than you think. Learning about change, how you respond to it and how to navigate it, are important skills and tools to have in these challenging and tumultuous times.
Based on more than 25 years of consulting and coaching with people and organizations on 5 continents including living and working in conflict zones and managing uncertainty, I’ve developed the Art of Change framework. This framework is a proven model for embracing change whether it involves getting unstuck and moving forward when change is imposed on us, or whether we choose to initiate a change in our beliefs, attitudes and/or behaviors.
The Art of Change is based on the belief that embracing change is a creative process that opens us up to new possibilities. Think of the times in your life when change was thrust upon you; e.g. you were laid off; or when a boyfriend/girlfriend broke up with you. At that time, you may have felt caught off guard, angry, fearful and uncertain about the future. On reflection, these changes opened you up to a new and better relationship or a position more aligned with your values and talents.
Embracing change enables you to let go of patterns that are no longer serving you and to move forward with confidence, clarity, improved health, happiness, fulfillment, and inner peace.
The Art of Change framework is a 5-step process for embracing change that uses the metaphor of life as a dance. The steps are:
- Shine the Light –Explore how you respond to change and why
- Choose Your Dance –Identify the transition you want to work on and where you are on your transition journey
- Feel the Rhythm and Learn the Steps –Commit to embracing change in your body rather than resisting it, and begin doing the work associated with the phase of the transition journey you are in
- Practice, Practice, Practice! –Do the work that includes letting go, identifying lessons learned, envisioning the work or relationship of your dreams, taking action, and viewing change as a creative process that opens you up to new possibilities
- Consciously Share Your Dance with the World –Observe the positive changes in yourself, how others respond to you, and the positive impact you have on your family, friends, communities and workplaces.
Stay tuned for my next post where I will share more about the Art of Change framework and how you can embrace any change with less stress and greater understanding, and at the same time be a positive force for good in the world.
I welcome your thoughts and comments below and appreciate you sharing the article with others.
We are hard-wired to perceive change as a threat. Our primitive brain likes to keep us safe and has enabled humans to survive through time. When our amygdala (part of the brain) detects fear, it sends messages to our bodies to go into fight, flight or freeze mode. This explains why some of us become angry as a result of a change being imposed on us, fearful and wanting to run away from a situation rather than face it, or paralyzed and unable to think clearly or to move forward.
So, how can we reduce our fear of change given this biological reality? Norman Doidge in The Brain that Changes Itself provides powerful evidence that our thoughts and perceptions have the power to change the structure of our brains. In other words, if we create new beliefs around change and internalize them, we also create new neural pathways that enable us to respond positively to change rather than view it as a threat. Candace Pert in her landmark book Molecules of Emotion provides strong evidence that our thoughts and emotions affect our bodies.
Given these facts, how can we reduce our fear of change? Here are some proven strategies. We can:
- Understand how we respond to change and why – A simple exercise is to rate yourself on a scale from 1 to 10 related to how you respond to change: “1” being it scares me to death and “10” being I thrive on it. Another way is to spend some time reflecting on the barriers you have towards change and writing them down. A number of barriers to change have been identified in the literature including: becoming paralyzed by fear, procrastinating, blaming others, believing we can’t do something or are not worthy, always focusing on problems rather than solutions, getting stuck in old habits or denying change is happening, and not being willing to put in the effort required to make a change. Ask yourself, What barriers do I have to embracing change in general, and in this particular situation? E.g. changing jobs, leaving an unsatisfying relationship, accepting a new leader in my organization. Notice past patterns in your life.
- Become aware of our beliefs around change – Close your eyes and think about a recent change; one that you didn’t choose but was imposed on you. Examples include: lay-off, separation, relocation. Notice what words come up for you. Write them down. Begin with the stem “Change is”_______ and fill in the blank. Do a brain dump and write down all the words that come up to define what change means to you. Examples are “Change is scary”; “Change is to be avoided at all costs” …
- Try on some new beliefs about change; such as “Change opens me up to new possibilities”, “Embracing change is a creative process”, “Change provides me with an opportunity to learn and grow”. Post one of these positive beliefs where you will see it at least 3 times a day – on your computer, bathroom mirror…and say this belief aloud each time you see it. Do this for 21 to 30 days and observe what you notice.
- Become aware of how we perceive change and replace our negative feelings and emotions with positive and empowering ones. Ariane de Bonvoisin in “The First 30 Days – Your Guide to Making Any Change Easier” identifies six “change demons” and their antidotes. The six change demons are: fear, doubt, blame, guilt, shame and impatience. She explains that the change demons “help us navigate through change by alerting us if we are off course and encouraging us to choose a different emotion to help us get where we want to go.” Being aware of which emotion you are feeling and replacing each one with positive and empowering emotions and antidotes are key to learning from and navigating change and dealing with uncertainty. The six change demons and their antidotes are:
||surrender (to not knowing)
||honesty (taking responsibility for our role in situations)
||honor (your dark or shadow side)
- Introduce small changes into your daily routine. Take a different route to work. Eat something different for breakfast. Walk or cycle to work instead of driving. Do this for a month and observe what you notice. Change is like a muscle. The more change you choose in your life, the more flexible you tend to become.
What change demons are your facing? How do you typically respond to change? What strategies will you begin integrating into your life to reduce your fear of change?
I welcome your comments below. Feel free to share this post with others.
What happens when we don’t embrace change?
We keep repeating the same patterns in our lives and remain unsatisfied and unhappy. For example, the person who regularly changes jobs to get ahead and make more money without really understanding what they’re passionate about and not choosing positions aligned with their passions; OR the man or woman who marries 3 or 4 times, attracting similar partners, working through the same issues again and again, and remaining unhappy because they haven’t taken the time between relationships to find who they are and what they truly want.
We expend a lot of energy resisting change. I recall a time a number of years ago when I was working with an international consulting group managing a large project in a developing country. There were ongoing challenges with the funding for the project and I was asked to make budget cuts that I felt were beginning to affect the technical aspects. In addition, although I’ve lived and worked in a number of unstable countries, every time I was in that country it felt like a “powder keg waiting to blow up”. I voiced my concerns to the company President. After a few months of restless nights with my head saying I should stay with the project and my body saying I should resign, I finally resigned. It felt like a load had been lifted off my shoulders. Initially I thought “what have I done!”, but soon after when I declared I was returning to domestic consulting , I met a woman who was going into retirement who introduced me to one of her clients at lunch. The next morning I received an email from the head of that organization saying she had 4 projects she thought I would be a good fit for, and which ones would I like to work on!
We feel constantly under stress as our bodies stay in flight, flight or freeze mode trying to keep us safe. We may feel afraid, angry, confused and uncertain in life and at work. Professionally this may look like the inability to focus, make decisions and result in reduced productivity and lack of fulfillment in work and life. Over time this constant stress often negatively impacts our health.
The bottom line is if we don’t learn how to embrace change, over time it negatively impacts both our personal and professional lives.
So how and where do we begin?
Understand how you respond to change. A quick exercise is to rate yourself on a scale from 1 to 10 related to how you typically respond to change; 1 being it scares me to death and 10 being I thrive on it. Another activity is to spend some quiet time answering the question: Why do I fear this change so much and notice what comes up. Journalling your answers is also helpful in understanding and dealing with your emotions.
Realize that you’re not alone. All of us are hard-wired to fear change and to want to stay safe. Knowing that can be of some comfort.
Reach out for support. Share with someone or several people you trust how you’re feeling and why. A strong body of research shows that social support, which includes emotional connection with “… a trusted group or valued individual, has been shown to reduce the psychological and physiological consequences of stress, and may enhance immune function. Social networks, whether formal (such as a church or social club) or informal (meeting with friends) provide a sense of belonging, security, and community.”
Spend regular time in nature. The Japanese have done longitudinal studies which show that spending time in forests reduces our blood pressure, reduces our heart rate and increases the number of natural killer cells our body produces (i.e. strengthens our immune system).
Practice mindfulness walking meditations at least 3 times a week for 15 to 30 minutes. A tool from Easter psychology that I have found extremely useful for getting “out of my head” and into my body is Mindfulness Walking Meditation. Mindfulness practices help us stay present and focus on feeling sensations and emotions in our bodies. When we’re faced with change, it’s important to acknowledge and let the feelings flow through us, rather than resisting them.
When practicing mindfulness walking meditation we feel the ground beneath our feet, the breeze against our face, the cool air going from our nostrils down into our lungs. We smell the salty sea air or the aroma of lavender and observe the scenery in front of us. We try to stay out of our minds and experience all our senses. Rather than spending a walk in nature constantly thinking and processing all the things we have to do, or mulling over things that have recently happened, instead we stay present and experience nature and all of its beautiful sights, smells, sounds and sensations.
Commit to learning more about how to embrace change. A good place to start is to take the complimentary Transition Journey Quiz – http://pamela-thompson.com/about/ – to learn more about life transitions, where you are on your transition journey and receive additional tips on how to successfully navigate change.
I’d love to hear you from you, your responses to this post, and your experience with the Transition Journey Quiz. Feel free to comment below and to share this post with others.
What if we all viewed change as a creative process that opened us up to new possibilities? Do you think our relationships, workplaces, communities and the world would be different?
Let’s explore this perspective a bit further. Imagine if you were laid off. Instead of feeling angry, anxious and unsure of what to do next, what if you viewed the change as an opportunity to do something new, perhaps launch a new business you’d been thinking about for a few a few years, but had been afraid to start?
What if after a partner left you, you took the time to reflect on the relationship; what worked well and what didn’t? And, you took the time to write down all the lessons learned from the relationship as well as the qualities you wanted in a significant other and in a relationship? For example: someone who makes me laugh, who is a great communicator, someone who is physically active, and who loves being in nature? I did this a number of years ago and within 5 months of doing so my life partner and soul mate showed up who had all of the qualities I had written on my list!
Imagine if you were working in an organization that had a change in leadership, and instead of feeling uncertain and fearful, you viewed the change as an opportunity to learn and grow.
I invite you to “try on” this new perspective of viewing change over the next week and notice what you observe. It could be something as small as changing the way you usually respond to a person or situation. I welcome your comments and experiences below. Feel free to share this post with others who you think might benefit.