New Year, new you (apparently) and, according to the ONS, new financial challenges ahead for 89% of us. Whether the cost of living crisis means that you're bringing your lunchbox into work or you’re struggling to even fill it, this kind of invasive and forced lifestyle change can leave you feeling flatter than your - now unaffordable - flat white.
If you’re one of the lucky ones, rather than a sudden gaping hole in your finances, you’ll have been feeling the pinch for a while, in small increments. In life, we tend to over focus on the big, startling changes that push us into immediate survival mode. But, like the impact of the cost of living crisis, most changes are experienced in small, almost imperceptible, shifts. Changes to what we can afford, the way we work, what’s required of us and who we work with are served up in almost daily doses.
Though we have come to expect change, most of us still struggle with anything that disrupts our routine or challenges our beliefs or behaviours. This is because, for the most part, we are ‘doing’ change wrong.
Sweat the small stuff
When we think about change, we often focus on those monumentally impactful moments that change the course of our lives; the redundancy, the new job, the career change, the promotion. We often muddle through the small, continuous shifts we experience because we believe ourselves to be naturally adaptable. But saving our energy only for big changes is a false economy and true adaptability takes conscious effort. Adaptability is not about springing back after adversity, it’s about being genuinely comfortable to face the challenges of change head on. If we fail to develop our adaptability, we are vulnerable to being forever blind-sided by our own response to change; even when we are the agents of it.
By paying more attention to the physiological and psychological impact of those small alterations we can better prepare ourselves for more challenging times. Change is a process and the stages we go through apply, no matter the size or scale of the change. So, next time we feel uncomfortable with a new process at work or the introduction of a new colleague to the team, we should not simply ‘shrug it off’. Recognising the feeling, allowing ourselves to fully engage with it and giving ourselves space to process the feeling will make it far easier to navigate the change. Only when we can sit comfortably with our discomfort can we tackle it.
Understanding our triggers (what types of changes make us feel least comfortable? How do we behave when we feel unsettled by change?), will allow us to begin to recognise them whenever they occur and move to address them. Whether this means talking to someone, taking time out of our day to reflect, asking more questions or trying to take some control of a situation, concerns pass quicker and negative feelings won’t linger.
Tuning in to the ebb and flow of the changes that occur in life can give us clues to predict big changes to come. Often we can be tempted to ignore the context within which small changes occur - or simply don’t feel that we have the time to engage with it.
Think of it like driving a car - if we only turned the wheel when we reached a corner we would constantly be ricocheting off the pavements. When we look ahead, adjusting our driving line subtly as we go, our journey will be far smoother. Actively making adjustments to our approach, in response to the context we are working in will help to hone the ability to predict changes - or at least be more prepared for them.
We’re not advocating a constant suspicion of change, simply a development of genuine curiosity about what changes might occur. To stay curious, we need open communication; we cannot expect to understand a change if we haven’t spoken to anyone else about it. Sharing concerns, allowing other people to share theirs, asking questions and giving feedback are all a part of the process. Apply this to both big and small changes and it will become second nature - ultimately building our adaptability.
Adapting to, rather than putting up with, small changes builds a strong psychological foundation to help make the best of change. Rather than fearing or being frustrated by change, we become familiar with how it feels and how we are likely to respond. We can never be in control of everything in our working lives, but by understanding more about ourselves, we can at least maintain a sense of stability.
Self-awareness doesn’t always come easy so it’s essential to seek feedback from other people. We may think that we are adapting well to change but our behaviours may tell a different story! It can be disconcerting to see ourselves through the eyes of others but the information we get from this is invaluable.
Gaining insights from people who are less invested in or affected by a change will give us huge amounts of perspective. Being curious about change and our thoughts and feelings about it, creates a sense of comfort and predictability in the process, whatever it may bring.
Learning how to manage change will not make a bad financial or work situation any less devastating but it could help to get you through some of the tougher times and will certainly build resilience for future changes to come.