4 REASONS WHY CHANGE IS SO DIFFICULT (AND HOW TO MAKE IT EASIER)
I grew up moving homes with my family every couple of years and as enriching as the experience was, it was also always very difficult every time. Moving homes (and in our case, countries and even continents during a time where there was no Facebook and Skype yet – and I’m not that old), meant starting a new life every time. So yes, change was definitely a part of my life and it was not easy. I was recently speaking to my sister about how we grew up and we ended up talking about how even after going through big changes many times, change can still be very difficult for us. Then again, it’s well known that change is hard for people, hence why there are fields such as change management that have emerged.
In change management one of the key things that helps people through change is to share as much information as possible, to get people involved in the change and to communicate about the changes amply. I started thinking about why change might be so difficult for people and I realized that it is a moment where we have a whole potpourri of emotions. We feel sad because we are leaving something behind and have lost something and we need to grieve this loss. We feel afraid because we are moving forward into an unfamiliar future, which we need to prepare for. If we have no say in the process, we may also feel angry, because we think what is happening is unfair or the change might also be getting in the way of the goal we had in mind. This one moment or phase of change is a culmination of many intense and uncomfortable feelings for us, so no wonder we find it so difficult.
Whether this change is moving homes, relationships ending, a new job, getting divorced or starting a new chapter in our lives, we face change all the time. I didn’t have any say in the changes I experienced when I grew up moving around and with time I knew that it would be uncomfortable for at least the first six months in a new place and then I would be fine. So I knew I could face the change, but that didn’t mean it became comfortable.
Understanding the potpourri of emotions we experience that make change so uncomfortable has helped me infinitely during these times in my life. Here are the key lessons I have learned and that have helped me.
1. Change means letting go.
We can feel excited for the new things that are coming our way and at the same time we can feel sad about what we are losing. We might be leaving behind friends, a place we love, habits that we had (like our favorite restaurants, running spots or familiar scenery) for example. We might even have a list of things we still wanted to do or plans that we didn’t get to realize yet. A change might mean we are leaving such things behind. We are losing something. When we lose something (a hope, a dream, a place, a person or anything that matters to us), we need time to reflect, heal and connect. Feeling sadness gives us the time and space that we need in order to do this.
2. Change means unknown.
A new job, a new home, new dynamics in the family or in a relationship all bring with it something unfamiliar. The unfamiliar is out of our comfort zone and as we are creatures of comfort, we can feel nervous, anxious or scared (feelings that belong to the family of fear) of what is outside this zone. We experience fear when we might be in danger or think we can’t cope with something. It brings us alertness and endurance to create safety, prepare for a challenge and to perform. If we take the example of moving to a new country or starting a new job, fear helps us to pay attention to all the details so that we don’t miss something as we prepare. Fear helps us to make sure we don’t get into any dangerous situations because we are unfamiliar with them. It helps us to think everything through, plan things well so that the change goes smoothly.
3. Change can mean unfairness.
If the company we work for is restructuring, we have been let go, we need to move to a new place or our partner has left us, the change is often happening without us wanting it. If we don’t have a say in the matter, we might very well see it as unfair. We might have had plans that are now destroyed and as a result we can be feeling helpless, resentful, frustrated or down right furious (all emotions that belong to the family of anger). Anger gives us energy and motivation to make things right. It gives us what we need to be assertive, to activate change and to achieve our goals. We might still be able to find a way to avoid this change or to make the change less difficult for us – negotiating the conditions, convincing the other party not to go ahead with the change and so on.
4. Change can be exciting.
When we have a say or if we see something positive in the change happening to us, we might feel excited, curious, hopeful, or even grateful. These feelings of happiness give us lightness and openness to help us advance, connect with others and to discover new.
The complexity of what we feel during a time of change is that it is often a mix of all of the above. We might have all these feelings at once, we might go back and forth between them and if we don’t understand why they are here and how they want to help us, they can simply seem like an uncomfortable nuisance. The best thing we can do is embrace all of these emotions when we feel them. By that I mean acknowledge each feeling when it comes up, accept it and let it be there, work on understanding why it is there and patiently and compassionately let yourself work through them. If that means letting yourself feel sad, giving yourself time to prepare for the new and to explore options how you can make this change less unfair for you then that’s what you need to do.
It's key to remember that if we try to deny our feelings or change them, they will just get stronger and stick around for longer. If we accept our feelings (all of them) and let them flow through us naturally, they generally won't stick around for long.
My mother always told me to focus on the positive things and this is important too. But we cannot ignore the uncomfortable feelings and pray for them to go away. We need to embrace them and also make sure we are seeing our new situation in it’s full light – good and bad.
“The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.” Alan Watts
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