Seizing the new normal

Curves and graphs have been omnipresent in my daily life for the last 12 weeks. There have been two types of graphs especially predominant:

  1. Exponential graphs of how pandemics spread, how changes in climate accelerate, and how biodiversity is lost on a global scale
  2. Graphs showing me to flatten the curve and reduce the spread of Covid-19 and in that way support the health system in coping

However, the curve that’s dearest to my heart (as of many coaches and facilitators) is the change curve. Same as the graphs above, it also has time on the x-axis which illustrates the change over time but on the y-axis, instead of some measure of the severity of problems we currently face, is our emotional state. This is a powerful image to use for understanding your own (or another person’s) travel and transition through change. It helps you predict how you might react in different stages of change and also gives a certain perspective on this transition by communicating “this is an expected reaction, you’re not the only one to go through this emotional roller coaster, there is even a graph for what you’re experiencing!”. You can also use this understanding to meet your colleagues and peers, friends, and family and make sure that they have the support they might need grappling with a rapidly changing reality.

The Change Curve depicts the emotional stages of change and clearly demonstrates that each stage is transient and a move towards embedding the change into a new normal.

What are the stages of transition as illustrated by the curve?

The first stage is the reaction phase of the initial shock. A time when the individual is processing the change and may feel a sense of excitement and elation, shock and despair, or just general confusion and uncertainty. Uncertainty is not a feeling happily embraced by us humans who thrive for certainty and knowing, something that stems from our heritage on the savannah where knowing (e.g. what type of animal was approaching in the far distance) was a matter of life and death.

Examples of uncertainty at work in our daily lives are reorganizations, being given a new role description, or other things out of our control, such as what we experience now with the Covid-19 pandemic, with its far-reaching effects from all the complex health dimensions to the uncertainty about the future job market. The less anticipated the change the stronger the feeling and emotional reaction.

As you navigate this period of uncertainty, solutions may slowly start to appear as you seek help or answers to your questions and try to understand the new situation and its’ requirements. Gradually you will find new ways to cope, adapt to your situation, or even transform, and establish methods to tackle the changes faced.

Top tips for dealing with change:

  • Acknowledge the change, and come to terms with the fact that change is inevitable.  Life is a constant journey through change, recognize where you are on the curve, and consciously find what you need to move forward to the next stage. Also, identify what help you might need in the journey and from whom.
  • Be proactive and communicate. What is it that you need to know? Are you basing your actions and feelings on certain assumptions? Which are these? What information do you need to have to check your assumptions? Who might have the information you need? Transparency in change processes is key (even if that transparency is sharing that there is no plan or answer…).
  • Confront your feelings and face your fears. Ask yourself, how are you feeling? What are you worrying about? What is the worst that can happen? How could you deal with it? Putting words on your fears can help you get perspective and distance to the scary scenarios you’ve built up in your head. The circle of influence is also a great exercise for this.
  • Positive psychology (Appreciative Inquiry). Make yourself aware of the fact that you’ve gone through MANY changes and transitions in your life so far already. What did you do last time you were faced with a change? What strengths of yours did you utilize to handle this change? What actions did you do to support yourself in moving through this change? Who else supported you? What worked last time and what could you replicate in this scenario? Use your experience of embracing the change and help yourself and others to do the same.
  • Be agile and adaptive. Navigating through change is like navigating through thick fog. We might be (hopefully) aware of the direction we want to go but the steps getting there might be hard for us to see. Allow yourself to be open to the opportunities that change could present. What is the first small step you can take in the right direction? Take that step and after each step evaluate and recalculate the steps you want to take. Once you’ve taken a step there will be visibility and options for the following step. Once there you can take the second step, a step that was invisible until you took the first.
  • Be patient. While easier said than done, be mindful that change takes time and that it isn’t a linear journey. Things might become clearer for you to then become fuzzy and uncertain again. Take one step at a time and use the curve to identify where you are in the process and how this affects how you feel.
  • Your own sustainability. As change takes time you need to take care of yourself in this journey. What do you need to feel mentally, physically, and emotionally strong? How can you manage your personal well-being?
  • Show gratitude and appreciation. In this uncertainty of change, what can you be grateful for? What things are still the same and a solid part of your life? What can you be appreciative of today?

Change and transition in life and in work is inevitable. We are in the deep of it right now; coping with an immediate health crisis, which seems to be changing our societies profoundly, while at the same time facing a range of global social and environmental sustainability problems. How we deal with this, both the immediate threat and the more long-term ones will define our future, it really is existential. We must embrace the change as we now move forward, it shows that we are evolving and growing while doing all within our reach to build a prosperous future for all humanity within our planetary boundaries.

Liene Leimanis Bartlett
COO, People & Change

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