Change – a source of stress or opportunity?
That is an easy question to answer: For the majority of people, change is first and foremost a source of stress. However, change is a constant feature of our lives today. We must therefore learn to deal with it. For this reason, I am dedicating a trilogy of blogs to this topic – the first of which focuses on the psychology of change. My next blog will look at the contribution that managers make in change management processes. I will then publish an interview with a change specialist at the start of October.
“When the wind of change blows, some people build walls, others build windmills,“ according to an old Chinese proverb. In reality, most people take the first course of action – and no wonder, since change is about letting go of the old and familiar and embracing the unknown. It is about going outside your comfort zone – something that we creatures of habit are averse to! Better the misfortune you already know than the good fortune you don’t, in other words.
When changes are first announced, we can’t yet determine the potential risks and inconvenience that they will bring. This means that we are no longer in control – which sets our alarm bells ringing. We believe our survival is threatened, as the newsletter www.zeitzuleben.de clearly explains: “The first reaction to something new is anchored in the brainstem – the primitive, instinct-controlled part of our brain that our ancestors already had hundreds of thousands of years ago. When the initial shock occurs, neither your rationality nor your intellect will help you.” And this testing process takes place at lightning speed and largely unconsciously, as the German psychologist and change management advisor Wilfried Berner (interview partner for the blog I will publish on October 1) explains.
From shock to emotional acceptance
The brainstem cries out: Fear!!! Fear of failing, of not being able to keep up with changing demands, of being disappointed or rejected, of losing one’s reputation or even of being dismissed. You don’t know the exact result of the change but you have to leave the security of the status quo behind you. That means: for a certain time you are in a state of limbo. The first reaction to a change not initiated by you is therefore basically shock and confusion. Soon afterwards, you go into resistance mode and try to stop the change from occurring – objecting that it is not even necessary! And since refusal is rarely a successful course of action, this is inevitably followed by a crisis and the valley of tears.
Once you have passed through this stage, your common sense returns and you try to explore in a purely rational manner which different options exist – albeit still without fully embracing the situation. It is only once you have emotionally accepted the situation that can you begin to try out new things and thus realize that everything is not as bad as feared – and that change is also a source of opportunity. This part of change processes is almost always the same and takes time – meaning that it cannot be shortened. Equally, the order of the sub-processes cannot be altered! Your own past experience of change influences how long this process takes and how intensive it is. Ask yourself: Have I already experienced positive change processes, or am I traumatized by what has already happened to me – meaning that do I not want to have the same bad experience again?
What is the best way for me to deal with change?
Self-worth also has an influence on how quickly and well I cope with change. The more confident I am, the less I am afraid of change – because I have the confidence to master it. That is why I am beginning my list of tips with precisely this topic:
- Talk to your inner critic, who may be saying: “You can’t do that anyway”. Work on your self-esteem, irrespective of the changes that lie ahead. Try writing down (and thus appreciating) what you have already achieved in your life. Next, write down every evening what you have done well that day (even if this is difficult at the beginning) and repeat this exercise over a few weeks.
- We often wait too long until changes are inevitable. We then have the impression that we have no other choice. Don’t delay changes – approach them proactively. This allows you to solve problems before they get worse (they tend to grow over time). And you have more options in this early phase and can thus partly influence the process yourself.
- Take small steps at an early stage. They are easier to manage than the larger changes that will be necessary later.
- There are always precursors to change. Stay alert and act.
- Think about the areas where you still have some catching up to do and that will become more important in your company in the future, and proactively take action to address them.
- Be aware that change is exhausting and requires a lot of strength – so it is no small matter. Don’t allow yourself to be caught out; look out for potential obstacles ahead so that you are better able to deal with them.
- The changes you choose to make are easier to manage than those imposed on you. However, voluntary changes can also be exhausting. They require courage, perseverance, discipline and self-motivation. I experienced this myself when I started my own business five years ago and didn’t earn a cent in the first six months. And now my business is thriving!
- Try to remain flexible and don’t limit yourself to one path or one solution right at the start. This way, you will have better chances of success.
- Think about what you will lose as a result of the changes and appreciate what you have done so far and gain closure on it in a positive sense. This will make the transition easier.
- Ask yourself what is the worst thing that could happen as a result of the change (worst-case scenario). It is usually much less dramatic than you anticipated at first.
- Ask yourself what life could look six months or a year from now, once the change has happened.
- Think about what difficult situations or crises you have successfully overcome in the past and how. What was helpful back then? Apply these findings to the new situation you are in.
Being proactive and wanting to influence the situation yourself is the ideal way to approach change. Otherwise – harsh as this sounds – you will be changed because changes are inevitable. They are part of our working world, as Janina Kugel, Chief Human Resources Officer at Siemens, emphasizes: “The markets and technologies are changing too fast to always continue with the same approaches”.
Changes are also absolutely vital for your own personal development – and for the realization of your goals. After all, those individuals who don’t change simply stand still (or even take a step backwards). As the 19th century English naturalist Charles Darwin said: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”
© Claudia Kraaz