Change is unavoidable – whether it’s in our professional or personal lives. It can be hard and can seem even harder when we haven’t asked for it, we don’t want it, and feel like we have limited control.
Fortunately, there are ways to get better at change, and that’s our focus in today’s episode as I share my 10 top tips to help you not only survive change, but thrive through the process.
Tune in to discover how to navigate through uncertainty and embrace change with greater confidence and resilience.
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How to thrive through change: 10 top tips
The Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, “change is the only constant in life”. There’s probably never been a time when this has been more true, but that doesn’t make the process of change any easier. Change can be hard. And not only that, it can seem even harder when we didn’t ask for it, we don’t want it, and we feel that we have limited control. Two big questions frequently come up in my coaching sessions: how do I manage change as an individual and how do I manage change in my organisation? I wonder if you’ve ever asked these questions. How have you managed change in the past and how do you respond during times of change?
I have 10 practical top tips that will help you to not only survive change but thrive through the process. The first two are powerful mindset shifts that will help lay the foundation for the following eight top tips.
1. Accept the change
For a while, I held a common misconception surrounding the idea of ‘acceptance’. Years ago, as part of my spiritual practice, I didn’t understand what it meant; I thought that acceptance meant resignation or giving in to something that I didn’t want, allowing horrible things to happen to me, and that I was perhaps being a walkover.
Instead, think of acceptance using the metaphor of the clouds in the sky. If you’re looking up at the clouds whilst sitting on the grass on a summer’s day, there’s no resistance to that moment-to-moment experience. You simply watch the clouds drift by. You wouldn’t watch the clouds and be upset at the speed they are moving, or that they’re not making particular shapes that you want. You simply accept that they are what they are; they are a part of life that you can not control.
We may want, desire, or crave something, or there might be something we don’t want, but this causes more pain compared to just accepting in a particular moment that something is just how it is. If we accept what is in the moment and let it go we actually have more power. Accepting that everything is impermanent, whether that’s joy, happiness, sadness, or our possessions, and by telling ourselves it is what it is, we can give ourselves the power to look forward and make a change.
There are a couple of things I’ve come to realise about acceptance that you also may not have considered. The first is that acceptance does not mean that we like something, want something, choose something, or support something. If we resist or reject the change we create more suffering for ourselves. This doesn’t mean that you’ve chosen it or that you are agreeing with the change, it just means that you are allowing it to be there in that moment when you can’t change it. Instead, you are making space for it, permitting yourself to be as you are, to feel what you feel, or to have experienced what you have experienced. The pain might still be there, but some of the sufferings of resistance might be alleviated.
Secondly, acceptance does not mean that you’re accepting it’s going to be this way forever and that you can’t work on changing things. Practising acceptance doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to make a change. In fact, the more that you accept what is wholeheartedly, the more change can happen naturally. By accepting and recognising impermanence, you can let go of resistance and instead use that emotional and physical energy to think forward and change.
Acceptance is being open to the feelings that we are having in the moment-to-moment experience and being willing to just feel it. If we can learn to simply be with our experiences, rather than trying to control them (which is the opposite of acceptance) we’re going to be much better off. Any time we try to manipulate the inner experience we have – whether it’s anger, happiness, fear, jealousy, anxiety, joy – we’re doing the opposite of accepting it. We need to accept and know where we are to start with in order to figure out how to get to where we want to be. Acceptance is the first step to self-care and the first step of any radical change that we want to make. By accepting, we are choosing to respond (rather than react) and in doing so it gives us the freedom to choose a response in a given situation.
2. Change is not the enemy, fear is
Any change, however big or small, brings many emotions and with change also comes loss, even if we want a change. We need to allow ourselves to recognise and grieve for what we’re losing as an important part of the change process.
One of the biggest challenges during change is uncertainty and with this the core emotion of fear. When we feel uncertainty our stress response is triggered and our body releases chemicals which can cause physical symptoms over time and reduce our capacity to think. As our brains are wired for negativity, if we don’t know what’s going to happen next, then we automatically think of all the bad things that might happen. A few years ago there was a meme on social media showing FEAR standing for False Evidence Appearing Real. It actually is! If we know about fear, name it, and understand where it’s coming from then we can use several different strategies to work through the fear.
3. Focus on the solution, not the problem
It’s fine to reflect and explore the problem, but if you sit on the problem for too long it will drain you over time and can spark further, more difficult emotions. As mentioned earlier, this reduces our capacity to think, be creative and have an open mind; the last thing we need to happen when experiencing change. Instead, think about the outcome you want and focus on what you’re going to do at the present time to move forward.
4. Figure out what you are free to choose right now
I love this quote from the Dalai Lama: “if you can do something about it, don’t worry. If you can’t do something about it, don’t worry”. So, what is in your control right now? In practical terms, make a list of all the things that you are free to choose and what you can take control of. Focus your attention on the things you can change, whilst accepting the things you can’t control.
5. Stop ‘yes butting’
As our capacity to think clearly, creatively, and logically is reduced we will start to think of all the reasons why something won’t work or perhaps why it hasn’t worked before. Heraclitus said, “no man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river, and he’s not the same man”. So, be open-minded about what you’ve tried before and try new things too. When you think of ideas, before thinking something won’t work, look at how it might! In the words of MJ Ryan and her brilliant book on change, “stop yes butting”. Don’t say “yes, but that won’t work…” instead, say “yes and…” to keep open-minded and to consider more options.
6. Go micro
When we become overwhelmed any kind of step forwards can seem insurmountable and we can feel stuck. If this happens, think in micro-steps and learn from the Navy SEALs; they chunk their actions down into bite-sized pieces of action to keep moving forward. Go micro and explore the tiniest thing that you can do to move forward and take that step. Then, just keep taking those micro-steps.
7. Celebrate success
The micro-steps become micro-wins! It’s really important to celebrate success along the way no matter how small. When we feel stuck or challenged through change we don’t feel that we have much control. When we give ourselves credit for our progress we start to re-wire our brain and open up to being more able to navigate change successfully.
8. Look for the good
This is not about Pollyanna thinking and ignoring the challenges or problems that you face. Or even forcing yourself to be positive. Instead, it’s about being on the lookout for things that are working and what there is to be grateful for. Gratitude is an absolute superpower for rewiring our brains for greater happiness and contentment. So take a little bit of time each day to consciously look for the good.
9. Draw on your strengths
The more you pay attention to the resources you have and flex those strength muscles, the better you will do (take a look at Podcast episode 21 for more about uncovering and building on your strengths). Whenever I am navigating change of any kind, my go-to strengths are learning and researching. I think to myself ‘ok, what do I need to do to move forward here?’. I tap into curiosity, I create questions for myself, and I then take action to learn. As learning is a strength of mine, whenever I’m learning (even through challenges) I’m in my happy place and those positive emotions build. So, think about how you can draw on your strengths to help you through change.
10. Practise self-compassion
Change can be absolutely exhausting – physically, mentally, and emotionally. Remember, it’s okay to not be okay. So pause and just ask yourself: “What’s the most loving thing that I can do for myself right now?” And then do it!
Next time change comes along, or if you’re going through a difficult change at the moment, give these strategies a go. It’s my heartfelt hope that these tips will help.
The book mentioned is “How To Survive Change You Didn’t Ask For: Bounce Back, Find Calm in Chaos, and Reinvent Yourself” by M. J. Ryan.