Change is an inevitable part of life but it is often really hard to navigate, especially when there’s a lot of it at once! Whether it’s a new role, a move to a new area, or a significant personal shift, change can trigger a complex mix of emotions and reactions in us all.

“I want to manage this change positively” is something so many of my clients say in one way or another. Understanding why change is so challenging and learning strategies to manage it positively and more comfortably can help us adapt better.

The Science Behind Why Change is Hard

The science bit! I’m fascinated by our behaviours and the psychology behind them, which is why I specialise in career transitions. There are three types of factors that make it hard for us to handle big or multiple changes:

  1. Biological Factors

At a fundamental level, our brains are wired to seek stability and predictability. The human brain is designed to conserve energy and maintain homeostasis (an optimal, balanced state). We are literally designed to avoid change.
The amygdala (a part of the brain involved in processing emotions, particularly fear), perceives change as a potential threat. This triggers a stress response, releasing hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, which prepare the body for a “fight or flight” reaction which gives us that panicky, anxious feeling when we think about a change.

  1. Psychological Factors

Psychologically, humans have a natural resistance to change due to cognitive biases such as the status quo bias and loss aversion. The status quo bias is our preference for things to remain the same because it feels safer and more comfortable. Loss aversion, on the other hand, is our tendency to fear losses more than we value gains. When faced with change, we often focus on what we might lose rather than the potential benefits, which makes it hard to see new situations as opportunities.

  1. Social Factors

Socially, humans are influenced by their environment and the people around them. Our social networks and cultural norms play a big role in shaping our attitudes towards change. If people around us are resistant to change, we are likely to mirror their attitudes and behaviours. Also, changes that impact our social identity, such as changes in our job or family roles, can be particularly challenging as they affect how we see ourselves and how others perceive us.

This is why I find helping people in new roles so fascinating. New roles are a heady cocktail of all these factors that make change so hard. It’s an exciting time but it doesn’t mean it’s easy!

My Top Tips for Handling Change Positively

While change can be daunting, there are several things we can do to approach it more effectively and positively:

  1. Acknowledge Your Feelings

The first step in dealing with change is to acknowledge your feelings. It’s normal to feel anxious, stressed, or even scared when faced with change, even if the change is positive overall! By recognising and accepting the way you feel, you can start to manage your feelings more effectively. Things that can help with this include journaling, talking to a friend, talking therapies or coaching.

  1. Break It Down Into Smaller Chunks

Change often feels overwhelming when we view it as one large, insurmountable challenge. Breaking it down into smaller, manageable steps can make it feel more achievable. Create a plan with specific, actionable tasks and set realistic goals for each step. This not only makes the change more manageable but also provides a sense of accomplishment as you progress and you can tick of milestones (so satisfying!). I encourage my clients to draft a 30-60-90 day plan early on, even if it changes it gives a focus and breaks down those crucial first 3 months.

  1. Focus on the Positive

Shifting your focus from what you might lose to what you could gain can help you embrace change more positively. Ever noticed that you step in the very puddle you were focusing on avoiding? Or the more you think about not saying the wrong thing, the less in control you are?
Try to identify the benefits and opportunities that the change might bring. Whether it’s personal growth, new experiences, or improved circumstances, focusing on the positive aspects can help shift your mindset and override some of those psychological factors making change harder.

  1. Develop Resilience

Resilience is “the ability to adapt and bounce back from adversity”. Building resilience can help you cope with change more effectively, but it takes time and persistence. Things like mindfulness, meditation, and exercise can help build resilience by reducing stress and improving your overall wellbeing. When I need to build myself back up, I take my dog for a walk in the nearby countryside and I always feel better. Starting a new job is knackering so it’s important to stay resilient by getting lots of rest and doing other things you enjoy too.

  1. Get Support

Don’t hesitate to seek support from others when going through change. Whether it’s friends, family, or colleagues, having a support system can provide comfort and encouragement. Sharing your experiences and seeking advice from others who have gone through similar changes can offer valuable insights and make you feel less alone.
However, bear in mind that those close to you will often tell you what you want to hear rather than challenging your thinking and giving you the space to reflect properly. That’s where getting a qualified and accredited Coach comes in (obviously!)

  1. Stay Flexible

Flexibility is very helpful when dealing with change. Having a growth mindset that you can grow from any situation, being open to new possibilities and willing to adjust your plans can help you handle change more smoothly. Change is a part of life and can lead to wonderful and unexpected opportunities…if you let it.

  1. Learn Continuously

Change often requires new skills, knowledge and relationships. Take the opportunity to learn and grow by checking out resources and training that can help you adapt to change. Learning not only gives you more tools you need to manage change but also boosts your confidence and competence. It’s no surprise that I also want to point out that having coaching is proven to improve problem-solving long term.

Change is a wonderful but also complex and often challenging process. Our responses to it are influenced by biological, psychological, and social factors but understanding why change is difficult for all of can help us develop strategies to manage it more effectively and help us feel less lonely. By recognising our feelings, breaking down the change into smaller steps, focusing on the positive, building our resilience, getting support, staying flexible, and continuously learning, we can approach any change more positively and turn it into an opportunity for growth.

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