Let’s talk about change.

I have a calico cat named Raya. She and her sister have been an important part of our family since they were kittens. She is silly, deeply sweet, sensitive, and loves to cuddle. She is also terrified of change. When the furniture moves or new people show up, Raya panics. We have found her hiding deep in the closet or under the bed, trembling, eyes wide in fear. 

Is that how you feel about change, also?

In change, there is uncertainty. In uncertainty, if our approach is negative, we drop into the amygdala. We may feel blame, shame, or anger. This is the fear response. Some people call this the “amygdala hijack”. 

  • Fight
  • Flight
  • Freeze
  • Appease/Fawn

Raya, as a cat, has a brain that is 90% the same as ours. But, she lacks the ventrolateral frontal cortex which is involved in cognition and language. Under stress, she can’t activate her prefrontal cortex with rational thoughts, mindfulness, and the breath the way that you can. 

Raya also doesn’t understand that uncertainty and change are the rule of life, not the exception ~ if she did, she might be more relaxed about it. There are four types of change: 

  • Wanted and anticipated
  • Wanted and unanticipated
  • Not wanted and anticipated
  • Not wanted and unanticipated

Most people are destabilized by change regardless of whether they perceive it as “good” or “bad”. Yet, there’s clearly an adaptive benefit to being able to consistently manage change, especially when it’s change that you don’t necessarily want. 

The tolerance we have for change does vary, and Raya clearly has very little. Some people, like her, jump ship as soon as they perceive that change is coming. Others stay in place right to the end. Why?

  • TEMPERAMENT: Are you energized or frightened by change?
  • COPING SKILLS: Do you use laughter to cope with change, or do you constrict?
  • FAITH: Do you have a sense of faith and confidence about our ability to manage change?
  • RESOURCES: Are you well supported by others? Do you have a lot of savings? Are you the primary breadwinner for your family?
  • MATURITY: Does this change look like something you’ve seen before? 

In times of change, your routines are your first line of defense against uncertainty and instability. It’s easiest to start new habits and routines if you stack them on top of existing ones that work. 

You’ll also be much more likely to succeed if you share your goal with someone else. Develop systems of accountability, such as a buddy system, that help you increase the likelihood that you’ll stay on track.

There are often layers of change happening at once. For instance, in the past year many people have experienced personal changes, work changes, or relationships changes within the context of the changes due to the pandemic as well as the bigger cultural shifts we are experiencing. 

Ultimately, the power you have in change is giving yourself space to “be with what is”. As a high achiever you will always look to see how you can make the situation as good as it can be. You also may, like many other high achievers, prefer to have a contingency plan for every situation so you feel more prepared. 

The truth is that you can’t create a contingency plan that covers every possible scenario. Your most powerful approach is not planning, but developing a generative relationship with uncertainty. Start with asking yourself: 

  • “What am I noticing?” 
  • “What do I need right now?”
  • “How is this change perfect?” 

Although it can provide a sense of security to think about the “end of the pandemic” as a solution to other changes that are happening, that would be a false sense of security. Don’t ask for this time to be different than it is. Instead, approach this moment as an opportunity with hidden potential, and make it your task to find it. 

To your success,