If the prospect of change, a new normal, career switches and relationship upheavals brings you out in hives, I’m here for a mini coaching 101 today, to tell you that you CAN have a positive transition, that will leave you in a better, more positive headspace!
Right now, I would totally understand if you are going through some serious emotions. The ‘corona-coaster’ as my friend called it last week. The stress and lack of news, small light at the end of the tunnel and uncertainty about what will be, is giving us all sleepless nights, crazy nightmares and disrupted eating habits (or so I tell myself as I nail yet another bar of Dairy Milk).
Change is supposed to be a positive thing, exciting and new; but for most of us it brings with it a sense of panic, anxiety and stress. So why do we often fall into a pit of despair midway through a process of change? It is our lack of resilience? Maybe we’re just not determined enough or lack the willpower?
I’ll let you in on a little secret. It’s none of those things. You could just be lacking a positive action plan.
This is something that I see in my own life and with clients time and time again, and I take them through the same process to help them re-organise their thoughts, let go of whatever is making them feel stuck, and progress into a new positive plan.
From a psychological and analytical perspective, there are a few theories and models which we can use to help us manage our emotions and mental health as we tackle difficult changes in our lives. You have probably heard of them in relation to grief or substance abuse, but whichever one you use, there are huge similarities. Imagine a graph – along the side Y axis is motivation or positivity, and along the bottom X axis is time. At point zero, where the lines meet, we have the start – when the possibility of change becomes known.
It is well documented amongst academics that the graph here will look like a big U shape, as we go through the transition, and our emotions change accordingly, and here’s why.
When we know that change is coming, we initially feel some anticipation, some creativity in terms of problem solving, and a little excitement. Very quickly, this can descend into confusion, denial and anxiety if we are not provided with a plan or information that we might need to make a change. If we are not careful, these negative feelings can be overwhelming, and can be tough to shake free of. Gradually, as time progresses, we might be able to innovate and plan for a new normal, which we embrace by learning new things and throwing high-energy effort and accomplishment at the situation.
It’s easy to see, on paper, how it can be easy to get ‘stuck’ in that dip of fear and confusion, and let it overwhelm us. In terms of business, this can be very dangerous, as we resist all forms of change, for fear of feeling that stress and uncertainty, and end up stuck in a rut, without growth or innovation. Akin to complacency, it’s here where you can stagnate, and start to feel despondent and resentment of the ‘same old’.
Let’s take coronavirus as an example to illustrate this process. When we knew that we were going into lockdown, emotions were high, all systems were go (see: panic buying and high-energy activities to ‘prepare’) as motivations to safeguard ourselves were paramount. As we entered lockdown, the anticipation disappeared and was quickly followed by confusion and frustration as we awaited news on furlough payments, etc. Now, 9 weeks later, we are still in a state of confusion, anxiety and resistance, as we know that we cannot ‘go back to how things were’ and yet, we have no idea what the new normal looks like.
So, take it from me, if you are a ball of nerves, emotions and stress right now, science says that’s normal. Be kind to yourself.
So how can we take this knowledge and plan for positive changes?
Now, the problem in our COVID-19 situation is that the government has given us very little detailed, time bound, specific action points that we can prepare for, which quite frankly is useless of them.
To progress from the bottom of our ‘U’ dip during a large transition, effective goal setting, support and opportunities for innovation are essential. As human beings we need to be able to envisage what the new looks like, how it feels and what we can accomplish when we get there. Without those things, we cannot plan and for many of us, it is hard to let go and be happy with living an uncertain life (sound familiar?!).
When we are changing careers, graduating or maybe even going through big relationships or life changes, it is imperative that we can see ourselves in the future, and make plans to get there. You can set small targets (view a new house, hand in a letter of resignation etc) and make positive steps towards the new situation.
If you feel trapped in a career right now, and feel lost in the direction you’d like to go in – take one step initially in imagining what your life would be like in a new role. You don’t need to know what it is yet… but how does it feel? What type of environment? What are the people like? Big picture dreaming helps us plan backwards and slowly create step by step actions towards positive change.
If you are a manager taking a team through change, share this dream with them. Get them on board – don’t leave them in the dark. They will need to be able to mentally place themselves in the new situation – and if you don’t you can be sure there will be some unhappy people on your team who feel lost and without purpose.
My top tip for positive transitions in your business, life and lockdown?
Daydream, vision board, pinterest, journal and mindmap to your heart’s content, until a place feels real. Is your new normal involves working from home – what does your dream workspace look like? What will you wear? What will you do for lunch? How do you want to feel? Now plan to make that happen. Move the desk, buy new slippers (!), fill the shelves with houseplants, burn some gorgeous candles.
You’ve heard of a SMART plan, so get your dairy out and schedule one thing a day towards your dream. What might feel like a huge leap, may not actually be as big a task as you think it is. The reason it feels so huge is because you have spent so long in the same place, feeling stuck or settled into the rhythm you’ve got, that any change feels big and scary and different. Doing one tiny thing can have a huge impact on your emotional well-being.
Seek support and a team to help you through. Once you feel stuck, it can be hard to shake that off. Talk to someone, ask for help or another pair of eyes to enable you to see a different perspective.
Change can leave us with a bitter taste in our mouth and a serious feeling of loss, but if we allow ourselves to steer the ship and not be pulled along for the ride, we can invite positive feelings to join us in the transition.