Change Before You're Forced To Change

“We can’t wait for the storm to blow over; we’ve got to learn to work in the rain.”
Pete Silas, Chairman, Phillips Petroleum

In the January 1998 issue of “IW” magazine, the editors said, “To span the last 50,000 years of human existence, and assuming the typical life span during that time was 65 years, would require the life spans of nearly 770 people. Of those 770 people, 600 would have spent their lives in caves or something less.

“Only the last 68 had any effective means of communicating with each other. Only the last 6 ever saw a printed word. Only the last 4 could measure time with precision. Only the last 2 used electric motors. Almost everything that makes up our material world today has been developed during the life span of the 770th person.”

In other words, the winds of change keep building, blowing harder and faster, hitting more and more people. As author Price Pritchett puts it, “Change is as far-reaching as it is rapid, cutting across all sectors of the economy. All classes of society. All continents. All cultures.”

There’s nowhere to hide. You’re going to be affected by change! And it doesn’t matter if the change is good or bad, ALL change is going to exact an emotional toll on your life.

So how do you engage in self-care during times of change?

1. Get real. Stop thinking “this will go away.”

Stop telling yourself, “It will all blow over. It’s just a matter of time, and this too shall pass … or … I’ll just hunker down and wait this out. Before long we’ll be back to business as usual.”

And stop listening to your colleagues who are saying, “Somebody in management must have gotten bored and decided to stir things up.”

No, no, no. Change is here to stay. And the odds are almost 100% that it will never be the same in your organization again. Oh, things may settle down a bit as time goes by, but they’ll settle down differently than they were before.

You see … change isn’t something management dreamed up for the heck of it. They’re simply responding to the changes they see in the outside world. And they know if they don’t adapt to or adjust with those changes, the organization may die.

2. Stay as calm as you can.

Don’t let your emotions get the best of you. Don’t fly off the handle and think “I’ll make them pay for what they’ve done.” Don’t waste your energy, thinking, “I’m not going to put up with this … not without a fight.”

The fact is … there may not be much you can do about all the changes in your organization. But there is a lot you can do about how you react to the situation. You have total control over that. You get to choose your attitude and response. You get to choose whether you’ll be positive or negative, calm or upset.

Choose to stay as calm as you can … which I know is easier said than done. But you will stay calmer if you do some of the following: *Remind yourself that work is not your life and you are not your job. *Refuse to become obsessed with every rumor flying around the company and preoccupied with the security of your position. *Repeat some positive phrases that will help you accept the change more easily, such as “Every cloud has a silver lining … and … I can handle it.”

It won’t do you or the organization any good if you go around upset about things. You waste too much mental and physical energy going to work with a bad attitude every day. Anger, frustration, or resentment offer no benefits; so you might as well get over it.

3. Practice relaxation techniques.

When changes come, so does stress. Such things as increased tension, more headaches and stomach aches, faster heartbeats, shallower breathing, and concentrated fear are all quite normal … BUT not necessarily healthy.

You’ve got to release the stress by practicing some relaxation techniques … which, once again, I know is easier said than done. As one of the captions for a Hamilton cartoon read, “I’ve tried relaxing, but — I don’t know — I feel more comfortable tense.”

Try this. Scan your body looking for any areas of tension. At each tense place, take a deep, full breath and imagine the tension being swept away as you exhale. Deep breathing almost always helps.

Exercise. Exercise has a calming effect that lasts long after you stop exercising. It even stimulates the release of endorphins in your brain, which reduce stress and depression. And a physically fit body is better able to withstand the effects of stressful change.

Eat right. What you eat directly affects how you feel, and certain foods will give you stress or make it more difficult for you to cope with stress. You need to limit your intake of caffeine, sugar, salt, fat, and alcohol. And you need to eat smaller portions throughout the course of the day.

4. Connect with positive people.

Remind yourself that you are not in this alone. Find some positive colleagues or trusted resources who care about you. Find a few good listeners who will hear you out as you explain your situation and share your feelings about the stresses and changes you’re experiencing.

And remember … you absolutely must avoid people who are negative and critical in their outlook. If you don’t release them you will resemble them.

5. Keep your sense of humor.

You’ve heard the line: “They said cheer up; things could get worse. So I cheered up, and sure enough, things got worse.”

A good sense of humor won’t stop the changes from coming your way, and a good sense of humor won’t cancel out all the pain and trouble caused by change. But it will help you handle it more effectively.

All the psychological and medical research says humor is good therapy. It helps you keep things in perspective. You see when the big changes come, you could laugh at the craziness of it all, or you could cry. Either reaction would be understandable. But as Pritchett says, “Crying may be cleansing, but humor is healing.”

I thought Jack Schaefer had an interesting take on all this. He said, “Enjoy yourself. If you can’t enjoy yourself, enjoy somebody else.”


6. Continue to develop your skills.

The losers seldom do this. Some losers try to ignore the changes until they’re slammed up against the wall. Other losers get angry about the change, but their tempers usually make things worse.

Other losers play with wishful thinking, sitting around and talking about “the good old days,” hoping they’ll return some day. But they waste their time on wishing instead of doing. Still other losers try to run away from change, until they realize there’s no place they can run. Change is everywhere.

Presidential candidate George McGovern suggests a better way. He says, “Changing one’s mind is not a sin. It is a way of saying that I’m wiser today than I was yesterday.” And changing the way you do things is not a sin. It’s a way of saying you’re better than you were yesterday.

So if you’re going to take real good care of yourself during times of change, take care of your skills. Concentrate on building your skills and improving yourself. Make yourself marketable within your company. Keep your skills visible, developed, and focused, and you’ll be in the best possible shape to handle whatever comes your way.

Action: Select 3 skills you want to improve in the next 3 months. Read books, take classes, get some coaching, whatever … but improve. Change before you’re forced to change.