Good News! The Pathway of Change Is Predictable

Often when radical change occurs in our lives we feel confusion - not only about what's happening but also about how we'll cope with it. This is especially true of negative change such as the loss of a romantic relationship, a job or a loved one. Of course, confusion is perfectly normal and natural, but it needn't get in the way of handling situations effectively and of accommodating any kind of change. Why? Because your personal path through change is probably predictable.

To be aware of this path and how it works can make the transition easier, perhaps faster, and definitely more effective.

There are four stages that each of us experiences as we traverse the landscape of major life change. Each has specific characteristics relating to how you may think, feel and act.

Think of the change process as a picture. Imagine a sort of "V" shape. In fact, on a piece of paper, draw a large letter "V" From left to right on the "V," label it as follows:

Upper left: DENIAL. SHOCK is another word for this. You just can't believe that some big change is going to happen...or has. "This can't be happening," is a typical comment. Another way to deny is by IGNORING it...usually by attempting to wait until it all blows over. But it doesn't. And there's MINIMIZING by assuming, for instance, that "It just needs a few minor adjustments." It's possible to continue working in this phase, but sooner or later you feel the impact and MUST respond.

Left side, line to the bottom of the letter: RESISTANCE. As time passes, things seem to get worse, stress increases. Often we resort to BLAME at this time; we COMPLAIN. You may become physically ill, feel physical symptoms. You may even begin to doubt that you can survive the change. A feeling of hopelessness, even depression, isn't uncommon. Actually, what's happening here, in the psychological sense, is that you're mourning the past -- rather than getting ready for the future. Be aware of the real danger that you could wallow in this place for quite some time. But remember, the next step is entirely up to you?it's your choice!

Right side, line to the top of the letter: EXPLORATION. This important phase usually begins just somehow feel sleep through the night realize that you actually have a chance of making it through. Your energy level rises, and you begin to conceive of the notion that there may be new possibilities. This is a great time to set goals, create positive directions, experiment with those "possibilities." A caution, though...don't be hasty at this time. Resist moving out of this phase before you've arrived at the very best situation you're capable of?that is, the highest level of confidence that your next move will be the right one. But remember, no matter what course you choose, there'll be risks as you navigate it.

Right side, top of the letter: COMMITMENT. This phase begins when you focus on a new course of you've decided upon, not one that's been thrust on you. At this point, the major growth within yourself has already happened, and your new assignment is to capitalize on it. Note that the shape of the "V" can be infinitely variable. A goal, of course, is to shorten the denial phase, to create a shallower penetration into resistance, perhaps to lengthen the exploratory phase a bit, and to move purposefully into the commitment area when you're ready.

There's a certain rhythm to the process of personal change. And seldom does it happen that you're facing only one challenge at a time; often you're in various phases of separate change processes all at once. Being aware of the process helps you to sort this all out and to prevent overload. It also gives you an opportunity to avoid getting stuck in any one phase. It also allows you to move through all stages, in order and in appropriate time frames, rather than to breeze through without examining the feelings and the process, only to run up against a psychological brick wall later. Again, we see that time is important. Don't be in too much of a hurry to come out the other side.

Copyright 2002, 2005 Optimum Performance Associates/Paul McNeese.

Paul McNeese is CEO of Optimum Performance Associates, a consulting firm specializing in transitional and transformational change for individuals and institutions through publication. His publishing company, OPA Publishing, is an advocacy for self-publishing authors of informational, instructional, inspirational and insightful nonfiction.

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