This month we plunged into a 4 part series of surviving change. We’ve learned the truths, we’ve accepted the changes (or at least we’re aware we need to!), we’ve expanded our options – now it’s time to take action. This last part of Surviving Change is about making a plan and getting it into motion, evaluating your progress, and revising as needed along the way. In her book How to Survive Change You Didn’t Ask For, author M.J. Ryan shows us this fourth step. Let’s look at why the 80% solution is so important, why it’s good to try several things at once, why you should adopt the attitude of an improv actor and why revision is such a crucial skill.
“Don’t wait for something big to occur. Start where you are, with what you have, and that will always lead you into something greater.” – Mary Manin Morrissey
- Create A Story of Possibility
Author Martin Seligman points out in his book Learned Optimism the 3 dangerous P’s: pervasiveness – it’s ruined everything in my life, permanence – it will be like this forever and personal – I am the sole person going through this terrible thing, it’s all my fault. When we tell ourselves such stories, we easily fall into despair. We get stuck and find it harder to adapt, if we can at all. We can become full of bitterness and resentment, cold forms of anger that poison our present and stop us from creating a positive future. We can activate a different P though, one that we need by our side as we adapt – possibility. It’s what makes the difference between whether adversity breaks us or helps us break records. Stories of possibility keep us thinking creatively and productively as we adapt. Here’s an example: Story 1: My husband died and I am too uncomfortable to call a friend so I am taking a bus alone with strangers to DC to see a museum. Story 2: I’ve always envied women who travel alone and have new experiences. So I’m taking a bus alone with new people to DC to explore a museum I’ve wanted to see. I’m doing good, aren’t I?” What story do you tell yourself about the adapting your doing right now?
- Make Deposits Into Your Hope Account
“There has never been anything false about hope” – Barack Obama
In Greek mythology, when Pandora opened the box and let out all the troubles that have since plagued the world, she also let out a tiny fairy who said, “Yes, it is true that you have unleashed all manner of afflictions upon the world, but you have also let me out. I am Hope and will always be there to bring hope to humans, whenever they are in trouble.”. The Greeks were onto something. This myth goes to the heart of the truth that it’s difficult to endure hardships without hope. More recently psychologist Shane Lopez has done research and training in the role of hope in our daily lives. He says that hope is “the ideas and energy you have for the future…it forms when goal thinking (getting from here to there) combines with pathways thinking (I know many ways to get from here to there).” He’s shown there are many strong correlations between hope and a sense of well-being. You can’t adapt well and create a positive future in a state of hopelessness. Hope is one of the energies you need to cope.
- Hope is Not A Plan
We need the energy of hope as an emotional buoy and the biology of hope to repair our minds and bodies from the ravages of stress. But we need more than hope or else we’re stuck in wishful thinking. Wishful thinking is dangerously irresponsible because it keeps us from inaction. We tell ourselves “Somehow this problem will go away and my life will be a bed of roses.” It’s easy to confuse aspirations with a plan. A plan has an action attached to it. To create success, you need a plan with SMART actions:
Specific: you know what the action is.
Measurable: you can tell when you’ve done it.
Achieveable: it’s possible to do.
Relevant: it relates to the problem at hand and matters to you.
Time bound: there’s a deadline attached to it.
- Get The Balls In The Air
Whether you naturally think sequentially or not, we can’t always afford to do things sequentially. Things are just moving too fast and are too much in flux to pursue one course of action to its end before beginning to try something else. When you have more than one ball in the air, you increase your chances that something will come of at least one of them. To make sure you’re pursuing enough options, return to your goal and make sure it includes SMART actions across a spectrum. If you don’t naturally think in parallel, ask yourself what help you will need in thinking this way.
- Think Through The Implications
Often when we’re faced with a change, we’re so focused on the big things that we don’t take the time to think through the implications of what’s happening. But it’s an important step. One way to do this is to imagine you are already fully experiencing the new change. It’s one thing to decide something in the abstract, it’s another to get down in the weeds of it. The more explicit you get in running through scenarios and deciding how you’ll adapt, the less upset, angry or frustrated you’ll be in the actual situation. You won’t be caught off guard once the reality occurs. Can you anticipate everything? Of course not! But the more you anticipate, the more prepared you’ll be.
- Just Do One Thing
“The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex, overwhelming tasks into small, manageable ones, then starting on the first one.” – Mark Twain
Change can feel overwhelming, particularly if what you must do has a lot of actions or a tight time frame. This is why after you make a plan, you break it down into small, manageable pieces and then look at just the next step or action.It’s a great way of staying out of panic mode and experiencing success, which creates encouragement to keep going! Some things can’t be broken into smaller tasks. But you can still use the principle of doing just the next thing rather than looking at the whole. How can you break your plan down or focus on just the one small task? Think through what intermediate steps are involved in order to take the next step. And be kind to yourself if some days you don’t even manage that one thing. Rather than judging, blaming or shaming yourself, which just tends to keep you stuck as yourself, “what would make this easier to do tomorrow?”
- Ready, Fire, Aim
When we’re in the action phase of the change process sometimes the best thing to do is to “fire” it out, get some feedback, and re-aim it.This helps us stay out of analysis paralysis. We don’t need to wait until we have the perfect plan to move forward. That can put a huge burden of pressure on our shoulders. An 80% solution is better than no action at all.Think of it as an experiment, you’re trying something and seeing how it works. Based on your results, you will respond and revise. The key is to adjust based on the feedback – don’t get caught in the trap of continuing to do the same thing expecting different results.
- Evaluate Progress
Whatever phase you’re adjusting to, the evaluation process is important, because you don’t know what actions are actually going to get you where you want to go. You’re taking you’re best guess, but if you don’t know stop to evaluate, you won’t know if you’re best guess paid off. This can be a common one to skip. Often times we put something into action, assuming it will work, and never stop to analyze whether it is. Or we evaluate vaguely but don’t analyze exactly how much and whether it is making a significant enough difference. Maybe the situation continues to change but it’s not looked at again because something else is put in place and we feel finished. Look back at the SMART action plan can be a careful way to evaluate.
- If You’re Not Stretching, You’re Probably Missing Something
“Life is like playing a violin in public and learning the instrument as one goes on.” – Samuel Butler
My brain is perfectly happy doing what’s it’s always done. After all, it’s done it so well! Unfortunately, none of us, whatever our age, our work, our lifestyle, can afford that attitude. Particularly in this time, the name of the game is staying relevant, and the life cycle of relevancy is getting shorter. Now, the world is so connected and the speed of change is has accelerated that we all need to be learning skills and tools. We can moan and complain about that fact but if we want to maximize our success, we need to accept that reality and get learning. To do so we must get out of the safe zone and into the stretch zone. That’s because learning means stretching yourself beyond your current limits regarding what you can do and how you do it. In fact, the very fact that you feel awkward means you’re learning!
- Do What’s Needed
Each and every person on this earth deserves food, shelter and meaningful work. But, as Buddhist teacher Sylvia Boorstein says, “You don’t get what you deserve, you get what you get”. That’s why it’s so important not to take whatever we have for granted. Tough changes give us the opportunity to see just how tough we are. We roll up our sleeves and do what’s needed. We get to experience how a challenge makes us feel good. The dignity that comes from the determination to do what’s necessary can never be taken away from us.
- Get More Connected
“Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.” – Jane Howard
Nowhere is it more important to have your network than when going through a change. I used to think that word network as a dirty word, as it seemed to involve talking to random strangers at cocktail parties – something that never really appealed to me. Even if you think of yourself as a terrible networker, you have networks. I think of myself as a lone wolf but if I really think about it I have several networks – a network of friends, a network of parent’s from my daughters’ schools, a network of clients, a network of colleagues, etc. How about you? What are you networks and what sort of skill or resource do the people in them represent? Hopefully, the list itself will give you some comfort. The more you think of networking as building a web of relationships, the more advocates for you out there in the world.
- Use An Inspiring Mantra To Keep Up Your Spirits
“Every tomorrow has two handles. You can hold of the handle of anxiety, or the handle of enthusiasm. Upon our choice so will be the day.” – Anonymous
A mantra is a spiritual formula. It has the capacity to call up what is best and deepest in ourselves. We all have negative mantras we say to ourselves constantly, “I can’t handle this, this is too much, I’ll never survive it”. I imagine you know your particular version. So why not have an uplifting one to counteract it. Find an image, phrase or metaphor that sustains you as you ride the waves of change. It doesn’t have to be something you say, it just has to be something that encourages your heart and strengthens your spirit as you navigate the unknown.
- Focus on The Upside of Scaling Back
“Manifest plainness, embrace simplicity, reduce selfishness, have fewer desires” – Lao Tzu
Unwanted change often brings about embarrassment about our need to scale back. We don’t want others to know that we have huge credit card debt or lost a job or that our business we belly-up. We want to feel and appear competent to run our own lives successfully. The fact that we may need to get our clothes from a secondhand store, for instance, may make us feel like some kind of failure that we need to hide from others. But when we focus on what others may think of us, we run the danger of losing touch with the good choices we need to make in order to adapt. So how can we avoid worrying about what other people think? Interestingly, most people are too busy thinking about their own need to scale back to give yours much attention, unless it’s to wish they had your worries. Remembering we’re all in a similar boat at one time or another can be helpful.
Another other appoach to take is focus on the upside of the adapting we’re doing. Psychologists call this reframing. What could be right about the scaling back you’re doing right now? How can you reframe it as something advantageous? The more you focus on the upside, the better you’ll feel and the less you’ll care about what others think of your choices. Once you’ve reframed your downsizing for yourself, talk to others about the positive changes you’re making. Shame grows in the dark of silence. As poet Maya Angelou said, “You can be changed by circumstances, but you don’t have to be reduced by them.”
- Allow Your Circumstances To Open Your Heart
Unasked for change is a great leveler. Suddenly we’re aware that we’re part of a huge human community struggling for survival. Then we’re faced with a choice. We can see it as every person for him or herself and try to grab whatever goodies are available. Or we can allow our awareness that we’re all in this together to open our hearts and offer as much kindness and help as we can. It helps to feel less alone when we can choose to be aware of others struggling just like you and use it to grow compassion.
The world needs only what you have to give based with all that you are and all that you have learned through this journey of change. Hopefully the actions you take and the course corrections you make will not only help you feel more in control, but will soon find you thriving in your new circumstances. Call now a free consultation.