The subject of change surfaces repeatedly in the field of coaching in one form or another. Some people have a clear idea of exactly what they want to change. Others, however, don’t know that they need to change something and it’s brought to their attention during a session.
The nature of change is both complex and very simple. Yes, this sounds like a contradiction, but it actually points towards the characteristic of ‘duality’ that is fundamental to change. Someone once told me that:
“If you want things to stay the same, then it’s going to take a lot of change.”
Just like you, I immediately saw the contradiction in this statement. Luckily, I kept an open mind and remembered it until the penny dropped.
The best way I can describe the meaning behind the above statement is through the analogy of an ice cube. If you take an ice cube out of the freezer and leave it on the table, it’s going to be a small puddle of water in a matter of hours. If you take an ice cube out of the freezer and leave it on the table but don’t want it to melt while it’s there, its surroundings would have to change. In fact, the whole room would need to be turned in to a freezer for that to be possible. Regardless of what we wanted to happen in this scenario, change was always present, and it has always worked this way. The circumstances don’t drive change; change drives the circumstances.
Change was present before the existence of humans, and we have hard scientific evidence for this. Humans have calculated that the universe has been in existence for 13.8 billion years in various forms and that human beings have walked the Earth for about 200,000 of those years. Viewed from the perspective of a 24-hour day, in which there are 86,400 seconds, human existence would account for only 1.25 seconds. Everything that occurred before human existence was out of our control. But, such is the nature of change, now that we exist, change has delegated some control to us, but not all.
Remembering that we have some control over change is the key to understanding it and welcoming it into our lives. Most of us know and accept this fact and go about implementing change in the way we think works best, which is fine. Most of the time this works, but in some cases, it fails miserably.
Because change is always present, we need to start acknowledging it and working with it harmoniously to help us navigate through life smoothly. Change can be thought of as an invisible life partner who will walk by our side for the rest of our days. Like any partner, change has a personality that we must learn about, accept, and accommodate for.
Change is feared and resisted by many people. Understanding the personality of change can help us decide whether or not to actively make a change in our lives, or to just let change happen to us. I have my own view about how to approach this, which I will touch upon at the end of this article.
Having observed many cases over time, I have identified the following eight components that I believe form the personality of change, each of which has a dual nature. Reflecting on these as you navigate through life will assist you with taking purposeful steps when working with change.
Outcome – change has a positive or negative outcome
If change had an attitude, it would be indifferent to the outcome it produces. Our perspective on the outcome determines the direction in which we subsequently move. The human mind either likes the outcome of change or it doesn’t. Any in-between state is really just the mind hesitating on which side of the fence to be on.
Three things are certain, though. The first is that if we like the outcome of change then there’s nothing further for us to do except to enjoy it. The second is that if we don’t like the outcome of change, then we know further work is required to get us to our optimal position. Thirdly, if we’re in an in-between state regarding the outcome of change, then as rational human beings, we should choose to work towards positivity rather than negativity. If for any reason, we are considering developing a negative outcome for ourselves or others, then that would be a good time to take a step back and review the health of our thinking.
Structure – change can be planned or unplanned
Planned or unplanned change is something that we have all experienced to some extent. We feel most in control when we are proactively structuring change towards a certain outcome. Planning change effectively involves a thorough review of all the critical factors such as timelines, costs, resources, risks, losses, gains, and more. Knowing where we stand with these factors and others gives the mind a certain degree of comfort and ease.
Discomfort arises when we struggle to solve problems during our journey towards change because we no longer have a clear picture of the outcome in the absence of solutions. Discomfort also arises when unplanned change arises in our lives or during a project. Unplanned change can be positive or negative and arises as a result of missing information from the outset, or new information crossing our path during our journey. If unplanned change is negative, then it can be a real test of how quick and creative our thinking can be in the moment. Creativity and sharp thinking are useful skills that can assist us with planned and unplanned change.
Speed – change can be quick or slow
If you look back over time, you may be able to identify moments where an event happened that completely changed the course of your life. Such events could have happened over a matter of seconds, minutes or hours, but their impact was long-lasting. Events like this tend to be out of our control, such as death, a natural disaster or winning the lottery. You may also be aware of other outcomes of change that arose as a result of events spanning over a longer period of time, which were generally in our control. Examples of these are reorganising a business, becoming qualified in a career after a long period of studying, or slowly polluting the environment with industrial waste products.
The speed at which change operates can produce an outcome that is positive or negative. An event that brings about quick change requires resilience, whether the outcome is positive or negative because the aftermath is normally an unexpected or unfamiliar situation that needs to be followed through. In the case of slow change, a high degree of patience is required when working towards a positive outcome. Resilience is still required if, after a long period of time, the outcome is not positive.
Flow – change can be resisted or accepted
Resisting the flow of change is one of the biggest reasons why we struggle with it. We tend to have an ideal picture in our heads of the way we would like to realise an outcome. If we feel like we’re not working towards that outcome as a result of a series of unplanned events arising, we automatically start to resist the effects. Resistance is an uncomfortable feeling that can cause stress in the mind, and we normally resist change if it is navigating us towards what we feel like maybe a negative outcome.
Remembering that change can have a positive or negative outcome, if we are able to plan differently to work towards the positive outcome we want, then we should. If we have no motivation in wanting to work towards the outcome we want, then we should realise that it’s not in our genuine interest. We should accept change when we realise that things are totally out of our control. Where there is nothing we can feasibly do to get us to the outcome we want, then we must accept that there is a purpose in the redirection.
Size – change can be large or small
People have a habit of thinking that to get to an optimal point in life, it’s going to involve a large change in circumstances. For some situations, this is quite true, and an example of this is moving abroad to take on a dream job.
We must remember that the fundamental reason why we change things is because we want to feel different. In fact, we do it because we want to feel happier and more positive. But, we forget that the smallest of changes can sometimes bring about the positive feelings we are seeking. A simple, but common, example of this is rearranging or de-cluttering a home to help you feel less claustrophobic or psychologically stressed by the disarray of items all around you. Another example is taking the time and courage to communicate clearly in a relationship so that both parties know what each other is going through.
A key thing to remember is that large change is always comprised of smaller acts of change. It’s the level of intention and quality within these smaller changes that determines the final nature of the large change that is being sought.
Visibility – change can be noticed or unnoticed
Change and time are very closely connected. Think of when you meet someone you know after a number of months, and they comment on parts of your personality or appearance that you or the people you live with didn’t even notice. The small incremental changes that have been occurring within you on a day-to-day basis were mostly unnoticeable by you but were significant to someone who saw the overall impact after a long period of time.
We let change happen to us on a small scale over a long period of time, and we may or may not like the overall outcome once we realise its impact. We tend to let this change occur because we don’t know it’s happening to us. What’s even more interesting is that this change that we let happen to us can be controlled quite easily. But to do so, we need to stop and notice it once in a while. The same is applicable to our surrounding environment. We continue to individually do things that we think are insignificant on a day-to-day basis, but the overall impact across a longer period of time can be disastrous. The crisis we are currently having with non-recyclable plastic is a good example of this.
Pain – change can be painful or pain-free
Pain always has a trigger. In the case of change, these triggers are when the outcome is negative or when we resist the flow. We don’t feel pain when we have a favourable outcome, or when we accept the flow of change and let it do its work. The pain we feel (or don’t) during periods of change can be very informative.
If we feel pain, then that’s a sure sign that the course of change needs to be redirected towards a more positive outcome. If we use adversity properly, we can grow through it. If we feel pain-free, then this either means that we are on the right track, or we’ve got too comfortable. The absence of pain during of after change is not always beneficial. Change can lead to growth and development, and that means that we sometimes need to get out of our comfort zone to feel beneficial “growth pain”.
Variety – Change is constant or variable
Because change is always present, everywhere, it can be considered as constant. At the same time, it’s variable, because it’s creating different outcomes for different people and things at different times. The variable characteristic of change is incredibly valuable. Imagine a world where the same outcome was created for everyone or everything. It would be a very bland and boring existence.
The variety that change creates through its variable nature isn’t random either. There are strong dependent connections between the different outcomes of change. For example, as the seasons change the leaves and fruits on trees fall to the ground and decompose. The decomposed leaves and fruits nourish the creatures in the soil, which then go on to reproduce. The seasons changed, the trees changed, and so did the creatures and their population. Varied outcomes, but all connected.
I mentioned at the beginning that change is both complex and very simple. The complexity resides in understanding and applying the eight components outlined above during a journey of change. The simplicity resides in deciding whether or not to make a change or to let change happen to us.
Having introduced the eight components that form the personality of change, I want to readdress the point I made earlier on in this article about whether or not we should actively make a change in our lives, or to just let change happen to us. My simple answer is as follows, but others may have their own approach:
If your current situation is creating discomfort, and you are feeling a certain degree of pain, then first identify if this is a “damaging pain” or a “growth pain”. Are you genuinely suffering, or are you just on a learning curve that has taken you out of your comfort zone?
If you are genuinely suffering, understand and use the things that are in your control to be able to make a quick, proactive change towards a more positive outcome.
If you are out of your comfort zone and on a learning curve, try not to resist the journey of change, and humbly learn as much from it as you possibly can.
If your current situation is pain-free, enjoy it. Or, make changes to feel “growth pain” to help you start a growth and development journey that’s beneficial for you.
You may have realised that the approach I have outlined above is “feelings-centred”, and I believe that this is effective because our feelings can give us real-time information about our well-being. Regardless of how you intend to approach change management, above all, ensure that whatever action you take towards change is constructive for yourself, others, and the surrounding environment.
Change can be beautiful if we accommodate it and become more connected with it. We have a considerable amount of control in our hands with regards to how much we can change and when. Change will take place whether or not we exercise that control, but the beautiful thing about taking the steps to do so is in leaving a legacy behind saying to those who remain that:
“I crafted an existence to pursue my dreams, while acknowledging the redirections from the invisible hand of change.”
Written by Prashant Jadav. For help with managing change, please get in touch here.