How do you view change – do you see it as something to fear, to try and avoid?  Or something that’s a part of life and can bring wonderful new experiences?  Recently I took part in a very interesting facilitated lunch time discussion on “change”.  It started off by setting the stage with an interesting vision of the future – one with NO change at all.  While the world would go on, each of us present was asked to visualize a life with no change whatsoever, no change for our families, our personal life, our professional life, our home, in fact everything to do with our existence would remain unchanged while the world went on around us.

After we were given a moment to picture this future we were asked how this vision of a world with absolutely no change in our life impacted on how we thought of change.  The first word that popped into my mind was – BORING!

Yes, the thought of a future with no change at all struck me as absolutely boring (I admit I do bore easily!), even dull.  And I realized that “change’ has been given a “bad rap” by many such that, being human, has us all immediately jumping to “worse case scenarios” anytime the thought of change comes up.  And I realized that I too had often gotten dragged down by this negative approach, even though as a daughter of a farmer, the wife of a farmer and someone who has worked in the natural environment all my life I know that change is an essential part of how the world works.  I see it all the time, the changing of the seasons showing year after year the cycle of birth, growth, death and rebirth.  And it’s not like I haven’t lived through many major changes and been able to see the positive side of change – going away to camp, to university, working away from home, getting married, moving across the “pond” for several years, job changes, relocating for work, the birth of my children, job loss, change in career direction, ‘pink slipped’, company I worked for going bankrupt, health issues, so many changes.  These changes produced various feelings when they appeared on the horizon, both good and bad.  However the hardest to deal with, the death of my husband and the complete upheaval of how I had expected my life to unfold, showed that change in and of itself isn’t the issue, it’s our perception of its’ impact on us and our ability to recognize the choices that we still have to chart our own course in life and not simply accept our fate, powerless to do anything.

During the discussion another participant said when she thought of living with absolutely no change the word that came to her was “frozen”.   It made me think of the movie “Groundhog Day” with Bill Murray, where a town is trapped in reliving the same day over and over.  And that made me realize how sad it would be with no change, no chance to have new experiences, to learn new things, to see new places, to never be able to improve, to stretch ones’ abilities and grow as a person!  And the thought of all that my children would miss out on, all the experiences they would never have, made me realize even more how much change was a part of all out lives and how it made them worth living.  Everything I now have is a result of a great many changes, both big and small.  I wouldn’t be the person I am to-day without the changes I’ve gone through

Given that change is inevitable and we will all have to face it constantly, and probably at an ever faster pace, here are 8 tips to help you deal with change and enhance your ability to THRIVE:

1.    Stop, take a deep breath and relax!  Because our brain’s first reaction to an impending change, whether expected or not, is controlled by the oldest part of the brain it will hijack rational thought with one of the 3 “F’s” – Flight, Flight, or Freeze.  Taking a deep calming breathe is a great way to get back in control.  The fact you have time to calmly take a deep breathe signals the brain that you’re obviously not in any immediate danger, so it can relax.

2.    Determine what the radius of impact is – is it personal, family, community, country, global and your ability to influence it.  Change happens at many levels and for each level there are varying degrees of impact on you and your ability to influence the change itself.  Having to change your telephone number is vastly different from having to change jobs or possibly relocate to the other side of the continent.  There is no point adding to your stress by obsessing over a change that is happening at a level that you can’t influence, you need to spend your time looking at what you can do something about.  And remember that although the only thing you can actually control is yourself, what you decide to do can result in others changing their behaviour.  It starts with you though.

3.    Don’t rush things, especially if there is a loss involved.  Too often people try to rush into a new situation or make hasty decisions, thinking that this is the best way to take control of the change.  Most changes involve some form of loss and one needs to acknowledge and accept the feelings and emotions that come up.  But don’t wallow in them either, to move successfully forward you have to ‘let go’ of that which is no more and become comfortable with living with the loss, whatever it is, before launching into the ‘new’ situation.

4.    Make a conscious effort to see that change holds the seeds of something better.  Harbouring a negative attitude to change won’t make it any easier and won’t help you be creative and see things with a new perspective and recognize potential opportunities for the best possible outcome for yourself.  Stay open and flexible as to what is possible.  Get comfortable with not knowing the way things will turn out all the time – you don’t always see the complete picture at the beginning so accept ambiguity as change happens.  And don’t box yourself into a corner by holding on to expectations for things to go back to “the way they were”, life is always moving on, it doesn’t do a U-turn to the past.

5.    Take time to reflect on what’s important to you, what you want life to be like after the change.  This may be a good time to re-evaluate your views on life, your values and what you think of as your purpose.  Since change happens with or without your consent you need to prepare yourself to create the best possible outcome for yourself, and it helps to be clear on what that looks like for you.  If this is too overwhelming to do on your own, enlist the help of family or a friend, your religious advisor, a mentor, or consider using the support of a coach.  It’s often easier to clarify what you want in life with some help, especially as people often can’t see their own unique gifts and what they’re capable of.

6.    Don’t keep it all to yourself – make sure you have a support network to talk things over with.  Sharing what’s going on in your life with others is a good way to reduce the stress which usually accompanies a major upheaval in your life.  Whether family, friends or co-workers, being able to talk about a situation helps reduce the feelings of overwhelm and isolation people often feel when facing major changes.

7.    Don’t forget to take care of yourself during major change events.  Eat well, make sure you get some exercise, even if it’s just walking around the block a few times to clear your head, and get a good nights sleep.  It’s much easier to be creative and see opportunities when you’re physically and mentally healthy.

8.    Once you’ve calmly identified potential opportunities create a plan of action.  It doesn’t have to be a made up of big, hairy, audacious goals, that can lead to overwhelm and disappointment.  A good plan of action will help you feel more in control of what’s going on because it contains small, easily actionable steps that produce tangible results quickly.  And even if the results are only small steps forward, celebrate your accomplishment – you’re creating your own future!  You’re mastering the art of dealing with change on your own terms.

And at times when change seems overwhelming it helps me to remember “The Serenity Prayer” by Reinhold Neibuhr –

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Remember, change doesn’t have to be the enemy.  Make friends with the concept and discover how you can THRIVE even in turbulent times!

Until next time – THRIVE on! 🙂





Karen Switzer-Howse

Canada’s Premier Thrive Synergy Strategist