Being a bookworm is hard at times, you find a book for any problem or challenge. If you are going through any kind of change… I can tell you there is a book for it! It is actually not about the change as such but creating a new 12 week year.
Any change evokes in us certain emotions, sometimes many different ones, change can feel like riding an emotional roller coaster. At times you might question yourself ‘Am I mad, bonkers, off the top of my head?’ I’ll tell you a secret. All the best people are, said Alice from Wonderland. However, I will tell you one more secret, psychologists Don Kelley and Daryl Conner describe this phenomenon as the emotional cycle of change. Regardless of the change you choose to make you will experience the cycle. You can file new relationships, new purchases, new jobs and new habits under cycle of change and it is always the same. Change is uncomfortable because it brings up emotions, some of them can feel painful and we try to avoid pain.
While I mentioned pain here it is crucial to understand its function. Pain thought me some good lessons. There are two kinds of pains in life. I call them the pain of destruction and the pain of progress. We can choose our pains. A pain of progress is a good mental pain, pain which makes us progress from where we are to where we desire to be. It can be pain of development, pain of frustration to learn new things, pain of fear of unknown, pain of failure, pain of facing our challenges and pain of being visible and vulnerable.
“…The more mental pain we can stand the further we can go, the more we can become, the more we can do and achieve…” – Emilia
The second pain of destruction is when we suffer and it doesn’t take us to any good place. We want to numb pain, not to feel it, escape it by doing all sorts of destructive things or live in denial and in the same time we prevent progress and learning from entering the stage. These two kinds of pains are equal in suffering, which one would you choose?
We know that any change has emotional impact on us. Sometimes the process is more intense and sometimes it is less intense. Sometimes the cycle is shorter another time is longer. Whenever we decide to make a change in our lives we experience the cycle. There are 5 stages that we move through emotionally when changing our behaviour:
1. Uniformed optimism, the first stage of change, often quite exciting as we imagine all of the benefits without experiencing any of the costs. We feel positive emotions driven by our uninformed optimism. We can see all of the benefits of the change and none of the downsides, so this stage is fun. We are coming up with ideas and possibilities how we might create a new desired level of thought. Usually uninformed optimism doesn’t last long. When we start realising what it takes to change, positive emotions can quickly sour.
2. Informed pessimism, a second stage of change characterised by a shift to a negative emotional state. At this point the cost seems to be larger than the benefits. You start to question if the change is really worth the effort, also we tend to search for reasons to abandon the effort. From now on things might get worse.
3. Valley of despair, its name speaks for itself, this is a stage when most people give up. We feel all of the pain of change and benefits seem so distant or less important. A fast easy way to end the discomfort is to go back to the way we used to do things. After all, we justify that it wasn’t so bad before. If you give up on change when you are in the valley of despair you go back to the first stage of uniformed optimism. Which is more comforting than being in the valley. It is critical to have a compelling vision while going through the valley of despair. I believe most of us had a time in our lives when we wanted something so badly that we were willing to pay any price and overcome any obstacle to get it. Maybe it was your dream holiday, maybe it was getting university degree, maybe it was pursuing the person whom you wanted to marry or maybe it was your dream job. Whatever it was you wanted it so badly that you paid the price to get it. Burning desire to reach your vision, combined with commitment, the tools of process control is the way through the valley to the next stage of change. To keep us on track it is important to use action plans or project management tools, also search for ways to build new supportive habits.
“…Turn your pain into a black stallion, saddle it, grab the rein and ride through the rough seas of life!” – Emilia
4. Informed optimism, at this stage our likelihood of success is much higher. We feel positive emotions again as we see benefits of our actions are starting to bear fruit and the cost of change are lessened. We are less anxious about problems because our new thoughts and actions are becoming more routine. The key at this stage is not to stop.
5. Success and fulfilment is the final stage of the cycle of change. We might feel very satisfied, we experience the benefits of the new behaviour and routine. We have worked through the problems, emotions, uncertainty, uncomfortable and difficult actions and brought about a change. Yes to success!
Every time you complete the cycle you build up not only your capacity but also your confidence. At this point it is good to reflect on what went well, and what you learned from the entire process. This review will help you identify what went well, what not so well and why; and what could go even better in the future while going through another bigger change.
If you are interested in the emotional side of change and would like to know more I wrote another article called What has death to do with a change process?
May the force of change be with you.