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Become the Master of Change – Part one

Blog

Publication date:

12 May 2020

Last updated:

18 May 2020

Author(s):

Jon Dear

You don’t need me to tell you that we are in the middle of a pandemic…

Introduction

It’s a viral nightmare that is changing all our lives, imprisoning us in our own homes, preventing many of us from earning a living, curtailing our ability to see some members of our own family and our friends, stopping our social lives in their tracks, putting our holiday plans on hold and reducing our horizon to the end of the garden, while we await the next Government announcement.

So much change, and in such a short time. Many people say they like change, but our experience is that people do not like changing the habits they have formed over the years, which make them what they are. Why is this?

Well, change causes us to feel out of control. The sense of being in control is incredibly important to all of us – and as we get older, our desire to be in control of our environment grows; we crave certainty – we tend to dislike and avoid situations in which it is difficult to predict the outcome of our actions, and we certainly don’t like situations in which others control our environment and, therefore, our actions. If we don’t know what’s going to happen, or if we’re not in control, we lose confidence and this loss of confidence means we find it more difficult to use our tried and tested competencies – our formula for success doesn’t work. Lacking success, we feel unhappy and we relate this feeling to what caused us to lose control in the first place – the change.

This is why people resist change – they do it because they want to feel in control. Change challenges this most basic of human instincts.

In this short series of articles, we are going to look at change, and show how people - you - can become the Master of Change. There are two reasons why “Becoming the Master of Change” is relevant to you. First, in your working life, you are a source of change. Think about your clients - what, or who, makes them purchase financial solutions to problems they may not even know they have? You do. Through the process of finding, understanding and advising clients, you instigate change in their lives - change that can make them more secure both immediately and in the long term. However, because you bring change to them, they will go through the “stages of the change process” (as described in the first article).

Secondly, you are also a “victim of change”. The Coronavirus pandemic proves this.  Circumstances have changed, and while “Victim” may be over-stating it, we are all subject to change introduced into our lives by other people (in this case, the Government), which makes us feel out of control, angry, defiant and annoyed. The current changes are likely to be affecting you personally, your social life, your family life, your hobbies, your finances and your business or workplace.

This first article will focus on how change affects individuals - the predictable stages we all go through (albeit at different paces) on a journey from initial shock to final adaptation, together with the associated emotional reactions we experience.

The second article will look at how organisations, (big and small groups of people, working together, to produce an output, like a financial services practice, for example) experience change; what stages they go through, and how they adapt.

The third article will start the process of looking for solutions to the “problem of change”, by explaining a simple formula that can be used to change a habit. Habits, good and bad, are the routines we use to live our lives. Without them, we would be lost; so changing them is inevitably and incredibly difficult. But, it can be done - we’ll show you how.

The fourth article will take this to a deeper level by explaining how you can marginalise most change in your life by adopting a set of “life rules” by which you can establish a firm basis for living that will help you become the Master of Change.

Finally, the fifth article, will take this to a whole new level, by showing you how you can introduce change to an organisation or people within an organisation, in a way that they can accept it  and benefit from it. No easy matter, but it can be done - we’ll show you how.

This is our agenda. We want to give you a real, deep and lasting appreciation of change.  The pandemic is a special example, and a lot of change is smaller and less life-threatening, but disruptive in its own way. We’re going to do it in bite-sized chunks, and we’d like to give you the opportunity to ask questions as we go along; so, if you have any questions, please email them to me at pfsnews@thepfs.org, and I’ll attempt to answer them, to help deepen your understanding.

Individual change

In the above introduction, we proposed that you could become the Master of Change, by understanding the change process (as it applies to individuals and organisations), by knowing how to help someone change a habit, by establishing a set of life rules that will help to marginalise change in your own life, and by knowing how to introduce change into an organisation. These are likely to be new skills, and they won’t overcome the fact that change is a hard thing to deal with (no matter how often we say we like change) because change interferes with a person’s sense of being in control, reduces their confidence and  thus impacts their ability to use their competencies - the attributes that make them successful. Without success, they become unhappy, and it’s this vicious cycle that induces resistance to change.

We talked a little about the pandemic that’s currently raging all around us, but change can be as small as a new procedure, a new work colleague or a new product. The pandemic is introducing us to the concept of change-after-change-after-change. Barely do we get used to one change, then another is imposed on us - the crisis seems never-ending, and our ability to make decisions often cannot keep up with the demands of the changing situation. For example, we have just got used to the demands of “Stay Home” when “Stay Alert” comes along. Anxiety levels went through the roof, subsided to the loft, and then went back into the stratosphere. So, this is an ideal time to look at change, and its effects on individuals.

Before we get going on the detail, some caveats… First, time and pace - different individuals will pass through the process we are about to describe at different paces, and it is difficult to know how long it will take any individual to make the transition. Secondly, risk-taking - some people will be prepared to take more or less risks than others, so their progress will be accelerated or hampered by their willingness to take risks and the quality of their decision-making. And, thirdly, determination - some people are more determined than others to be successful, no matter what the circumstances, and such people are more likely to adapt and prosper than people who give into the vagaries of life. But, be aware, this is not a precise process - we are talking about feelings - feelings of being in control, of confidence, emotions that are impossible to measure, so there is no certainty in change - some people may never emerge from a change process; while others pass through quickly and, seemingly, unscathed.

The first stage of the change process is called “Shock” - the individual perceives the change as if it were “danger”, and this induces feelings of helplessness, anxiety and confusion. They find it difficult to think in a coordinated fashion, and may not be able to analyse, plan or make decisions. So, in its initial stage, change causes the individual to lose confidence, and we already know that, without confidence, it’s harder for them to use their competencies.

“Shock” is followed by “Defensive Retreat” - the individual reacts to the change by either (or both) fight or flight. This stage is important, as it assists the individual to cope with the anxiety of the shock, by reassuring themselves that “it’s ok” - nothing has changed, the present is just like the past, it won’t affect me, I don’t have to change my expectations, behaviours, goals or values. Friends and family may support the individual by saying (trying to be helpful), “don’t worry, you’ll be ok”. However, it’s a false dawn, preventing the individual from assessing the impact of the change. Challenging them at this point will arouse their anger, rather than engaging their brain. So, in the second stage, the individual’s confidence shoots up again, but only to defend the past, not to consider the future.

Eventually, “Defensive Retreat” gives way to “Acknowledgement” - the individual finds it harder and harder to maintain their defenses in the face of overwhelming evidence that things have changed. Support systems break down (perhaps friends and family withdraw support); coping mechanisms cease working. The change and its impact rear their ugly heads again, but this time they can’t be ignored - acknowledgement is a bit like mourning and the individual may feel bitter and depressed. The individual starts to take on a new view of the world and comes to terms with the change. So, in the third stage, the individual’s confidence takes another nosedive.

And finally, “Acknowledgement” leads to “Adaptation” - the individual, having come to terms with reality, changes their view of themselves and starts to test new ways of working in line with the needs of the changed situation. They experience new satisfactions and successes; they learn; they cease to feel any crisis - they have adapted to the change. So, in the final stage, the individual’s confidence grows back a step at a time as they develop new competencies and/or hone old ones.

This all seems very complicated. Why, you may ask, don’t people simply recognise that a change has occurred and adapt their behaviour accordingly? What’s the purpose of the process? Well, at one level, the process has no purpose - it merely describes what happens to individuals when change occurs - and it has been well-observed and documented, so we know it’s accurate. For example, in the current pandemic-induced climate, if you’re in the supermarket and you’re confronted by another person coming towards you in a narrow aisle, what do you do? You will experience a heightened feeling of danger, and deal with it by moving quickly to one side or reversing out of the aisle or ploughing on regardless. The change process can’t tell what you’re going to do, only that you will feel the emotion. And the greater the fear you feel, the more your body will produce adrenalin, and the more difficult it will be to make a decision. On a day-to-day basis, insidious stress (such as working for a difficult boss) causes the same adrenalin to be produced as being confronted by a real life-threatening occurrence, and long-term exposure to stress can be very unhealthy, as it is one of the things that reduces the effectiveness of our immune system.

At another level, the process serves a useful purpose - that of helping us to help others to deal with change. Although we don’t get confronted with life or death situations all that regularly, (although we may be quite close to life-and-death at present) we still get adrenalin rushes when confronted with change, and understanding the process, its stages and associated feelings can be a powerful tool to help you help someone else to develop through adversity, perhaps over quite a long period. In your role as a Financial Adviser, you help clients overcome the three big financial problems - living too long, dying too soon and having too little money in-between - understanding that to solve these problems will  take someone through a change process will help you deal with their feelings - lack of trust, buyer’s remorse, risk-aversion, dealing with uncertainty, and so on.

The important thing to remember is that, whether you like it or not, change will occur in your life (and everyone else’s), you will resist it, you will feel unhappy about it and you may eventually accommodate it. It is no good thinking that you can avoid the intermediate stages of the process and jump from change to adaptation - it will not happen. Even if it’s you who has instigated the change - like deciding to go on a diet - you will still experience all the emotions associated with the process, from beginning to end. However, knowledge is power - increasing your understanding of change in an ever-changing world can lead you to become the Master of Change.

This document is believed to be accurate but is not intended as a basis of knowledge upon which advice can be given. Neither the author (personal or corporate), the CII group, local institute or Society, or any of the officers or employees of those organisations accept any responsibility for any loss occasioned to any person acting or refraining from action as a result of the data or opinions included in this material. Opinions expressed are those of the author or authors and not necessarily those of the CII group, local institutes, or Societies.