Why Change Can Be Distressing, And How to Become a Change Master

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When faced with crisis, change or challenge, there are often some universal characteristics that you will experience. We list here the most common characteristics, and suggest some helpful ways to respond better in the future.

Change That Catches You By Surprise

The most distressing element of crisis, change or challenge is when change catches us by surprise. Most humans don’t like surprises, because it reinforces the experience of being out of control of a part of our universe. It can be unnerving to feel that other people or events are intruding into your plans.

Too often, we fall prey to that most-human of reactions to surprise, which is to resist change and dig in our heels.

Resisting change can increase friction, and hold you back from future success.

This is not the distressing change we are talking about, but we can't say the same for the piggy [courtesy Daniel St Pierre + freedigitalphoto.net]

This is not the distressing change we are talking about, but we can’t say the same for the piggy

  • Change mastery tip: be curious and vigilant at work – practice curiosity about trends for your school or department; learn the vision of your leaders and their strategic plan for the upcoming year. These often help you predict upcoming changes and allow you to brace for them. Some sources of information include reading announcements in the Employee Gateway or Faculty Portal, and staying current with USC News This Week emails
  • Change mastery tip: get more involved – some sociologists suggest that true power in an organization is held by those closest to the sources of incoming information. By getting involved in workgroups, joining Staff Assembly, or championing innovations, you may actually help influence the future of the university and your role within it
  • Change mastery tip: find out the WIIFM – you know, “What’s In It For Me?” That’s a fair question, and if you can search for this without bitterness or resentment, you’re likely to find out that there are some benefits to embracing the change. Once you understand the possible upside to the change, keep those positives in mind as you traverse through the transition phase of change

Change Requires New Learning

Most changes present new challenges for which we are unprepared, or may introduce a new paradigm for which there is currently no established best-practices. The change, therefore, requires us to learn new information and workflows and renegotiate our collaborations with others in order to adapt.

Those who don’t embrace new learning may find themselves marginalized or slowly become obsolete within the new paradigm.

Adapt by embracing lifelong learning [courtesy of pakorn + freedigitalphoto.net]

Adapt by embracing lifelong learning

  • Change mastery tip: embrace lifelong learning – avoid the myth that learning ends when you graduate. Adopting an enduring attitude of curiosity, intrigue and study will serve you well when it comes to learning what it will take to succeed when change arrives

Change Often Requires a Serious Decision

Another distressing element of change is that we will be challenged to make a serious or major decision, often without enough information to guarantee that any option will be a clear success. Without the ability to predict the best choice, we are left with guessing and hunches. This can magnify our distress if we struggle with decision-making skills to begin with.

  • Which path looks more successful to you? Heck, we don't know [courtesy of cbenjasuwan + freedigitalphoto.net]
    Which path looks more successful to you? Heck, we don’t know, either

    Change mastery tip: practice flexibility – remind yourself that most decisions don’t have to be permanent, and that you can “change course” if you don’t find success with your initial choice

  • Change mastery tip: carry your toolkit with you – realize that your best skills and intelligence will follow you into the future, if you find that you must face this challenge again or modify your decision later. You’ll be smarter, more-experienced and will have spent time living with your decision path, right?
  • Change mastery tool: click here to download my handout on How to Become a Better Decision-Maker

Eustress, The Positive Opposite of Distress

With the prefix similar to euphoria (i.e. a state of heightened pleasure), eustress describes those changes or challenges that have a strong positive upside to them. They almost always share the characteristic of being completely within our control and without surprise, two elements that contribute to the positive experience.

Interestingly enough, however, eustressful events still challenge us with the physiological and emotional experiences of stress, that are similar to distressing changes. But because the overall pleasurable gains will easily outweigh the stressors, we happily proceed.

Can you recognize the stressors associated with these emotionally-positive or exciting life events?

  • Buying a new car
  • Going away on vacation
  • Moving to a new residence
  • Starting a new job or winning a promotion at work
  • Getting engaged or married
  • Bringing a child into your life

My point about eustress is that we still benefit from practicing stress management when welcoming new changes that we create for ourselves.

Change How You Change

The professional staff of CWFL are experts at creating individualized coping plans for faculty and staff confronted with changes, either personal or professional in nature. Contact us at 213-821-0800 for a free, confidential consultation.

Jeff at Hooseby Jeff Harris, LMFT, CPC, CEAP
Program Manager at CWFL

harrisjr@usc.edu

photo credits:
Piggy Bank courtesy of Daniel St Pierre on freedigitalphoto.net
How Sign courtesy of pakorn on freedigitalphoto.net
Decision Arrows courtesy of cbenjasuwan on freedigitalphoto.net
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