3 Oct 2019

Career Development

Why change is scary – and what to do about it

Written by Dennis Stanley

In its most simplistic form, life could be described as a series of highs and lows. We experience happiness, pride, joy, love – and the flipside of that coin brings us sadness, embarrassment, despair and anger. We’re never going to get away from this aspect of life, and you often hear people allude to the fact that the low points are there to make the high points seem even better, so there’s an argument to say we should actually embrace it.

One low point that often takes people by surprise is the feelings of discomfort that can occur as you’re moving towards a new goal. You embark on your new project feeling motivated, inspired and excited, when suddenly you’re overwhelmed by feelings of doubt, uncertainty, and fear. Perhaps you’re applying for a new job or buying a new house? Whatever life-changing dream you are pursing this debilitating period has the ability to stop you in your tracks if you let it.

Why do you feel this way?

Even though you ultimately know that the end goal is something that will be good for you, waves of these feelings may come at you until you begin to doubt if it’s the right thing to do at all. And, that’s because we are making a change.

Change is hard, and for many it can be a scary thing to face – even the little alterations. It takes you out of your cosy, protective comfort zone and forces you, vulnerable and exposed, into the great unknown. Am I going to be good enough? Will I make a fool out of myself? Is the end result going to be as good as I’d hoped for?

One of the issues with change is that we see it as a huge defining moment. We make a decision and then we do something to make it happen. It’s irreversible and absolute. But, in reality, it doesn’t happen that way. Forming new habits or working towards a goal takes time, often with a series of many small actions moving you in the right direction.

We may not always move towards the end result in a linear fashion either. There may be set-backs, slip-ups or times when you have to start again. And, that’s OK. If you’d like to read more about why change is so hard, this is a great article that discusses it in more detail using psychological research to illustrate its claims.

Does planning matter when you want change?

I’ve previously written about how I take some time during the summer to reflect and plan for the year ahead. I think a plan or strategy is key to achieving any goal. Without it you are rudderless. But (and that’s a big but), any plan you devise shouldn’t be set in stone.

I like to use a business concept to explain this my clients, although it fits personal goals too.

We take a look at ‘Intended Strategy’ versus ‘Emergent Strategy’ versus ‘Realised Strategy’. I’ll explain what each means in case you haven’t come across the phrases before:

  • An Intended Strategy, as you may expect, is the strategy that you hope to implement. It is the plan you have that will enable you to achieve your goal.

  • An Emergent Strategy is formed in reaction to unanticipated opportunities or challenges that come your way. It’s how you are going to deal with an issue that suddenly crops up preventing you from reaching your goal, or how you’re going to take advantage of something that before continuing on your journey.

  • Realised Strategy is normally a combination of the two above. It’s the plan that actually gets you to success, whatever that may look like for you.

The important thing to take from this is that having to adapt your plan, even if it’s to accommodate a momentary change of direction or a frustrating delay, is perfectly normal. It’s not a sign of failure. It’s a natural part of setting out to achieve something.

Even when you know and understand this it can still derail you from your goals if you don’t respond to the challenges (or opportunities) in the best way. Or, if you let the negative thoughts run away with you.

Having a coach in your corner at these times is a great way to keep you on track and to help you question your thought processes and perspectives. If you’d like me to support you on your journey and help you achieve your goals, email me at dennis.stanley@marriage-stanley.com