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Changing The Way We Think About Change

The summer holidays are whizzing by too fast and, as ever, I wish I could put the brakes on time. September always brings change I never feel ready for, and 2021 is no exception.

A project I was working on recently that had nothing to do with loss in its traditional sense, but at its heart was simply helping people through change.

The truth is, for all of us, change – even welcome change – always leaves some kind of loss behind, and I was reminded of this, the Kubler-Ross ‘Stages Of Grief’ model, a newer version which is now referred to as the ‘Change Curve’.

There are 7 stages within the curve, giving us a much-needed reality check on why change can make for a long and uncomfortable journey.

While it’s an illuminating way to understand and support young people with change, now – before we’re at the mercy of the next big transition – is a good time to take stock of where we are on the curve ourselves;

1) Shock-
This kind of surprise can be immobilising, but we often get so swept away by the ‘dealing with change’ that we don’t even ask ourselves how we feel about what’s happening.

2) Denial- While it’s typically seen as a sign of weakness, denial and disbelief can actually be very protective as they give us the chance to start processing the change on our own terms.
Problems around denial arise when we stay stuck there, because it prevents us from moving on to the next stage.

3) Frustration-
Frequently felt as anger, this is one of those feelings people tend to rush themselves, or others, through.
While ‘Think about what you’ve got to be grateful for’ can be a useful perspective, it can also deny us the need to process very valid responses towards change.

4) Depression- Like Frustration, this can be seen as a sign of weakness, another ‘don’t feel that way’, but feeling apathetic or lacking in energy is normal and may be necessary.
While ‘Someone’s always worse off than you’ may be true, it doesn’t mean you have to be jolly about your own circumstances, and certainly not ‘cheer up’.

5) Experiment- The tide might start to shift as we start to explore the new world and the imprint of change left behind.
Experimentation doesn’t have to be loaded with positivity or the conviction to ‘move on’, but is simply about acknowledging the need to adjust.

6) Decision- Only when we reach this stage, might we feel we are re-claiming some of our power.
This is one of the main reasons I bang on about the importance of giving children agency and autonomy, but it matters for all of us.
Decision brings the sense that we have some control over how we respond to change, even if we didn’t choose the change.

7) Integration- This is where whatever has happened, or is happening, becomes part of our story and part of who we are.
It doesn’t have to mean being happy or optimistic, but simply that we accept the new normal.

Change is really much less about ‘moving on’ as it is about ‘moving through’, and even then, we don’t always move through the Change Curve in one direction. Feeling empowered in Decision one day and debilitated by Depression the next is normal.

But whatever the speed and pattern of our journey, what is certain is that change is hard work on the mind.

Even without the last 18 months, even as adults a new school year can bring not one, but a multitude of changes. For children and young people, this if of course amplified, especially if the changes involve a new school. So often, we are not dealing with ‘a change’, but many different changes, all of which need processing at the same time.

Change is challenging, even desired, sought after and long awaited change. But even though processing change is not a process that is always in a hurry, but we can make better friends with change when we change the way we think about it… When we change what we expect; from change, time, from ourselves and our own capacity to adapt to change.

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