Coping with change
“I don’t cope with change very well” is something that many, many people say, both within coaching sessions and in everyday life. It is often said in a fixed, almost inevitable way, that implies that the person expects there to be difficulties associated with change and has no strategies to deal with this.
There is no doubt that some change can be really, really difficult, and may be incredibly hard to deal with. But it is also true that change is part of the human condition, and if we look carefully, even those who say that they don’t cope with it, actually do have some good strategies. Let’s explore this.
Change is inevitable
It’s a funny thing, life, isn’t it?! We seem to be looking for two things that are the opposite of each other:
- Stability: getting a qualification, a career, a relationship, having a family, buying a house etc. these all represent things that, once established in our lives tend to stay in them.
- Change: getting a promotion, moving to a bigger house, holidays and travel, undertaking new learning and so on, these all represent areas of our lives that we are looking to change, improve or modify.
And the natural rhythm of life means that change is part of it. We age, our circumstances change, and we adapt. It has always been like that.
So, when people say that they don’t cope with change very well, there is a hidden half to that sentence. It is probably “I don’t cope with change very well (when I haven’t chosen the change)”. Getting divorced, being made redundant, having a new boss are all big changes that we haven’t chosen, that may have traumatic consequences.
And changes like having new neighbours, having a change in our government and lifestyle changes because of technology, may also have an impact on us.
Relationship to certainty
At the moment, in spring 2020 we are living in such challenging times, that many are comparing to wartime or times of extreme hardship. If we aren’t coping well with the time, it isn’t surprising. But it’s not about change. It’s about uncertainty.
These times are provoking such high levels of uncertainty in so many areas, that it’s not surprising that cravers of stability feel unsettled. Whether it relates to health, finances, or our children’s education, we are all being asked to do things in new, slightly strange ways, and things feel uncertain.
One thing we can do, in this time and indeed in any time, is to ask ourselves what our relationship with uncertainty is. Do we embrace it, tolerate it, or fear it? Understanding this will help us greatly to be able to adjust to tough times.
Noticing our feelings
What are you noticing about yourself at the moment, in these difficult times?
- Are the emotions you are feeling consistent with the circumstances that you are in, or are they disproportionate?
- Do you find yourself feeling consistently the same way, or is there a big fluctuation in how you are feeling?
- Are any negative emotions impacting on those around you?
If you notice that the answers to these questions show that you are finding these times to be hard, don’t be surprised. It’s probably more about the situation than about you! Noticing where and how we are wobbling is a helpful thing to do, and this awareness is the beginning of making changes that we have some control of.
Responding to our needs
One of my favourite books is called The Power of the Powerless. It was written by Vaclav Havel, poet, protester and the first President of post-communist Czechoslovakia. He wrote it when in prison, and it is a long essay about not being defeated. I always found it poignant that he wrote it at a time when his own power and freedom were limited.
So, what are your needs in this situation? Do you need a change in circumstances, i.e. a new job, an uplift in your finances, a contract with more certainty? Do you simply need to be heard?
There are a range of options that we can take in any circumstances, which include:
- Push on regardless. The stoic’s response, to put your head down, crack on and ignore any disruption. Works for some, not for all!
- Reflect on it. Write a diary, take walks and think things through. Notice the thoughts that come up and let them guide you to your next steps.
- Talk it out. Have someone you trust – a friend, a partner, a coach – to listen to you, ask you good questions, and help you make sense of the jumbled thoughts you may be having.
- Respond to your instincts. You may have half-formed thoughts about what is the best thing to do – let these develop and act.
There is plenty being written with very specific strategies for getting through tough times, from mindfulness to mastering your mind, from detailed planning to self-nurture. Actually, we don’t need other people telling us what to do, even in these difficult times. We are resourceful enough, self-aware enough and focussed enough to work on ourselves and come up with our own steps.
This is a tough time to be living in, so give yourself permission to feel whatever feelings are coming up, and work gently on yourselves to help things improve, even if just a little.