I’ve heard it said that we’re currently in the midst of a time where there is the most rapid change experienced by any generation. I don’t know about you, but this rings pretty true for me. Technology has had an impact on almost every aspect of my life in the past 30 years and the rate of change seems to have escalated in recent times.
Even without such shifts in technology, change is inevitable across all of our lives, yet many of us feel that we’re not well-equipped to deal with it.
Research says that regardless of whether a change is positive or negative, most of us find it unsettling. When we anticipate one thing (which is what occurs when life is consistent and habitual) and something different occurs, alarm bells go off in our brains. The ‘flight or fight’ response kicks in and as our bodies prepare to mobilise us into action, we experience something that feels a lot like fear.
Over time, this stress response can elevate adrenaline and cortisol in our bodies so we feel like we’re constantly in a state of alert. I suspect that this might be one of the reasons we’re seeing a rise in the number of people with anxiety.
Given our rapidly changing world and the simple fact that change is an inevitable part of life, it helps if we can proactively build our capacity for change.
Below are a few tips that should help, even if you’re not going through transition right now.
Make incremental change all the time
One of the most effective ways to prepare your brain for change is to bring new habits and behaviours into your life on a regular basis. This is what psychologists call self-directed neuroplasticity, or in other words, the way to build new neural pathways in your brain. Think of it as flexing the ‘change muscle’ (if such a thing existed) in your mind.
While you’re at it, try to find ways to make change interesting and fun. For example, if you’re looking for a new partner, tell yourself you’re just practising dating for the first ten dates. Take the pressure off trying to impress and instead, use each date as an opportunity to practise the art of conversation, knowing you can use these skills in all areas of your life.
Ask for help
One of the things I’ve found hugely helpful while going through recent change (read more in my personal note below) has been reaching out to others who have been through similar experiences and also talking to the experts we need to assist us. Most people want to be helpful and they usually don’t mind spending 15 minutes on the phone answering a handful of questions.
Remind yourself it’s completely normal for change to feel uncomfortable
It’s important to give yourself permission to experience the discomfort of change. Allow for all of the difficult feelings that come up and be kind to yourself as you have them. Instead of telling yourself to ‘get over it’ or being self-critical, have compassion for yourself and learn about how you can soothe your discomfort. One way to do this is to say to yourself, ‘it makes sense that you feel stressed. Change is hard for everyone.’
When you try to force difficult feelings away, it often serves to exaggerate them or make you feel worse about yourself.
Remember also to recognise the discomfort of others around you (family members, children, work colleagues) and be tolerant and understanding as they do their best to navigate their way through new experiences.