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5 Tips For Navigating Change
What to do when life goes awry
I feel like since the pandemic (remember that!?), ‘navigating change’ has become a bit of a tarnished word-pairing, a close pal of ‘unprecedented times’, and used most liberally by banks and energy suppliers in some attempt to seem less Chat GPT and more human. The message being: we care about you. (Underlying message: give us your money.)
But! I’m still making it the subject of today’s newsletter, because it’s something that comes up often in my coaching practice, and I’m hosting a talk/workshop about it in May (PLUG) so I’ve been thinking/writing about it a lot. So, here I am, beta testing, as such…
The weird thing about change – or about our relationship to it – is that it is perpetual and inevitable, and yet, most of the time we pretend that it’s not. We constantly resist and/or are surprised by change, even though it’s the most constant thing in our lives.
This is - no surprise! – an ancient brain thing. We are hardwired to resist change, because the amygdala, the lizard part of the brain, interprets change as a threat. When it suspects change it releases stress hormones, which quickly put us into a fear/fight/flight state. Also, the brain likes to conserve energy (nicer way of saying it’s lazy af) and since change requires more energy than staying the same, it tends to shy away from it.
And yet change still gets us all the time. From the big – relationship breakdown, death of a loved one, new job – to the small – new habit, colleague or hair-do – we all experience thousands of changes in our lifetime. Some are easy to roll with, while others can leave us feeling as if life is upside down. I for one have been utterly floored by a new hair-do. (Kidding, ish.)
Even good change can be challenging at times. Things like leaving school, buying a house or having a baby can lead us to experience a huge amount of stress or anxiety. Which can come as a surprise, but it’s really very normal.
So, if you’re currently going through some life changes, or you know you’ve got some coming up, OR if you want to change things but your brain is freaking out, here are a few tips to prepare yourself.
5 Tips For Navigating Change
1. Take Time To Reflect
With any big change we’re often so busy getting on with life that we don’t stop to accept, mark, or mourn the shift. Once you’ve run the course with distractions/ unhealthy habits, try giving your emotions some space – journal, talk with a friend or therapist, listen to a favourite piece of music and let your thoughts roam free for a bit.
2. Identify Your Priorities
What a shock, I’m talking about priorities! Anyway, all transitions in life – even the exceptionally difficult ones – serve as an opportunity for us to consider our priorities and how we’re living our lives. Your priorities and values are the foundation to your decisions and behaviours, so think: what is truly important to you? What do you want to do more of? What do you want to do less of? How best can you use your time and energy on this earth? If you can begin to view this period of change as an opportunity to define what’s important to you, you’ll emerge a happier, more resilient you.
3. Create A Plan
Once you've identified your priorities, work out some sort of plan that will help you stay focused on them. If a goal or dream came up then brainstorm about the smaller, more manageable steps that can help get you there. Create a timeline, and have a think about which habits will help you stay motivated and inspired. (Maybe, Eat That Frog can help you here?)
3. Strive To Maintain Some Normalcy
In the midst of change, structure is like a lighthouse for the mind and soul, helping to guide us home to ourselves. The more you can stick to what you know, the more comforted you’ll feel. Helpful habits and routines such as a morning walk/swim, meditation, or a cup of coffee in a favourite mug help remind us that some things stay the same, which calms that ancient part of the brain and helps us feel less anxious.
4. Check Your Thoughts
In times of change, it’s common to find ourselves experiencing thoughts that aren’t very helpful to us. You might start ‘catastrophising’ – assuming the worst will occur – or ‘mind reading’ – deciding you already know what everyone else is thinking. Combat these thoughts by checking in regularly with your thought patterns and challenging what you’re thinking. Ask yourself, is this thought helpful to me right now? If the answer is no, then see what a more helpful or neutral thought could be to replace it. (More guidance on how to do this here.)
5. Be Okay With Dropping The Ball
Fact: you may need to drop the ball in some areas of your life to better manage this period of change. That is okay. Try not to worry about ‘doing it all’, instead, accept that you may not be the best friend, worker, partner or parent right now and instead simply do what you need to do to get by. You can always pick the ball up later. Oh and of course, ask for help, always a good idea to lighten the load.
Do you have any tips for navigating change? I’d love to hear.
P.S. Got a friend or loved one going through some big changes? Forward this on to help lighten their load.