Personal Change Management Skills
Why do some people seem to sail gently through all the changes life throws at them, while others get upset if they have to change even their breakfast cereal?
The key is in how you view change, and your level of acceptance of uncertainty.
There is plenty of evidence that what we find most stressful as human beings is uncertainty, not change in itself. Even the most difficult life events, such as divorce or marital separation, can be more stressful in terms of the uncertainty.
Very often, it's not the event, but the worry about ‘what will I do?', or ‘how will the children cope?' that people find hard. But there are some simple skills that you can develop that will help you to manage change in your own life, whether through work or life events.
Stress: Some Background
Our pages on stress management provide more information about understanding stress and stressful life events, but here it is worth repeating that stress is not all in the mind. Stress can cause genuine physical symptoms, including dizziness, tension headaches, diarrhoea and insomnia, which in turn can make you feel worse, and even more stressed.
This kind of ‘negative feedback loop' is common in nature, and is designed to make you stop! Your body is trying to tell you something and, if you don't listen to it, you could find yourself becoming very ill indeed.
Don't be tempted to ignore the symptoms of stress, and hope that they go away by themselves. They won't. Instead, you need to deal with the causes.
If you are struggling with stress and it's making you unwell you should seek professional help from a counsellor or health-care provider.
Dealing with Change
There is plenty of evidence that we all go through more or less the same process when dealing with change, although particular stages may take rather longer in some cases than others.
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross looked at the way people come to terms with the news that they have a terminal illness, and developed a model called the Transition or Change Curve. Later studies showed that people react in similar ways to bereavement and also to changes at work.
The model shows that people start in a state of denial, with quite high levels of energy and confidence, but that confidence and energy then dip as they feel the need for support, and then become angry, asking questions like ‘Why me?'. They then start to move towards exploration of their condition and new options, and into acceptance.
Manage personal change
There is a prayer that is accepted by anonymous alcohol withdrawal, called quiet prayer.
It says, God, please give me peace to accept what I can't change, give me the courage to change what I can change, and give me wisdom to tell the difference between the two.
Although it may have become quite stale, it is not an unreasonable way to manage life changes.
Accept things you can't change
Those who embrace change often say that one of the things they do is accept things that can't be changed and worry about things that they can change.
It's hard to let go and worry, but it doesn't make sense to feel pressured about things you can't control.
If you find yourself lying in bed at night, worrying about something, ask yourself: “What can I do to change the likelihood of this happening, or if it does happen, can I change its outcome?”
If the answer is indeed a loud “no”, set aside the question.Put it aside as something that could or might not happen, but have nothing to worry about.Then it's important to find something else to take over your brain!
Plan to change what you can change
The next step is to consider the issues and areas that you can control.
Instead of worrying about potential changes, ask yourself two questions:
In fact, what can I do to change the likelihood of this happening, and if so, what can I do?
Realistically, what can I do to change the outcome and make it better for me? If so, what about it?
The key words here are realistic: these must be things you can really do to change things, not “ideal world” things like “I'm going to qualify for the pipeline in three weeks and be the best student they've ever seen.”
Before considering how to change the results, it is important to consider what your ideal outcome might be and how likely it is to occur.
A living example
The company you work for looks like it's going to be taken over by another company, and you're worried that you might lose your job or you might do something less interesting.
Is there really anything you can do to change the likelihood of a company being taken over?
There's nothing you can do unless you're the CEO.
Don't worry about it.
In fact, what can you do to make you more likely to get a better outcome?
Polish your resume or résumé, get in touch with a recruitment agency that specializes in your type of work, and then look for another job.
You become more confident when you see the importance others attach to your skills. If you have another job offer that gives you more options, you'll be more attractive to your existing company.
You can also consider what opportunities you'll have if you're laid off, such as starting your own business or taking time off to travel.
It also makes you feel more positive and thus more attractive to potential employers.
wisdom to know the difference between the two
This is the last element of managing change gracefully.
Like good strategic thinkers, those who can accept and manage personal change know what they want.
They'll quickly decide what they can't change and put it aside.
They can also effectively take the necessary steps to change and control the factors that they can change.
You need skills to guide your personal development
Learn how to set effective personal goals for yourself and find motivation to achieve them.
This is the essence of personal development and a set of skills designed to help you reach your full potential at work, in your studies, and in your personal life.
The most important thing to keep in mind is:
Once you've decided what you can change, what you can't change, and what you're going to do, stick to it.
Accept your decision and move on. Don't always worry about “if… What's going to happen” because it undermines your ability to deal with things you can't control. It doesn't matter if the reason you can't actually do anything is that “there's so much to do in my life that I don't have time to deal with it.” It's good.Give yourself a break and accept your wisdom.