Change throughout life is inevitable. There are the predictable changes we all face to a degree: going to college, entering the workforce, getting married, raising a family, becoming empty nesters, retirement. But there are also countless unexpected changes that throw us curve balls: getting laid off, divorce, illness, accidents, etc. Change can cause a lot of stress and fear, and many people try to avoid it. However, if managed positively, change can also be viewed as a doorway for new beginnings, growth, and reinvention. Regardless of how you view change, one thing is certain: change will usher in a new chapter of life, “your new normal!”
Our ease with moving into the next life chapter—and the fulfillment we’ll experience there–depends on how we manage change and handle transition. Before we go further, let’s distinguish between terms. Change is something situational, a physical or developmental event such as your spouse got transferred to a new state, or you got laid off from your job. Transition is psychological. It’s how you mentally and emotionally handle these changes. Transition involves “the process of letting go of the way things used to be and the subsequent embracing of new opportunities and growth.”
You can physically prepare for change – if your child is going off to college, you can help them pack, decorate their dorm room, etc. At some level, you understand this change is a good thing your child’s growth and development. What you cannot prepare for is the transition — how you will feel the days and weeks after they leave when you are left with an empty bedroom and a self-identity crisis.
Facing change is always challenging. As we noted, many people fear change due to the unknown. And when change is something that we need to initiate on our own behalf, many of us go into avoidance mode: we stay in jobs, relationships, lifestyles that are unrewarding and perhaps even dysfunctional. We don’t initiate the change because of fear or lack of confidence. Even if we can tactically prepare for the upcoming change, we are still faced with the fear of transitioning—handling the emotional and psychological side of adapting to our new normal.
Our ease with moving into the next life chapter—and the fulfillment we’ll experience there–depends on how we manage change and handle transition.
When we deal with change and transition in life, we often feel stuck and unable to move forward or can struggle mightily to adapt. But there are some very practical ways to handle the tactical side of change—and the emotional dimension of transition. And I am not just talking theoretically here. I have actually lived through a great deal of change in my adult years: multiple career moves, illness, and injury (me and my spouse), becoming an empty nester, figuring out “what’s next” and starting an “Act 2” career. And I can say with certainty when I have had a plan and process to guide me, I’ve been able to move through change with more ease, confidence and emotional stability. This consequently then sets me up for more success and fulfillment in the next chapter.
Learning some practical steps to help navigate change and transition can make a huge difference in how well we adapt, handle things psychologically and enter the new with optimism and emotional well-being. The steps I developed, that have worked for me and others that I have shared them with, are:
C: Control what you can control
A: Keep a Positive Attitude
R: Set a Routine with SMART goals
E: Seek Encouragement
Let’s briefly examine each step.
Control what you can Control
A critical piece of handling change and transition is focusing on what you can control—and letting go of what you cannot. Do some self-assessment:
- Assess what is truly in your control, and what is not. You cannot control how others will behave, what they will think or how they will react.
- Know what is important to you and what your trigger points are for stress—and get a handle on them the best you can. Let’s say you’re facing a big upheaval at work. You know that spending time with your loved ones is important to your emotional well-being. You also when stress at work soars, a trigger point, you compensate by trying to control your home environment. Control what you can control: ask for help or outsource cleaning services, meal planning services, laundry or yard work to protect your sanity and free up time and emotional capacity to be with family and friends.
- Think about the upcoming change and make a tactical list of the things you should do to prepare. Mapping out the steps—and having some sort of plan—will help you take the fear out of preparing for it and help you feel more in control.
- Stay flexible. You can plan things out as best you can, but change is organic and seems to have a mind of its own. Update your “to do” list as you need to and don’t take on trying to control the uncontrollable.
Keep a Positive Attitude
- Reflect on the positive not the negative. A fitness instructor once told her class, in the middle of a grueling workout, don’t think about the fact that you still need to lose weight, or you have a long way to go to get in shape. Rather, focus daily on how far you have come and how much stronger you are since starting the exercise program. Focus on the positive.
- Stop beating yourself up. Become aware of your “self-talk.” Never talk to yourself with a critical, condemning tone that you’d never use with a friend or another person. Be your own cheerleader.
- And if all else fails in achieving a positive attitude, you can “fake it until you make it.” We usually think actions are the results of our attitudes. Not necessarily so! Research proves that thoughts, feelings, and behaviors all influence one another. If you have a bad attitude, FLIP IT! See the example below of wanting to change jobs:
Thoughts – I will never find the right job
Feelings – I feel stupid, unqualified
Behavior – stay stuck in bad job
Switch it up!
Start with behavior – networking, send resumes, skills training, etc.
Feelings – I feel happy that I accomplished things today. I feel more qualified now that I got trained
Thoughts – I am confident I will find the right job
Set a Routine with SMART Goals
Whatever change and transition you are trying to push through– whether it’s finding a new career or being recently divorced, the stress of dealing with the new and unknown can cause a great deal of anxiety and unease. It’s important to control what you can control so that there is less unknown, less fear/anxiety and more familiar, certainty and comfort.
- Set up a routine with action steps and SMART goals geared towards achieving your “new life.” For example, if you want a new job, set up a routine that includes attending two networking events per week, sending out 3 resumes each week. Or, if you’re recently single and want to re-enter the social/dating world, you may set goals that involve getting together with 3 friends each week, going to the gym 4 days a week, joining online dating services and meeting someone new each month, etc.
- These goals are SMART because they are Specific (not just “find a job” but action steps to attain a job), Measurable (you can check off the box if you completed them), Achievable (reasonable, ie going to the gym 4 days a week not 7), Relevant to your transition and Time-bound (You know what you need to accomplish each week/month).
A routine with appropriate action steps and SMART goals will help you keep focused and your steps moving forward during the toughest times of transition.
Finally, surround yourself with a supportive network of positive people to keep you encouraged. A supportive network can help you keep to your routine, hold you accountable to your goals, be a sounding board, counter any negative thoughts or bad attitudes, and be your champion. Think about your personal network and who you can talk to and draw strength from – friends, family, colleagues, pastors. Additionally, identify outside professional help such as support groups, counselors, HR support or a personal or career coach.
Remember, change is inevitable. Be sure to CARE for yourself to navigate both the tactical and emotional dimensions of change. Life is much easier when we have a process—and positive people—to help guide us.
Blue Skies Strategy Coaching welcomes the opportunity to support you through your life or career transition—and to see if we’re the right solution for you.