Change - whether it’s by choice or has taken you completely by surprise - is almost always unsettling. Taking some time to acknowledge how you are feeling, as you go through the process of change, is a great way to take back some control and reorient yourself. Once you have regained a steady footing, you will be in a better position to make decisions that help you to move forward.
This is the 'Change Curve', designed by the psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, in the late 1960’s. At first a tool to help identify the different stages of grief, it is now used to describe the psychological process that any shift in experience and perspective can create.
When you’re going through a redundancy process or a major restructure at work, the ‘shock’ stage feels relevant. But when you're embarking on a career change, it might seem a bit odd. Actually it’s not. Just because you have decided to make a change, doesn’t mean that the thought of doesn’t shake your very existence! You may find that you have doubts that play over and over in your mind. Sometimes this is an indication that you need to revisit your decision but often, it’s just a natural response to a shift in your psychological foundations.
Here’s a breakdown of all the different stages, with a bit more explanation about what they each mean:
The first stage of any change is shock. While your pre-frontal cortex is processing information or has made a decision, your hippocampal region (or, emotional brain) is running riot. This can throw you into panic resulting in either numbness as you mentally ‘check-out’ to protect yourself from stress or throw you into floods of tears (and everything in between).
Because our brains like us to take the easiest path, denial is inevitable. Let’s just carry on and pretend nothing’s happening shall we? It probably won’t be any different / as bad as I think it will? If I ignore it for long enough, it’ll go away or I’ll just naturally, painlessly adapt. Right? Right?! Wrong. Denial never changed anything… let’s move on.
It’s okay to be angry (though try not to take it out on anyone else or dwell in this state for too long). When you feel anger bubbling under the surface, the temptation is to push it away. This only results in pent up rage that could burst out at another, less appropriate time…So, if you feel angry or agitated, know that it’s normal and acknowledge the feeling so that you can move through it.
We’re not talking about clinical depression here, just low mood or lack of excitement or energy. Allowing yourself the space to experience - but not wallow in - this is really important because it’s the tipping point for change. A better word for this stage might be ‘acceptance’ - even if it’s reluctant. Only once you accept the change can you take positive steps forward.
Once you have accepted that the change will happen, you will start to be able to think about all the different ways the change will affect you and the options you have available to you. Why not use your Voco conversations to share your ideas and ask for advice from your Voco partner?
Now it’s time to make a plan. What are you going to do next? What support do you need? What else needs to happen to help you through the change?
It may feel far off but there will come a time when this change is a memory and things become ‘normal’ again. Change is an inevitable part of life but hopefully the big changes like redundancy, career change and returning to work won’t happen too often and, if they do, you’ll be more ready for them this time! Have a read of our blog post about change to hone the skills you need to be even more adaptable to changes both big and small.
Sadly, you're unlikely go through all of these stages in a nice, neat, timely way. The length of time you spend in ‘denial’, for example, will depend on how much information you have and how willing you are to move forwards. You may also find that you slide back and forth along the first half of the curve a bit before you reach the point where you can embrace your change in a positive way.
The trick is to recognise where you are on the curve at any given time, give yourself the space to work through that stage - seeking the information and support you need to do this - and acknowledge when you have moved through that stage and on to the next.
Theoretically, you can’t successfully move comfortably through change until you have hit the lowest point. Without this acceptance, it is almost impossible to move on. Peer coaching will be a crucial part of your change process because the questions your Voco match asks will help you to interrogate your own thought processes; the reasons why you are at a certain stage, and then help you to think about ways to move past it.