How to deal with change.

Our careers, personal lives, and the world around us are always changing. This causes stress, anxiety, and even fear, which can derail and debilitate us. But change happens all the time, and how we perceive it and the effect it has on us can make a huge difference in our health, happiness, and success. In this episode, we will look at why we struggle with change, why our feelings about it are normal, and some things we can do to try to deal with it in healthier ways.

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Where the hell do we even start with everything going on? I’ve spent a lot of time over the past two weeks trying to figure out what to do next on show. I’ve started more than a few new episodes over that time that just seemed wrong and even silly when I think about what people are dealing with. I kept coming back to one moment last year that taught me something important and that moment seems to be getting me through lately.

I thought maybe that would be a good foundation for this episode and is something that could help people. It was a moment last year that was incredibly hard for me but it taught me something really important about how to deal with change which we are all dealing with right now. In this episode, we are going to about dealing with change, why we struggle with change and some things we can do to try to deal with it in a healthy way.

Why do we struggle with change?

I think the best place to start talking about change is to look at why we struggle with it so much. Back in episode 80 we talked about confidence and may of you remember this as the time when I talked about my dog Oogie going blind. That was such a painful moment for me, it was incredibly hard to release that episode in that state and you can clearly hear the pain in my voice in that episode. So many of you have reached out to me after that episode and I deeply appreciated all of it.

Time has let me see that that went from one of the worst to one of the best moments of the year because it taught me something incredibly important. When it happened I was destroyed. There is no way around that. It took my wife to snap me out of it by reminding me that if I kept acting like Oogie would pick up on it and she had accepted what happened and was moving on. It hit me like a ton of bricks. She was totally right and I was the problem because I could not deal with the fact that things had changed. But it wasn’t just that I was having trouble with the fact that things had changed – I was mourning the loss of normal.

This means that I spent all my time wanting things to go back to the way they were instead of accepting that was not possible and I needed to deal with the new reality. I saw stuck in a spiral obsessing over why things weren’t the way they used to be. Oogie showed me the way because she just accepted what happened and got to work figuring out how to deal with her new situation. Within 2 days she could go upstairs, within 4 days she could go downstairs and she just kept going
Put her in a new space and she starts to map it out.

Armed with this new perspective I realized I was an idiot. I am a designer who creates an experience for customers and those always have certain limitations. My customer is a blind dog – so design a better experience for her. I used texture and sound. Texture to mark edges and transitions. Sound for her water bowl.

But it took that realization and that complete change of perspective for me to be able to move on. Let’s break down some ways you can try to deal with change in healthier ways.

How do we get better at it?

Start by acknowledging that things are changing.
Sometimes we get so caught up in fighting change that we put off actually dealing with it. Denial is a powerful force, and it protects us in many ways. I learned that stepping outside of it and understanding that things are changing, and it is okay. Not mourning the loss of normal.

All change, even the good kind, causes stress.
Sometimes when people go through a positive life change like moving, graduating, getting married or having a baby, they still feel a great deal of stress. Stress is just your body’s way of reacting to change. It’s okay to feel stressed even when something good has happened.

Don’t stress out about stressing out.
Knowing that change will cause stress then your reaction to that stress becomes important because it has more of an impact than the stress itself.
• If you believe stress kills you, it will have a deeper negative effect on you.
• If you believe stress will carry you through a tough situation – you’ll be more resilient.

When you start to feel stressed, ask yourself what your stress is trying to help you accomplish.
• Is stress trying to help you excel at an important task, like a sales presentation or a big interview?
• Is it trying to help you endure a period of tough market conditions or a temporary shift in your organizational structure?
• Is it trying to help you empathize with a colleague or a customer?
• Or is stress trying to help you successfully exit a toxic situation?

Know that the stress will be there and how you choose to see it will make a big difference.

Talk about problems more than feelings.
One of the most common misperceptions about coping with changes is that we can “work through” things by talking about the problem. That’s not to say you should just “suck it up” or ignore your problems. Instead, talk about your feelings at the beginning of a disorienting change so that you are aware of how it might distort your thinking. Then look for practical advice about what to do next to work on the problem at the heart of everything. By doing so, you’ll zero in on the problems you can solve, instead of obsessing over the feelings you can’t.

Focus on your values instead of your fears.
Change can easily create fear because of the unknowns.
Reminding yourself of what’s important like family, friends, religious convictions, and other things can create a good buffer against change and stress. Try a simple exercise: spend 10 minutes writing about a time when a particular value you hold has positively affected you. The technique works because thinking about a personal value helps you rise above the immediate stress and fear. It helps you realize that our personal identity can’t be compromised by one challenging situation.

Don’t expect stability.
The best leaders see all changes, whether wanted or not, as a regular part of the job, rather than as a tragic anomaly that victimizes unlucky people. Instead of feeling personally attacked by ignorant leaders, evil lawmakers, or an unfair universe, remained engaged in work and look for opportunities to fix long-standing problems.

Final thought

Even though we are never free from change, we are always free to decide how we respond to it. If we fixate on the limitations of a change or we mourn the loss of normal, we inevitably are overwhelmed by worry, stress, and despair. We need to accept the fact that change happens, and focus on what to do next.

Oogie taught me to accept the past and present, but to fight for and focus on the future. She immediately started fighting to create a new normal and didn’t dwell on what happened, why it happened or the things in the past. It made me look back over my life and career to see that too often I have fallen victim to that problem.

When there have been changes in my career, company, boss, projects, and so much more I too often fell into the trap of mourning the loss of normal. It put me in a bad and weak headspace, it alienated me, and it wasted time I could have been using to do something more productive.

I say all this know that in the past days and weeks we have been faced with something far more challenging than career problems because this virus has created change on a scale that is out of our control. It can be easy to focus on this and feel like a victim of it. But here again, I think it is how we fight for the future, and how we find ways of making things better that will make all the difference.

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