5 Strategies to Successfully Navigate Change
Turning points occur for all of us: whether it’s making a pivot in your business, deciding to leave your full-time work to start your own business, becoming a parent, or taking care of your parents as they age.
You might be navigating a step back in your business so that you can spend more time with your loved ones or on your own hobbies. Or maybe you’re returning to the workforce as your children become more independent and you decide to take that next step in your career, your creative work or in growing your business.
These times can feel incredibly uncertain and are usually accompanied by big questions along the lines of:
- Who am I and how do I want to show up in the world?
- What do I want now?
- What’s most important to me/my business/my career/my family?
Such changes and stages of life are often compared to the stages of a caterpillar’s metamorphosis – with one key difference: the caterpillar surrenders to the transition as it’s becoming a butterfly.
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Yet we as humans don’t tend to accept times of change and transition so easily. We may feel the need to examine and plan for each stage of the process. Or we may try to hold on tightly to the past and what we know, even as we’re taking steps into an unknown future. This creates a great deal of resistance and stress, not to mention burning a lot of emotional and mental energy unnecessarily.
No one gets through life without navigating change: careers and running a business inevitably involve turning points, people enter and leave our lives, material possessions and wealth fluctuate. Yet most of us don’t have effective tools to successfully navigate this change.
So we knuckle down and do the best we can. Or we avoid or freeze: we procrastinate, we get sick, we focus on minor to-dos, check email or social media, we watch too much television or have a few drinks a few times too often… all things that we know aren’t supporting our showing up at our best or getting traction on what’s most important.
Why We Worry
Because of the way we’re wired to cope with changes, it’s easy to find ourselves in a “fight, flight or freeze response.”
A difficult transition can leave us feeling stressed out or angry. We may compartmentalize our feelings or to avoid them all together. We may even feel like we’re unable to move forward – we know there are things we need to do yet we’re paralyzed by worry or fear or foggy thinking.We may be taking steps forward yet at some level we feel very uncertain whether the steps we’re taking are the ones to get us where we think we want to go.
It’s a bit like driving down the road with the handbrake on.
Behind the scenes, a number of complex mechanisms are set into motion during times of significant transitions and change – most of which we’re not aware of. The part of the brain that contributes to emotional processing receives input coming in from our environment, and signals this to another part of the brain which communicates with our nervous system. If this goes on for too long unchecked, we feel stressed, anxious, even on edge. We may have a hard time really relaxing, our blood pressure may have even risen. We are primed to fight or to flee or to freeze.
This is a completely normal response. In fact, it’s how we as humans are wired. And at one point, this helped us survive in ways that most of us don’t need day-to-day (think caveman escaping from a tiger). However, this doesn’t mean that you have to succumb to chronic stress or just accept that as the way of navigating a challenging time.
So how can you learn from the butterfly and allow for transitions – even embrace change – without stressing out, over-thinking or flat out resisting it?
5 Strategies To Successfully Navigate Challenging Times
Our habitual responses tend to make transitions and times of great change quite stressful. We may have one foot in the past while we’re tentatively stepping forward into the future with the other. It can leave us feeling like we’re trying to straddle two horses at once: horses that are gradually riding off down different paths.
The good news is that there are proven techniques which can help us deal with even the most stressful situations with a more calm, clear and centered approach. These are backed by research in the areas of neuroscience, human performance and psychology, as well as by thousands of years of human experience.
If you find yourself or your business facing a crossroad where you’re no longer a caterpillar – you’re navigating a time of transition but you’re not yet a butterfly either – here are five strategies for moving forward despite uncertainty:
1. Be Present
When you get stuck, even temporarily, trying to figure out who you are and what you want, remember that in most cases, there is no hard and fast deadline to make a change. You may feel the need to make a major pivot in your business or execute on a time-sensitive project at work. But the fact is, if you’re really engaged in your work and your life, you’ll always be evolving and changing at some level. So, try to stay present. As much as you can, bring your energy and focus back to the present moment. You’ll be able to make clearer decisions looking ahead if you can trust – even a little – that who and where you are is exactly who and where you need to be right now. And if you find that difficult to accept, consider that it is what it is – and you’re better equipped to adjust if you can acknowledge and even accept where you are.
Where you’re going next will become apparent – even if it isn’t as clear as you want it to be in this moment. Instead of worrying, which is a bit like paying interest before you have a loan, practice being more present. Life really does have a way of working itself out. It’s easier to see and experience this when you can be more present. More presence is one powerful tool to begin to get out of your own way and successfully navigate change.
2. Get Physical
Exercise, like taking a brisk walk or jog when you’re feeling stressed, is a great way to shift your experience quickly. Not only does it help you get present, it deepens your breathing and helps with things like relaxing tension held in your muscles.
Practices such as yoga or tai chi intentionally combine movement with deep breathing and mental focus, which come together to help you experience a more calm, centered and focused outlook. From here you can make better decisions and take action more easily.
Whether it’s formal exercise or some other version of self-care, consider what you know is beneficial for you. As an example, the top three things that I try to preserve – even during times of great change or high stress – are regular exercise, getting sufficient sleep (eight hours if possible), and healthy eating. And almost always these days, I include silent or guided meditation as well. These basics have helped me through planned changes like pivots in my business or moving across the ocean to work in Sub-Saharan Africa, as well as unexpected transitions like being by my father’s side as he lost a battle with cancer and navigating my own challenges on the health front.
3. Seek Vision & Direction, Not a Final Destination
Sometimes the need for a perfectly clear end goal can leave you partly or fully paralyzed in and of itself – especially when that goal feels far off. Getting started on a trajectory that feels aligned with what you’re envisioning can lead to multiple good outcomes… most of which you won’t be able to identify up front even if you tried. If there’s anything I’ve learned from managing projects and teams for over two decades it’s that the smartest and best teams are still not able to anticipate everything that will happen, or plan for a turn of events months, sometimes just weeks, down the road.
So recognizing and being aware that there are indeed multiple possible paths to achieve your vision can help stop the paralysis that accompanies a search for those next steps that are just right. Knowing when to settle for good-enough allows you to remove some pressure and begin taking action. When you do achieve your end result, you may be able to see that the path you took was only one of many ways you could have gotten there. If you find this hard to accept, consider a time when you successfully launched a new project or initiative in your business, when you planned and executed a large event, or navigated a past transition in your career or personal life. Can you see in hindsight how there were multiple ways you could have achieved an acceptable, even a superb, outcome?
4. Find the Positive Opportunity or Lesson
We all know worry and anxiety can be more stressful on us than actually going through what we fear lies ahead. Yet we still do it. When you feel worry or stress building, try to recalibrate by finding the positive opportunity or chance to learn. This can be more difficult if you feel that the change was forced on you, instead of something you planned or chose.
This is not about putting a band-aid on a difficult experience. Rather, it’s remembering that experience is a valuable teacher. Reflect on how you’ve handled major changes, transitions or obstacles in the past. What helped you successfully navigate things then? What did NOT help? What makes you more resilient? What motivates you? Identifying the strengths and lessons you can draw on from your past can help you thrive in the midst of your next big change or transition.
5. Find Support
Researchers in the fields of stress, resilience and coping know that social support is one of the most significant keys to successfully managing change. Confidants, family, acquaintances, colleagues, spouses, and friends can all provide a supportive social net — and may even increase longevity. Even an online community of people going through similar experiences can give you an emotional boost, along with some practical tips or advice.
You may be thinking this goes without saying and yet, do you actually reach out for support or guidance when and where you need it? Many of us struggle on for far too long on our own, wasting valuable time, energy and resources, before we ask for help. Yet study after study shows that people who enjoy close relationships with family, friends, mentors and coaches receive emotional support that in and of itself helps them to better navigate – and sustain – a more positive outlook and successful outcomes at times of ongoing stress and even crisis. If you find yourself in a place where you’re feeling alone or that you don’t have the support you need, remember that you can always reach out. Find a professional consultant, coach or mentor if you don’t have someone in your network of family or friends who can help.
Whether your transformative event was planned or unexpected, there’s no question that adapting to a new set of circumstances is challenging. Change takes mental, emotional and physical energy. It takes time to find a new equilibrium. Yet it’s certainly much easier if you can identify where you’re resisting or getting in your own way.
If you’re navigating a challenging time or a transition, make sure you’ve got support. Whether it’s a business evolution or a personal transition, reach out to a consultant, trusted advisor or coach.
If you’d like professional guidance and a sounding board of support in making a transition or getting more clarity on what’s most important with change underway, I invite you to reach out for a chat.
You can also learn more about me, read more blog posts, download five free tips to build a business and life you love, or check out the stories of people who have worked with me.