Today’s world is changing at an ever-increasing rate. If you look at the changes which have occurred over the last 100 years, you will find that the majority of the high-impact changes such as landing on the moon, space exploration, microwave technology and computers have all happened within the last 50 years! Change has become a daily occurrence – and if you have a teenage daughter, it can be measured in nanoseconds!
With all of the change happening around us – in the world, in our town, in our workplace and in our lives – it is easy to get frustrated, depressed, panicked – in general, a little crazy. So how do we manage those emotions? How do we make sense of what is going on? And how do we keep those around us from wanting to have us committed to the local insane asylum? As simple as it sounds, sometimes it’s just good to know what to expect so you can understand those feelings and be able to cope with them.
Change sets off a roller coaster of emotions. There is a descent, followed by a steep climb, sometimes followed by a series of descents and steep climbs, until you pull into the station at the end of the journey. A journey – that is what change really is – for some a journey of self-enlightenment and for others a scary ride in the dark. This roller coaster can be set into motion by any kind of change – for some individuals it can be a change as simple as being asked to move their desk across the aisle – or the fact that the style of tennis shoes a person has worn for the last 20 years is no longer available. Change is a very personal phenomenon. Every person has a different level of tolerance to change. Some people are completely change adverse – these are the individuals who never change their patterns and get panicky if “their” road to work is closed for construction. Other individuals embrace change and actually go out and seek change – these are the people who never take the same route twice to a destination because they want to see what is out there. Most people are somewhere in between the two extremes. However, no matter what tolerance people have for change, everyone goes through the same emotions when faced with a change – just at different speeds – and if we know where we are on the ride, then we are no longer in the dark and the ride is a little less scary.
There are basically six stages to the emotional changes a person experiences during a change – Knowing but Dreading, Descent Into the Valley of Death, Starting the Ascent from the Valley, Building Up Steam, I Can See the Station and The Arrival. It isn’t always a short journey and sometimes you will visit the Valley of Death more than once and have to start that Ascent a couple of times – but the emotions are the same no matter how many times you make the circuit.
Knowing But Dreading. This is the start of the entire process. Something is happening. No one knows what. No one is sharing any information. There is a sense of panic and dread. People are overwhelmed because they always think of the worst case scenario and know they just won’t be able to handle it! How to get through this stage? Communication – and lots of it! There is never enough communication at this stage. This is not a time to worry about “over-share” syndrome. Don’t spread rumors and partial facts. Ask questions and get the information to everyone.
Descent into the Valley of Death. For some change-adverse individuals this truly is the Valley of Death. Change can lead to depression, sleep disorders, and irritability. For some individuals these emotions come into play for very simple changes. This is the stage where people long for the “old ways” of doing things and it is hard for some individuals to see that the end of the journey will bring better ways. For some individuals this is barely a pothole and for others this is the Grand Canyon. The Grand Canyon people are the ones who need the help the most. These are the individuals who will need the most coaching and empathy during the change process. Listening to them is very important. Explaining how things will get better and that everything will be fine is crucial. If you are one of these individuals, you will need the help of your friends and colleagues who are willing to let you talk, to rant and to rave. Just know that this does not last forever.
Starting the Ascent. This is where people finally come to the conclusion that the change is going to happen and it is more about their attitude towards the change, than the change itself. It will start out with “Okay, I have to do this.” Then, it will be “Okay, I can do this.” – followed by “Okay, I will do this.” This is the story of the Little Engine – I think I can, I think I can, I think I can. This is the stage where baby steps are very important. The ascent may be tough, so take it in increments. Don’t try to be Superman and make it in one giant leap! If you do it in small parts, you will be finished more quickly – because you won’t get burned out by the sheer size of the project. Build in small rewards along the way – such as if I finish this part of the project before noon today, I will have dessert at lunch (I always think in terms of food for rewards!). Breaking the ascent into small victories will make the climb easier.
Building Up Steam. That says it all – once things get moving, it will easier to keep moving. You start seeing the end of the journey up ahead. Some of the benefits of the change are starting to become apparent. You actually begin to enjoy the journey. Take a moment at this point in the journey to reach out and help those individuals who are still in the Valley of Death. They need the encouragement. They need to know that things are going to work out. This is where coaches and mentors are formed and are helpful to those who are still struggling with the change.
The End is Near. As the end nears, some individuals begin to get anxious and a little panicky. They wonder if they did everything right – is this the first of many changes – what is expected of me when this is over? Again – communication is the key. Make sure people know that their efforts are appreciated. Tell them what to expect and let them know that if they can do it once, they will be able to do it again.
The Arrival. Some people breathe a sigh of relief, others are still energized and ready for more! The ones who are energized should again be called upon to help those still on the journey. In addition, be aware that not everyone arrives at the same time. Even if the project is done, for those individuals still on the path, you may need to coax them to continue the journey. If you let individuals just stop in the Valley of Death or take a break along the Ascent, these individuals could actually pull others back with them. These are the people who say “Well, everyone else may have changed, but no one will notice if I just keep doing this the same old way.” You need to make sure that all individuals impacted by the change are brought to the station, or else the whole train could be dragged back to the beginning.
So – basically, change is a journey which has many parts to it. How you approach each section of the journey will determine how you weather the trip. Will you be stressed or will this be an enjoyable ride. Change is never easy – but one way to help it along the way is to practice. Change some little things in your life in order to become less change-adverse. Listen to a different radio station occasionally. Let someone else choose where you will have dinner. Try new dishes on the menu. Take a different route to work. All of these “little” changes will help you see that change is really about experiencing new and different things.
Will Change be easy? No. Will it make you queasy? Possibly. Is change going to occur even if you don’t want it to happen? Absolutely! So if it is going to happen anyway – try to enjoy the ride! Remember to call on your friends and colleagues to help you through the change. Also – breathe, relax and laugh – stress is not a good thing. It can make the journey so much more difficult – and if you are going to have to take that change journey – you might as well enjoy as much of it as possible.