surf waves of change

Surfing the Waves of Change

You’ve lost your desk, your office has changed beyond recognition and you don’t see half your team anymore. Or maybe your lovely boss has left the company and you don’t like the new one much. Worse still, your team has been disbanded and your work outsourced. You know you can’t do anything about it and agree with your colleagues that “c’est la vie”. And yet you just can’t seem to shake that black cloud and whirling worry vortex that seems to stalk you day and—exhaustingly—night.

We’ve all gone through a lot of change these past two years and it looks like it sure ain’t stopping yet! Now some people actively seek out and effortlessly surf the waves of change, seeing it as exciting, a way to avoid being stuck in a personal or professional rut. But if, like most of us, you are not one of those lucky people, here are some tips to make the process a little easier!

1. Understand why you feel so bad.

It is completely normal for change to provoke feelings of anger, sadness, worry and even irritability. Our brain likes routines, known surroundings and expected outcomes—it feels it’s keeping us safe this way. In fact, scientists have discovered that even something as simple as sleeping in a different bed causes half the brain to remain awake, presumably to keep watch for enemies! The stress caused by changes can trigger releases of adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol, putting us on edge and disrupting our normal mental and physical state. Even positive changes that we actively seek, like starting a family, moving or getting a promotion can also cause similar reactions. The good news is that this is completely normal and you will get through it! One thing that can help is to focus on the things that we can control, by keeping to as many of our regular routines as possible. Having some things that stay the same, like taking the dog for a walk every day at 7 pm, is a message to our stressed brains that some things are still the same, which allows it to relax a little.

2. Be kind to yourself in the transitions.

Change is very tiring mentally and physically as the brain uses more energy absorbing a barrage of new information and deciding new strategies in a new environment. Ask yourself what you need, what you can do to help yourself feel better. This is the time to take real care of yourself by getting enough sleep, eating healthily and taking exercise to restore serotonin levels, your happy hormone. Include in your daily life little things that bring you joy, such as music, reading a great book or a scented bath.  Laughing increases dopamine, serotonin, and feel-good endorphins. It also decreases cortisol. And according to the Journal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience, social support has a positive impact on your serotonin levels. So a night out at the Club de la Comedia with your friends could be just what the doctor ordered! Mindfulness can also help you manage your emotional well-being—see our recent article for a simple, yet effective practice.

3. Victim or Respons-able?

Be careful with your Self talk. Some grieving for the past is normal, but constantly lamenting the situation can be damaging. Our internal dialogue or the “story” we tell ourselves (and others) has tremendous influence over our feelings and reactions. While understandable, thinking and saying things like “It’s not fair” or “after all I’ve done for this company” will lead us to see ourselves as “victims“. A “victim” attitude is passive, powerless and holds us back from finding a more productive and positive response to the circumstances. After all, we can’t change what happens, but we can always change how we adapt to it. Replace victim messages with something more positive, eg, “this is not what I wanted but I will make it work”. Be careful with the company you keep too. Research shows that it’s best to keep away from fellow complainers, as repeatedly broadcasting negative emotions doesn’t help us get it off our chest, rather it stops us moving on. Psychologists suggest one idea to limit negativity is to allow yourself to worry/complain for just one hour a day. Writing down your fears can also be cathartic and allow you to get a more realistic perspective. Allow yourself to grieve your “loss” but don’t let that channel away the energy you need to create the future.

4. Find the WIIFMWhat’s In It for Me?

Change management experts often say that people who thrive in periods of change tend to be people who view it as a type of personal software upgrade. So goodbye version You 3.8, hello improved version You 5.0! Think what benefits or new “features” the new situation will bring to you personally and focus on them. Perhaps you’ll meet new people or learn new skills. Maybe you’ll have more responsibility, bringing more visibility and the chance to progress. Or maybe less, meaning more free time to travel, to do sport, upskill in Cloud technologies, whatever rings your bell. You may leave your company, but you can still remain great friends with your colleagues. And your ex-boss will be a valuable contact in the future.

As the old saying goes, it’s an ill wind that blows no good. As a coach, I have seen many clients really upset by losing their safe old jobs and a few months later landing a much more interesting role with a much better salary. The winds of change did them a big favour by pushing them out of the door, as often they would never have risked leaving their comfort zone.

5. You can do this!

Change is life—and life is change. We sometimes forget, but from childhood on we constantly deal with significant change, starting with transitioning to primary school, getting used to new teachers or becoming more independent, right up to creating a brand-new social group at university. Remind yourself about challenges and transitions you successfully navigated in the past. List changes and times when you’ve been resilient in your life and think what traits and actions can help you through the current challenge. As a child I had moved house six times by the time I reached the age of fourteen. This meant that I had to learn how to make friends quickly, which is still one of my main strengths. By focusing on what will help you to deal with change instead of on your weaknesses, you will feel more empowered to meet what lies ahead.

6. Get a Plan.

According to popular podcaster and author of the 4-hour Working Week, Tim Ferriss, people would rather be unhappy than uncertain. Whether or not you agree, psychologists say that a big part of the pain of change is dealing with ambiguity. When the company I worked at was taken over by a much larger one, waiting to find out what would happen was agonizing. Who would stay, who would go, what would the new objectives be? Instead of 8 months the merger process felt more like 8 years—the constant guessing was exhausting. So how can we get through this feeling of being out of control? Simple, you need a plan!

Experts agree that having a plan helps us cope better with uncertainty. Research by EJ Masicampo, professor of psychology at in North Carolina University, shows that even if we don’t carry out our plans, the fact of making them helps us worry less! So, what plan? Any plan! One idea is to map our different scenarios and the different actions possible in each. Remember you don’t have to find all the answers on your own! Talk to trusted friends and acquaintances and look for new contacts with relevant experience to help generate possible solutions to deal with your new circumstances. And once you get started on your real journey to change, remember to track your progress and celebrate your little victories.

Finally, keep sniffing the cheese!

The last two years have taught us a hard lesson: we can’t count on stability. So what’s the best way to be prepared for change? To expect and anticipate it! Disruption can seem as if it appeared without warning, but the danger was probably there all along. We may have underestimated its impact or thought it unlikely to happen. Like the mice in the best-selling business fable “Who stole my Cheese?” (video summary), keep “sniffing the cheese to make sure it’s not old”. Keep up on what’s going on in your organization and your industry, keep an eye out for things you think should be improved, and arm yourself with new skills to make sure you’re ahead of the curve.

For more ideas on dealing with or driving change in your life, check out our coaching services and our new course Cambiar y Crecer. As John F. Kennedy once said, “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or the present are certain to miss the future”. Good luck!