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Coping with messy change

Messy change

Change is a reality in our lives like never before. Managing uncertainty and the feelings of nervousness and anxiousness that go with these seismic changes is a skill we are all being forced to learn. In addition, our old ways of coping with messy change may no longer be sufficient.

Robin Sharma, the Canadian speaker and author, perhaps most famous for his book ‘The Monk who sold his Ferrari’ says ‘all change is hard at first, messy in the middle and gorgeous at the end.’ With the societal, economic and cultural turmoil in the world, we are certainly in the hard and messy stages.

At a personal level, perhaps up to recently, many of us felt we were on track. We had a vision of where we were headed and were following what we thought was a path to success and happiness. As a result of Covid 19, many professionals who did everything right in their careers, find they are on a vastly reduced salary, or for the first time in their lives are receiving social welfare. Businesses, where clients came to their door, are having to seek new ways to generate cashflow. Change which at times in the past was a choice is now an unavoidable and harsh reality.


Embrace messy change

What no longer works during times of change?

Our instinct is to resist change because instinctively we associate change with loss. But when change is no longer an option, old approaches to change won’t work.


Assuming certainty

In times of change, many of the habitual ways for managing a business and for organising our lives may no longer be valid. Rather than bemoaning the changes and what’s not possible, focus on what is possible and get curious about what’s unfolding.

Ultimately you have the choice of viewing change as a betrayal of your world order, or seeing it as a challenge to develop a broader perspective, a new way of looking at and engaging with the world.


Ignoring messry change

Keeping your head down

Avoidance is rarely a successful strategy. Working harder may not even be the answer. If you keep working the way you always worked, doing the same things, approaching situations in the same way, you may not be doing the effective thing in the first place.


Old stress management techniques

In times of big change – job losses, reduced income, different working conditions, our old ways of coping with stress may no longer be enough. When we feel a threat to either our physical safety or our sense of identity, our brain moves into survival mode.

In this ‘fight, flight or freeze’ state our decision-making will not be rational. To be in a frame of mind to make decisions and simply for our own well-being, acknowledging and managing our stress levels has to be high on our agenda.


What does work during times of uncertainty?


Get clear. Messy change

 1 Get clear as to what’s important

Change forces us to reassess where we are at in our lives, businesses and careers. It’s a wake-up call. We are forced to ask the big questions – What do I want to do with the rest of my life? What are my goals? What are my priorities? In the past, it was all too easy to get stuck in our very comfortable ruts, now the rut is shattered we feel vulnerable. But remember vulnerability is the doorway to growth and new possibilities.


2 Know what’s within your control

Most of us have difficulty with uncertainty because the path forward is unclear. In times of great uncertainty, our criteria for making decisions has to change. We have to decide what we can control and take steps in this direction. Knowing what we can control and what is outside of our control will give us a sense of still being at the wheel of our own destiny, whilst at the same time reducing stress levels.

In the book ‘Shoe Dog’ by Phil Knight the founder of Nike, when facing a challenge he asks himself five simple questions to focus the mind.

  • What do I know?
  • What else do I know?
  • What does the future hold (about this issue?)
  • What’s the first step?
  • What’s step two?

Self care. Messy change

 3 Taking care of ourselves

With the stresses and strains of modern life, taking care of ourselves is vital. ‘Fuelling our soul’ is the phrase I like to use.

This means connecting with those activities that make us come alive, boost our energy, enhance our motivation and enable us to respond more effectively to the situations life throws at us. During times of messy change, it is important that we have our own supportive communities and networks, though of course in the current climate, how we interreact with them will be different.

As humans, we are habit-forming creatures. Habits develop into routines and sometimes routines develop into ruts. When coping with change we are forced to take action in new directions and to forge new habits and rituals.

It may not be easy, but when we have little choice trying to find the silver lining is a worthwhile approach.

I hope you enjoyed this post and do consider reading this one called Rebooting Business & Life.  If you like to listen to podcasts then make sure you check out episode 66 of my podcast Your Time With James Sweetman below where I talk in more detail about this topic of dealing with messy change and If you don’t want to miss any of my updates do consider subscribing to my monthly newsletter below.

Best wishes