Just when it seems it can’t get any worse, a new change and a bigger threat presents itself. Each new change seems to be by crisis, not choice. But while change may be unexpected, how we respond to it is not. Psychologically speaking, the process of moving through a change is actually quite predictable and consistent, with 6 stages in a “change cycle” and associated feelings and behaviors in each of them. Understanding and anticipating the emotions coming next make it easier to move through the cycle faster and with greater fortitude.
The circular model created by Ann Salerno And Lillie Brock represents the true cyclical nature of each change we experience. In the outside ring are the six sequential and predictable stages of change. The names of the stages: Loss, Doubt, Discomfort, Discovery, Understanding and Integration, indicate the primary experience of that stage. The inside pie pieces list the thoughts, feelings and behaviors most associated with the stage.
The Change Cycle™ uses the colors of a traffic light to signal that the stages mirror the actions we take at traffic lights. The Change Cycle™ model is a map that depicts our human experience of each stage of change – in all changes, big or small, good or bad.
Stage 1: Loss to Safety
You arrive in Stage 1, Loss because something has become different. Maybe something is lost –a job, a relationship, an opportunity. Maybe something is new –a boss, a project, a diagnosis. The primary experience of Stage 1 is loss of control. And either consciously or non-consciously, your thoughts are cautious; you experience feelings of fear, or maybe worry or concern. Your behavior becomes paralyzed. Even a perceived “good” change, can evoke these responses.
This first stage can be a difficult, because like driving in fog, you don’t know what is ahead, but for your own safety, you must keep moving. It is important to acknowledge, not ignore or deny, your losses and concerns. Your priority in Stage 1 is to find personal safety –to regain some sense of control.
Key questions to answer: What are my specific concerns? What’s the worst that can happen? What’s most likely to happen? Answer these honestly and move to Stage 2, Doubt.
Stage 2: Doubt to Reality
Stage 2 finds you experiencing doubt and a sense of uncertainty. Doubt is the brain’s way of slowing you down, even stopping you from taking action, until more relevant information is gathered.
This doubt often creates defensive behavior as a way of maintaining control. This creates feelings of resentment, thoughts that are skeptical and behavior that is resistant. Unfortunately, many people just get angry, blame others and are willing to fight to prove that “their way” or the “old way” is still better. Stage 2 can cause you to ignore the obvious and only see the picture your way.
The main thing is to move past the fiction and gather accurate, valid information about the change to get as clear a picture of your reality as possible.
Stage 3: Discomfort to Motivation
In Stage 3, Discomfort, you know what’s going on, yet you are stuck while the brain works to organize, categorize and put language on your change experience. This leads to feelings of anxiety, thoughts that are confused, and behavior that is unproductive. It is easy to become overwhelmed. It is difficult to get things done and lethargy often rules.
To move through Stage 3, you need to focus on the present and be deliberate about motivating yourself to take the next best action steps. If you don’t, you risk having your anxiety turn to fear, which is the experience of The Danger Zone. This sends you back to Stage 1 to start again. Avoid it.
Stage 4: Discovery to Perspective
In Stage 4 you experience feelings of anticipation, thoughts that are resourceful and behavior that is energized – finally! Your perception of the change situation has shifted – you have perspective and insight – you see the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s not that you like or dislike the change, it’s that you are starting to feel back in control.
You are now ready and able to create options and make decisions. The challenge of this stage is to make the necessary choices and as important, act immediately on your next best steps.
Stage 5: Understanding to Awareness
Stage 5 is about a deeper level of Understanding. You’ll feel confident and competent, thoughts are pragmatic, and productivity increases significantly.
Are you “happy” in Stage 5? You might be. It depends on the change. And of course, some changes will never be completely reconciled, neatly packaged, or fully accepted. At times, crisis, chance, or nature force us to endure events that cannot be “managed well” –in any way –by anybody. Yet, you’ll be able to apply or implement what you have learned about the change – and yourself –whether you like it or not.
Life is a messy, mysterious, serious business, yet in Stage 5, we accept and understand that, like it or not, somehow, we go on.
Stage 6:Integration to Flexibility
In the final stage, Stage 6, Integration, the change no longer seems different or unfamiliar. You have insight into the ramifications, consequences, and rewards of the change –and you can clearly assess past, present and future. You will experience a sense of satisfaction; your thoughts are more focused, and behavior is generous. It is important to avoid becoming complacent or arrogant.
When you can consistently move to Stage 6, you deepen your change resiliency, you’re flexible through uncertainty. Integrating a change will create a sense of personal accomplishment and satisfaction.
Change comes in all shapes, sizes, and intensities. It happens to all of us. Sometimes it sneaks up on us, sometimes it hits us over the head, sometimes we are lucky enough to choose when and how it happens. But it always happens. By integrating basic, positive attitudes and beliefs about change and combining them with the right skills (or tools), any of us can learn to adapt and grow in changing environments and situations. Is it easy? Not usually. Like any new activity or function, it takes a while to get used to it, but over time, we learn and integrate, and then do it without thinking. By understanding The Change Cycle™, you can learn to better manage your life by managing the changes.
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