"'Tis impossible to be sure of anything but Death and Taxes" - from The Cobbler of Preston by Christopher Bullock (1716)
I believe it's fair to say that that we can add a couple of other items to that; change, and arguably our response to change. We've been dealing with change throughout time so this shouldn't be news to us at all, however we do know that change these days, even when measured in technological advancements, is exponential. What that means for us is that we are going through, and responding to change more often and in some respects more deeply than ever before.
We only need to look at the world stage right now. Who would have thought that a dubiously successful realestate 'moghul' and reality TV host could ascend to become 'leader of the free world'. And is it really possible that the majority of people in Britain voted to 'Brexit' Europe? This air of dissatisfaction and desire for change is beginning to permeate its way to other countries, including Australia, bringing with it a great deal of uncertainty.
What about your own life? When I look at mine, I see change as a constant (and often a constant struggle, as you'll see). In less than two minutes, I wrote down: schools, homes, countries, friends, jobs, roles, companies, careers, relationships, health, mental health, lifestyle, salary, just to name a few.
Is change a good thing or a bad thing? Electing to embrace change see's us learn new things and grow, which is a positive for most people. The down side is 'change-fatigue', when change happens so often that we just can't handle it anymore. The case for not changing is that we stay comfortable, we reduce the risk of failing and that simply means we stagnate, become less vital, which may translate to a life without meaning.
So to our response. A useful model to understand many peoples' response to change is the Kubler-Ross Five Stage Model, developed by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, and published in her book, On Death and Dying, in 1969. The model seems to hold true for most personal and organisational change, though it is accepted that the reactions she describes are generalised. The five stages defined by Kubler-Ross over time are:
Each reaction can be seen to change our level of resourcefulness, which impacts our behaviours and therefore the results that we get. In order to get through change, we have two levers we can pull. We can look to reduce the time over which the reactions occur, pushing through the change curve more quickly. And we can look to reduce the depth of the curve - in other words, look for ways that limit the impacts of our reactions, or indeed choose to respond rather than react.
Sounds great in theory, however in my personal experience, it's just not that easy! As the people closest to me know, I don't handle change real well - at all! In terms of the Kubler-Ross curve, I'm pretty damn good at hitting anger very quickly and deeply. Anger is a highly unresourceful state for me and so my behaviours become 'brattish', my results drop, I get angry, I get more brattish, my results drop further and hey presto, I've hit depression (which sits on top of the clinical variety that walks around with me normally). So I cycle around the anger and depression for quite a while before acceptance slowly kicks in. The end result - exhaustion, arguments, unhappy family and friends, loss of credibility and trust, disillusioned teams etc. Not ideal when you're a leader!
Wouldn't it be great if we could manage our way through change so that we get a better outcome, more quickly, with less stress? In dealing with my own reactions recently, I turned to modelling the behaviours of a friend who demonstrates incredible resilience when under the pressure of change. Here's what I've discovered.
When going though massive change, seek professional help. This applies particularly, but not only, to males. Whilst we'd all love to be super heroes, we're not, and professional help will get you through the change curve more quickly, and to reduce the depth of your reactions.
Understand the curve and accept where you are in it. It is ok to feel anger and even depression - we cannot be happy all the time. Accept the emotion and consciously choose to change your behaviours so that you don't spiral down, limiting the depth of the response.
Don't wallow in the valley of excuses - you know what I'm talking about. That's where you make excuses for all the reasons you can't move yourself forward. If you do feel the need to join a 'pity party' where you and few others get together to collectively bargain, share anger and do group depression, go for it. AND limit yourselves to a period of time, beyond which you consciously decide to move forward. Oh, and don't do this in public unless you want the pity party to turn into an out-of-control rave advertised to all on Facebook. Not cool.
Move yourself into acceptance more quickly by reframing the situation. Ask yourself early on in the change process, "what could be good about this?" and keep asking yourself that question. Other questions to ask could include the classic Cartesian Questions to get yourself aligned:
And watch your head spin for a bit!
Look after yourself and change your physiology. In terms of looking after yourself, do the right thing by your body - eat properly and sleep well. When it comes to physiology, we know that every emotion has an associated physiological state. So instead of taking on the physiology of anger or depression, move your body into something different. Go for a run, walk, lift yourself up, push out your chest and just for good measure, crack a smile. Join in the office banter, laugh...
After all, as a wise friend told me recently: "Everything will be ok in the end. If it's not ok, it's not the end." (This quote is often attributed to the late John Lennon.)
There is a common theme amongst those people who consistently achieve their goals, fulfil their potential, and live their dreams. And that is, not only do they get comfortable with the idea of change, but they thrive on it.
Push yourself out of your comfort zone. Get comfortable with discomfort in order to succeed.