Are you focused on the things within your control while thinking of how we can learn and evolve from this experience? Are you absorbed by the media and ‘expert’ opinions, yet feeling powerless and lost? Or are you feeling numb and anxious while hoping that things will return back to normal?
The reason I ask you these questions is that every individual, organization or society deals with change in its own way. Look for example at the individual countries in the EU who deal with the same threat in different ways?
And while EU countries are going through trial and error, some countries in Asia, such as Singapore, are prepared and leading based on strict protocols.
Even though it seems like our coping mechanisms for dealing with radical change differ, in reality, we all go through similar stages.
Much like grief, where someone who experiences bereavement has to go through 5 stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance (Dr Kübler-Ross).
In fact, we’re experiencing some level of grief on a collective level, since we’re forced into uncomfortable change and have to let go of the norm.
Such radical changes reveal our human nature and show that our evolution is slow. Our deep-rooted psychological mechanisms haven’t evolved as quickly as the world around us.
And maybe that’s the real problem we are facing? A man-made world that outpaces our ability to adapt, while we, politicians, leaders and individuals (like you and me), have been denying the reality of change and failed to address the elephant in the room.
So we can satisfy our instant desire for certainty, comfort, status and power.
Ignorance is bliss until it hits home, and I presume this only the beginning of a streak of disasters as long as we’re unwilling to learn and adapt to the reality of change. But that’s a topic for another post!
In this article, my intention is to help you clarify the impact of change on us as individuals, so you can better manage yourself and others. To explain this I’ll introduce The Scott and Jaffe Resistance Cycle, which was first introduced in “Survive and Thrive in Times of Change“.
The Scott and Jaffe Resistance Cycle became a popular management tool that was used widely to manage the impact of the change on people, but hardly anyone thinks of applying the Resistance Cycle to their personal life.
I mean, if no one else is responsible for you, who else is going to manage the impact of change on you?
Their model suggests we move through four stages.
In the initial stage, the meaning of the change fails to sink in. We ignore the change completely as if nothing is happening, we downplay the impact and rationalise our excuses, so we can avoid the cost or pain of changing. This is the denial stage.
From my personal perspective, this seems more than just a stage, denial seems to be ingrained in our western way of thinking and is forming the biggest threat to the existence of humanity as we know it.
No matter how much we deny the reality of change and no matter what we invent to cope with and cure the consequences of our decisions. The reality of change is inevitable and the longer we deny this, the greater the impact of change on us.
What we don’t seem (or are unwilling) to understand is that we create a vicious cycle, in which the impact of change triggers a stress response in our bodies, that activates our ancient psychological mechanisms for overpowering the ‘treat’ or to avoid dealing with the pain.
As a consequence, we helplessly suppress our ability to engage our conscious awareness, logic and reasoning in order to make rational and weighted decisions.
The biggest challenge we face to grow beyond the denial stage is to address and clarify the elephant in the room, because once we are aware we cannot help but change.
As humans, we are hardwired to deal with challenges and extremely resourceful in overcoming them. Whatever that may to you and your circumstances.
When it comes to the Pandemic — our collective challenge — the questions we should be asking ourselves is:
Is COVID-19 the real problem or is it a symptom of something that lies deeper than what we’re currently paying attention to? Are we part of the problem? And what is our role in regards to the problem?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying COVID-19 isn’t real and happening, but I do question if COVID-19 is the REAL problem that we should focus on?
Failing to identify the real problem is another form of denialism, it’s a common mechanism to avoid facing up to the inconvenient truth and the recipe for (more) disaster.
But here’s the thing: The #1 thing I’ve learned from guiding leaders through the most necessary change of their lives, There is no moving past something, without moving towards it and learning from it.
Once the reality of the need to change begins to bite we enter the next stage, this is the stage of resistance. Here, we accept that the change is happening. However, we are unhappy or anxious about the change so we try to resist it.
We do this on an emotional level, through showing anger, anxiety, bitterness or fear, as well as by opposing the change actively.
Our brain is hardwired to protect us, and in times of uncertainty, it causes us to become hyper-focused on the thing that we fear most. The fear of loss and the (emotional) value it has to us. And that’s exactly what fuels our resistance.
Such fight or flight responses might be useful when facing a direct threat, however, in 9 out of 10 cases, it paralyzes us stuck through focusing on the potential loss and the immediate rush of events.
In doing so, we become highly irrational and act upon an inaccurate view of ourselves our circumstances.
This is because our dominant lower-level mind (limbic brain) has no interest in long-term results, it’s the goal is to satisfy our instant craving for certainty, social acceptance, status or any other of your ancient desires.
The problem here is that when we don’t regulate our emotions and fail to make a conscious effort in shifting our attention from the past to the future, we (not knowingly) seek for more information that validates our fear and confirms our existing beliefs. Paralyzing us even more.
This fuels the lower level (monkey) mind and results in (more) fear, anger, frustration, separation and an ever-growing resistance to engage in and contribute to the change in question.
Do you see where the resistance is coming from? Not from the fear itself, but from helplessly getting sucked into it.
Regardless of the impact on us or you as an individual, and whether you’re (partly) responsible for it or not at all, in order to move forward, we must come to terms with the reality of change, so that we can shift our focus inwards and extract meaning from the experience.
Personally, to elevate my perspective, I’m reflecting on and have joined a group of men to discuss questions like:
How can we help move humanity forward? How can we contribute to creating a world we can be proud of? What does that world look like, how do we get there and what do we need to let go of in order to get there?
Obviously, you can ask similar questions in regards to yourself as an individual, your family life, your business or the industry you work in and create or join a group of people in your environment to share, support and inspire each other.
As soon as we face up to the resistance and engage with it in a positive way, we can start to focus on the future again. This is the exploration stage.
However, the majority of the individuals only enter this stage when the pain of holding on to their past conditioning, social persona and current levels of comfort becomes greater than the pain of changing itself.
Either way, in this stage we start exploring the implications of the change along with finding ways to move forward from this situation. This can be a chaotic and confusing time, but also exciting — particularly when the benefits of the change are foreseeable and significant.
Looking back on the past couple of weeks, we’ve seen a series of radical changes in the way we live, work, learn, consume and communicate.
Politicians, leaders, families, teams, teachers, students and individuals of all kinds have discovered new ways to move forward and showed that changes that seemed impossible or out of question, can be part of our daily lives.
There is no power for change greater than a community discovering what it cares about. ― Margaret J. Wheatley
However, this stage is very delicate and fragile, especially for groups and individuals that aren’t familiar with change.
Moving too quick or biting off more than you can chew can trigger the opposing beliefs or the initial fear of loss and failure.
Therefore the (co)creation of a clear vision is of crucial importance, along with strong (personal) leadership. In order to prevent relapsing into the resistance stage, it’s important to design and build systems that allow you to narrow down your focus on small and achievable steps.
As we continue the implementation, our start to self-esteem grows, our focus shifts and we begin to see the opportunities that the future holds for us. This is the commitment stage.
In this stage, we take ownership of our future and commit to making it happen. As we learn new skills, new ways of working and stretch our potential, we can even experience fulfilment and joy in the process of change.
However, the downside here is that we can often feel discouraged. This is mainly because we are putting in weeks or sometimes months of efforts without experiencing the immediate results or benefits.
This is why the transition from the exploration to the commitment stage is known as the valley of disappointment. The antidote to disappointment is gradual, consistent but progressive implementation through which the new way of living, learning, consuming, travelling, working or leading will establish into the new norm.
To encourage the flow of consistent and progressive implementation, I would suggest to plan, track and consciously stretch your performance.
Tracking your desired behaviour on a daily or weekly basis gives you a sense of accomplishment. Meaning, you’ll have more motivation to keep them going the next day, the next week and so on and so forth.
Last but not least, be open to learning, but extremely mindful of who and what you let influence you.
If you’re still with me, I would like to thank you for time and attention. I hope this article helped you gain an understanding of how we respond to change and inspired you to engage in and contribute to our new norm.
A challenge that requires radical honesty along with enormous courage and dedication, but that will shape the way we deal with change in the future, allowing us to anticipate, prepare for and lead in unprecedented times.
But most of all, that empowers us to contribute to the world in which our children, their children and their children can grow up in, feeling, safe, inclusive, alive, and free.
Stay optimistic and lead with integrity.
PSI: In regards to the model in this article, please keep in mind that Scott and Jaffe are not the only researchers to articulate a model for change and there are many powerful and predictive models of change.
Like all models, none is true. Yet each offers up valuable insights which, when used with consciousness, can enhance your personal development and the way you lead.
If you have any questions in regards to this article, feel free to reach out to me. Furthermore, I’m just a guy sharing his perspective based on my own experiences, along with the studies and work of believable professionals in the industry. I fully expect that I have made a mistake somewhere in this article, in referencing an idea or tool to the wrong person or not at all. I’ve no intention of taking false credits, so if there’s anything not aligned regarding referencing, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org