Dealing with Change

Life does not go on “pause”. Our circumstances are always changing, our bodies are changing, our relationships change and our jobs change.

Sometimes it can be a change we welcome and anticipate and other times it can be a change we do not want or one that we didn’t see coming.

Even predictable change and loss can have a painful impact on us when it happens e.g the death of a sick elderly parent might have been inevitable but that doesn’t mean it does not cause some people deep sadness. Like it or not we must accept that change is a normal part of life both at home and at work. Burying your head in the sand and hoping it will go away will not stop an event happening and will not ease the impact when it does; in fact it can make the impact greater and more painful. Instead it is valuable to develop the ability to anticipate change and emotionally brace ourselves for the impact that it will have; that is part of what we call resilience. Resilience helps people deal with stress and adversity and reach out to new opportunities. Research shows that people who are resilient are healthier,live longer, are more successful at work, are happier in relationships, and are less prone to depression Stress, adversity, and challenge are inevitable parts of daily life—and sometimes out of our control. However, the way we think about stress is very much in our control and makes a substantial difference in how we handle daily bumps in the road. Some people feel helpless in the face of stress and adversity, so they easily give up attempts to change or improve the situation. Other people hold more resilient views. They see situations as challenges or problems that can be solved if they look for options and keep trying.

A resilient view is characterized by accurate and flexible thinking, and consists of creative problem solving, the capacity to see other points of view and to challenge one’s own views, and the ability to move on with daily life despite obstacles. Most importantly, research suggests that resilient thinking patterns, based on accuracy and flexibility, can be learned.

Resilience is not something we either have or don’t have. Developing and maintaining resiliency abilities is an ongoing processResearch into the development of resilience shows that people’s beliefs about personal adversity, challenge, and success give an indication of the flexibility in their thinking. People develop thinking habits, preferred ways of viewing the world: a person’s “explanatory style” or “thinking style.” This thinking style can help or hinder our ability to respond resiliently to inevitable bumps in the road.

Our explanatory style comes into play as we try to determine why things happen and what impact they will have. Our style can “bias and colour our viewpoint, leading us to develop patterns of behavior that are often self-defeating.

Our explanatory style may be the same at home, at work, and on the social scene, or it may vary according to our roles in these environments. The important thing about explanatory style is that it causes us to react out of habit and jump to conclusions that may not be accurate. This, in turn, prevents us from using the kind of flexible thinking that promotes problem solving and positive change.

Studies show that people who manage stress and adversity best have 3 Cs in common:

  • Control: a belief in their ability to take charge of the controllable aspects of a situation and “influence a more positive outcome”

  • Challenge: a view of mistakes as opportunities for new learning, and change as potential for growth

  • Commitment: an active engagement in work and other pursuits that provides a basis of meaning for their lives.

What's your explanatory (thinking) style?

Reflect on these questions:

  • In times of stress, do I often blame myself when things go wrong? (“Me” thinking)

  • Do I often blame someone else or the circumstances? (“Not me” thinking)

  • Do I often feel as if problems will be permanent and all encompassing? (“Always/Everything” thinking)

  • Do I typically look for aspects of problems that are temporary and specific? (“Not always/Not everything” thinking)

Our explanatory style is a mix of three dimensions. Each style is associated with a typical response to stress. Here are a few examples of explanatory styles:

  • “Me/Always/Everything” = helplessness, giving up, depression

  • “Not me/Always/Everything” = lack of responsibility, anger, acting out,hopelessness

  • “Not me/Not always/Not everything” = more optimistic behaviour, but can be inaccurate

To increase our resilience, we need to challenge our explanatory styles on each dimension by thinking accurately and flexibly about each situation we face. I used to habitually have a “Me” response to situations at work, and put in long hours taking responsibility for things that I didn’t need to. Before understanding explanatory style, if something went wrong first thing in the morning, I would immediately think to myself, “Oh no! This is going to be a hard day.” Now I don’t use such permanent thinking. I just take the day as it comes and see what happens. Our beliefs or thoughts about change adversity cause our reactions—how we feel and what we do in stressful situations. Be confident of your ability to cope. Be aware of your strong points. Remind yourself of changes you coped with in the past. Find out what new skills or ways of thinking you will have to develop, and start developing them now. Look after yourself. It is important during any time of heightened stress to pay attention to your diet, exercise and relaxation routines. Loss is an inevitable part of change. Even a greatly desired change involves leaving something behind that you value. Find some way of acknowledging that loss as you move on.

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