Why we are bad at dealing with change — and 5 ways you can improve
- Change affects every aspect of our lives.
- But many of us probably aren't as well equipped to deal with changes as we think.
- Even positive changes can stimulate our stress response.
- So you may be subconsciously stressing even if you feel relatively ok.
- Here are 5 tips for helping you through the changes in your life.
Whatever happens in your life, you can be sure of this: things are going to change.
As life goes on, you are faced with almost infinite changes. Some of them are small, such as a trying a new shampoo, and some are large, like getting a new job or moving house. Some changes are pleasant, but some are painful, like breaking up with a partner, or losing a relative.
Christopher Harvey, senior manager of change methodology within global projects & change at PwC and founder of the professional coaching service Harvey Sinclair, told Business Insider people are pretty badly equipped to deal with change.
"We all know change happens so often now, and frequently, but we don't differentiate it from anything else that happens in our lives," he said. "So on the whole it becomes like diluting something that tastes bad with a load of water so it doesn't taste bad anymore."
Essentially, humans suck at dealing with change, he said. Even if the change seems like a positive one, your reaction subconsciously plays on your mind.
"Things like when you get a promotion, or someone wins the lottery, we think that's the best thing that could happen to you ever, right?" Harvey said.
"Instantly you feel elated and positive, but... Your spectrum of your thought process has now been stretched beyond your experience previously - and therefore you're more volatile, and more likely to experience massive mood swings."
People don't tend to think about the impacts of change, because they think they're better at dealing with it than they actually are, Harvey said. And they're also not held to account over it.
"This generation, whatever you want to call us, we accept that being a bit depressed is normal," he said. "It's just how it is, that we are all a bit sad, a bit unhappy and dissatisfied... We've lost sight of that benchmark of what being optimal actually looks like. And a lot of people do just settle in general."
If we accept big changes without really dealing with them, things can fall apart. This goes for relationships, careers, and anything else, Harvey said, but "by the point you realise 'oh God I'm actually really bad at dealing with change', you've probably failed so badly it's a lot harder to recover from."
Change elicits an ingrained stress response from us. It's not something you can fight, but it is something you can work with. Harvey laid out 5 steps to help you through the changes in your life.
1. Identify what you can and cannot control
Change happens on both the micro and the macro scale. Some things you're just not going to be able to control, like, for example, an economic crash.
"You'll actually feel better just knowing whether it is something you can control or not because you've actually consciously thought about it," said Harvey. "Think 'what can I actually take responsibility for and do something about?' And then maybe you can do something about it."
2. Make time to take care of yourself
"Acknowledge that a lot of change is going to have a negative impact, so consciously make time for - I'd call it self love," said Harvey. "Take time to actually appreciate your self."
If you've relocated to a new country or town, you might find you have periods where you feel down. But instead of burying it and pushing it down, spend time doing things you enjoy.
"Think to yourself 'right, I know this is going to be an upsetting thing that's going to hit me in a couple of days, but I'm going to make sure I arrange to go see a movie tomorrow night and I'm going to go to this event to meet some new people'," Harvey said. That way, you're not dwelling on the bad feelings, but you're giving yourself time to adjust by doing positive things.
3. Work out your thought pattern
Harvey said it's helpful to write down your thought pattern from start to finish, starting from when the change happened, and finishing with the end result and how it made you feel.
"There's always one part of that pattern that's not right," he said. "It's either because you're catastrophising or there's an assumption somewhere in there... Make sure every time that thought comes into your head, remind yourself of the one bit that was broken in the chain, and replace it with a positive version of that thought."
So if you're catastrophising, and thinking you're going to get sacked because you're late for work, replace it with "it's not my fault".
"Over time, it just becomes embedded in your way of thinking," said Harvey. "Actually think why you're reacting the way you are to change, and how 9 times out of 10 the reaction probably isn't a rational one."
4. Be in the moment
You can't control what happened in the past, and most of the time you don't have control of what will happen in the future. But what you can control is how you feel right now, Harvey said, and how you react.
"You've got to consider how your actions today will have an impact on how you feel in the future," he said. "Be in the present, but also focus on long term happiness over short term indulgence, because otherwise you will be unhappy in the future when you realise you have to do things you've been putting off."
5. Identify what's important to you
Finally, you should identify what means the most to you. People don't spend long enough getting to know themselves and what's important to them, Harvey said, and you'll do better at dealing with change if you work it out.
"If you know that being in an environment with a lot of new people is hard for you, there are ways of addressing that," he said. "Normally, there is a component of change that is upsetting to you. And once you identify that, and break down the changes, I think then you'll be in a much better situation."
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