When change thunders through your life or appears like dark clouds on the horizon…how do you respond? Do you run and hide under the covers? Do you stand still and hope it goes around you? Or do you gather your internal army and stand strong, ready to take on whatever is coming your way?
None of these are wrong: they’re all instinctive responses to an incoming stressful event. Which is exactly what change is: an incoming, unknown entity which by that very definition is likely to get the heart beating a little faster. However, knowing how you respond to change can help you be more prepared for it.
I used to be someone who stood still and hoped the change just passed me by. If I didn’t make eye contact, it wouldn’t know I was there, right? Ah, no. Usually that just meant I got bundled up in the change circus and dumped out the other side of the big top with little clue about how I got there. Not much fun, but I made it through.
However, as you may know, I can’t stand inefficiency – and I found this way of approaching change to be really inefficient. So I tuned in to when I started to freeze and mentally sidle towards a quiet place where I hoped life would pass me by. That ‘freeze’ feeling became my trigger to recognise that change (i.e. a stressful incoming event) was coming – and then I could start to prepare. I would assess what was happening, how big the change was, what the impacts were, and how it might affect me. From this quick assessment, I would mentally run through options of what I could do next to optimise the inevitable change. (The result was usually a much more ‘productive’ experience of change. I’m not saying it was easy, or without emotional fallout, but I could ride the wave with more awareness and engagement. Awareness and engagement with change leads to greater personal development, and saves you experiencing the same change over and over again – but that’s a story for another day).
My point here is to recognise your default response to change, or at least to ‘incoming stressful situations’, whether that’s to fight, flight, or freeze. By ‘recognise’ I mean notice how you feel. Notice sensations in your body, your mind, and your emotions. Learn to read your emotional responses so you instinctively become aware of ‘that sensation’ which alerts you that change is coming. Don’t get bogged down in what you do next (unless you’re ready to go there – again, that’s a different story) – just start to attune yourself to your response. Once you start to become aware of that response, ask yourself ‘why’. Why do you respond in that way? Why is your response to fight and not freeze? Or why do you freeze instead of running away or fighting? What’s going on in your mind at that point? What thought processes are happening so fast you’ve never stopped to reflect on them, until now?
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Learning about something new usually starts with a few base definitions, yet defining ‘change’ is something that’s taken me years – and huge range of change experiences – to get my head around. Because ‘unfortunately’ change is something you only learn about as you experience it. Nobody sits you down at the start of life and says ‘right, so let me teach you about change’.
So, what have I learned?
Change is the transformation of a relationship – with a person, an experience, a routine, an event, a memory, a physical item…with anything you form an attachment to. Those attachments may be light and superficial, and you can easily detach from them. For example, you want to wear your favourite red shirt to work and discover it’s in the wash basket. No drama – you’ll just have to wear something else today!
Or the attachment may be a deep bond of sharing such as a relationship with another person - intimate, family, or friend; or your relationship with the house you grew up in, or a business you’ve poured your heart and soul into and built from the ground up. So much emotion, so many memories, so many highs and lows are entwined with that relationship. So when that relationship is changed – wrenched from you by force or you gradually realise something has to go – it’s felt deeply and can make the change more challenging to adjust to and release. When your identity, or perception of who you are, is also tightly bound up in that relationship then it can seem as if your whole world is crumbling: because you’ve lost a sense of who you are. You’ve given your heart away.
The same thing happens when you have ideals and expectations of how an event or relationship ‘should be’. When things don’t turn out quite as expected, it can be a shock and take quite a bit of mental and emotional readjustment to process what happened, because your heart was set on a particular outcome. When it doesn’t arrive, again, you’ve lost that connection with your heart space.
The common thread in these examples is your natural attachment to your heart - to you. The change that’s happened is like a break-up with yourself, but you’re so focused on the event, thing, or other person that you don’t connect with your own heart to explore the pain. That’s what hurts; that’s what turns your world upside down – the separation from where your heart has been invested and from who you think you are.
So, why is knowing this a good thing?
For me, it’s helped to look at change objectively and understand what’s happening – like from a helicopter viewpoint, even while I’m emotionally processing the situation. When I look at the change situation and notice where my heart was invested, I also realise my heart is still with me and not left behind with the person/thing/event.
For example, a few years ago I was unsuccessful in obtaining a job contract I’d been acting in for a number of months – and absolutely loved. Not getting the job was a shock to the system, and I was pretty upset about it because I’d put my heart and soul into it. Looking at it through my ‘definition of change’ perspective, I realised the real emotion was because I thought I’d lost that part of me when I lost the job. Not true. I still had the relationships I’d built. I still had the skills and the connection with the type of work I loved. I could replicate that anywhere. The change wasn’t so upsetting when I reconnected with my heartspace and understood it.
If I hadn’t re-defined my experience through an objective look at change, I may still be clinging to all I thought I’d lost, buried in the shock and emotions of that time.
When you look at your change experiences, do you see them like a broken relationship? Can you see how your heart was invested, and was forced to shift? How might a new perspective of defining change help you to adjust to that change?
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Life experience has taught me a lot about change - its messiness and my desire to circumnavigate it in a more efficient way. In this blog I share my experience so you too can survive change with a smile on your face!