We know that we are constantly changing, and so is life around us. Many changes are not so apparent as those at the shoreline of the sea. Still we are always in the middle of transition of one kind or another.
At various points in life, those transitions are apparent, even blocking our view of anything else.
Sometimes we feel we’re facing a change that looms ahead like a great chasm we must leap; we’re not even sure we’ll make it to the other side.
The transition is often from the known to the unknown. Actively employed to retired. Married to divorced. Single to married. High school to college. Your home for 40 years to a far-away condo.
Vice president to president. Supervisor to manager. Employed to jobless. Childless to parenthood. Running the office in Des Moines to running one in Amsterdam. I’m sure you can add to this list from your own experience.
In guiding clients through these transitions and others, I benefit from a childhood characterized by frequent moves. My Dad’s career necessitated the moves. Both of my parents were attentive to the effects of these disruptions on the lives of their four kids. Still, it seemed like “OK we’re happy here. Let’s move!” The upside is that I became accustomed to adapting to change.
Part of navigating change involves sorting out the losses and gains. (Again, the gains may seem far away and uncertain.) There are always losses. I put them in three categories: First, the ones that are deep and must be grieved. Secondly, the ones that must be replaced in some form as they are vital to our happiness. Then, thirdly in each transition we lose some elements that we can toss aside, saying, “Good riddance to you!” as if we’re shedding dead skin cells. We must recognize and respect each loss, whatever it is – then determine how to sort it out and what we need to do about it.
One tool to use in this process is an honest look at your attitude toward change. It will be revealed in five areas: how you think, feel, talk, and act about the transition. The fifth area is your belief system about change itself. Your beliefs will be the deepest and most powerful driver of the other four behaviors.
If your thoughts about the transition are dark and negative, you will fight the change. Listen to your self-talk; listen for thoughts along the lines of “I can’t do this.” “I’ve never been good at change.”
“Why is this change being forced on me?” “Now what?”
Then of course, the task is to take control of that line of thinking and replace it with true, positive thoughts about the change. It may be difficult to come up with those, but there are always some bright spots in any transition. If negative thinking predominates, you will need to practice this quite a bit in order to shake out the habitual scary thoughts.
Then pay attention to what you are saying. We’re influenced by what we say out loud – and so are others in the vicinity. “I’m unemployed” is a downer, and the truth is you may be “busy looking for a new role in my industry,” something like that. Repeatedly talking in the vein of “My wife dumped me” won’t smooth your way through the transition. This negative language is begging to be reframed.
What you think and what you say about the transition will greatly shape how you feel about it.
You might look at how they match up and determine how you want to feel; at least you can set a goal of arriving at more positive and energetic feelings as you move through the change.
Then look at what you are doing. Are you stuck in your favorite armchair, refusing to take any steps toward the results you want out of the transition? Are you drowning your bad thoughts about it?
Are you limiting interactions to people who will absorb all the whining you can muster? There are times when all of these may be the best we can do. Still, we must look at how long we want to be stuck in these actions.
Examining your thoughts, talk, feelings and actions will lead you to a pretty clear picture of your belief system about change. Your beliefs will be right in line with the other four – yet again, the most powerful of all.
The 25 times my family moved, from the time of my birth until I left home for undergraduate school, helped me to develop healthy beliefs about change. It is never too late to develop an entirely new approach to the transitions we face; to lean into change rather than pushing against it. That is my wish for you.