More Than a Date on the Calendar

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Many people are disappointed when the anticipated changes in their lives don’t bring immediate, easy, lasting happiness. Think of these changes that most of us look forward to:

  • Marriage

  • New house

  • New job

  • Baby

  • Retirement

  • New puppy

  • New exercise or weight loss program

What we don’t understand, or forget about, is that all of the items here can be given a date on the calendar, but the internal, personal adaptation doesn’t happen in one day. It may not happen in a week or a month or even a year, but then again it might happen quickly.

Transition is the internal adaptation to an external change, and that process is different for every person. Some people adapt quickly. Others pretend that nothing has changed but struggle to let go of the way things were. Yet others figure out that the change is more than they had bargained for and they bail on the idea.

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Wiliam Bridges (1980) was the first to put a name to this difference between the external event and the internal transition journey we must go through as we move from status quo to status new!

I have spent 25 years observing, navigating, facilitating, initiating and studying change and transition. The result of those 25 years is a tool I have created to help others navigate these transitions more successfully. I don’t want this to be a commercial for the Transitions Journey Deck; but I do want to share a few things I know about change and transition that may help you in your life whether you purchase one of my decks or not. I know:

  1. We can miss or grieve things we didn’t like.

  2. Things will most likely get more difficult before they get easier.

  3. No change occurs in isolation; this one change affects other parts of your life.

  4. Other people in your life may not be supportive of your change.

  5. Every change has invisible ropes tying you to the old ways.

  6. We have limited information at the beginning of any change.

  7. Transitions present our greatest opportunity to learn about ourselves.

  8. Most of the challenges we will encounter are emotional, not necessarily logical.

  9. Every change involves something we must let go of if we are going to fully commit to the new.

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The bottom line is that transition is a personal journey and at the outset of any change we have limited information, which informs how we feel about things and the choices we make. As we come to understand more of what is involved in a change, we are often surprised by our reaction and what can feel like resistance to a change that we thought was going to be great or easy of fun. Instead we are often frustrated, exhausted and unsure of what is making the change so hard.

These are the best times to learn about ourselves, our beliefs, our values, and to explore key relationships. In short, a transition is a terrible learning opportunity to waste.

 
 

After 25 years of deep involvement in the transitions of individuals, families, teams and organizations, as well as in my own life, I know that my Transitions Journey Deck can change the way you approach changes in your life.

Click here to learn more about the deck.  

Below the Surface of Change

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Do you ever feel like your boat is sinking and you can’t understand how something seemingly insignificant could have such a huge impact?

Welcome to CHANGE!

I recently had two iceberg moments that were poignant reminders of how change really works.

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Nearly two years ago, a friend passed away – suddenly. Our church affiliation had us working together for several years. While we weren’t close friends, we shared many powerful experiences and I knew I would miss him.

More than missing him, I was filled with sadness for his wife. She was completely unprepared for his sudden departure and it has been heartbreaking to watch her go through this grieving process. I would say that his death was the chunk of ice about the waterline. I saw it – I felt it – I expected to be sad for a time. I knew that I would do whatever I could to be a good friend to his wife and be there for her in whatever way I could.

However, I have been surprised many times by the tears that seem to come from nowhere. His favorite children’s hymn was ‘I’m trying to be like Jesus’ and I can’t sing more than a few notes of that song without choking on tears. He used props when he taught the little kids a Sunday School lesson. One of those lessons was about the wise man building his house upon the rock and every child got to pick a rock from his basket. At his funeral, everyone in attendance could take one of those rocks home with them. That rock sits on my desk and I oftentimes look at the rock, and I have this overwhelming sadness well up inside of me.

A few weeks ago, I decided to try and look beneath the waterline. What was really going on down there that was causing me such grief? When this friend died, so did the opportunities to do more work together. There would be no more of those deep conversations I thoroughly enjoyed. I wouldn’t get any more phone calls asking me to provide insights about an individual or a situation. I realized in that moment, that my grieving was about much more than his actual death. It was the death of a relationship and a loss of times together that couldn’t be replaced.

In some ways, it was wonderful to pause and look deeply at what his death symbolized. The change was on the surface and I could see it, but the parts that I valued and the experiences I was grieving were buried deep.

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The second change I recently experienced was having a friend move. Again, it’s not somebody I see every day or even every week, but he is someone that I have felt close to since the moment I met him. For very good reasons, he and his family have moved several states away. There had been several weeks between the time I heard the news and when I finally saw him at church. We passed each other in the hall and when he said, “I need to talk with you about this move,” I burst into tears and told him that I couldn’t handle it right then.

Every time I thought about it over the next few weeks, I would start to cry. Again, I was puzzled by the extreme emotional response I was having. After a tearful night (and no, this wasn’t hormones at work) I chose to go beneath the waterline and ask myself what was really going on here. That was when I realized that this change in my life was symbolic to me of how time was passing and how many things that brought joy, fulfillment and meaning to my life were going away.

It was a reminder that I have less of those times in front of me than I had in the past. His moving brought up all the other relationships and situations that have changed. William Bridges says that every change has elements of transition within it and if we don’t take the time to acknowledge and work through those in the moment, that they will stack up in our transitional attic and one day, when we least expect it, all of those changes that we hurriedly passed through will come crashing down on us. At those times, we will be surprised by the BIG reactions to seemingly SMALL things.

Thus, the small chunk of ice above the waterline that punches a hole in the side of our boat which slowly allows water to leak in over time until we feel like we’re sinking.

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Moral of this story? We should look more closely at each change in our life and take time to notice what lies beneath the surface.

Drawbacks of the Comfort Zone

As I woke up to yet another subzero morning here in Minnesota  and heard people whining about the temps, I started to think about how this kind of weather stretches us.  Or, how it could stretch us if we were up for that kind of thing. We see what we look for and if we look for the negative and the poor me and the downside, we will see it. I typically choose to look for something else. Here are just a few of the thoughts I had about how this cold weather could stretch us in good ways, if we would open ourselves to the possibilities.

* New soup recipes

* Getting out for a walk instead of hibernating

* Shivering is actually a GOOD thing - it's healthy for you!

* Move --- if you hate the cold weather that much --- check out living in a milder climate :-)

* Find friends that like doing things in the cold, and ditch your warm weather friends :-)

* Search for the ultimate jacket, hat, boots and mittens/gloves that keep you warm

* Make tons of cookies and store them on the back deck in ice cream pails

* Try out lots of new lotions to see what can actually keep your dry skin semi-moist

* Improve your skills when driving on black ice

* Develop patience

* Make money for a worthwhile charity by taking the polar plunge - it won't kill you

* Spend more family time together - play games, do puzzles, cook

* Get some Yak Trax for running or walking and exercise outside all year long without the fear of slipping

* Meet some neighbors by having a cabin fever party at your house

I could go on, but you get the idea, right? If you look at situations or circumstances as opportunities to stretch, you will find it.

This post isn't only about the weather; it's about life in general. I find many people seem to be searching for a comfort zone where they can just settle in and stay there all warm, secure and safe for the rest of their lives. That sounds a bit too much like complacency, settling, status quo, stalling out, being stuck ... I like to push and be pushed.  This is for all of you that are feeling a little complacent and are ready for a good push - this reinforces your desire to try something challenging or new. This is also for those of you that are happy right where you are - in hopes that you will rethink your current state and push yourself.

While I was thinking about this very topic, I received an email with this little "prose" that a friend of mine wrote  (Thanks, Warren) ...check it out!

*****COMFORT ZONE*****

Not much changes when I'm in my comfort zone. I go through unexamined habits, take no risks, rely on my defaults, do little thinking, and learn very little, if anything.

So, why stay in my comfort zone?

To avoid challenges. To escape from looking at other options. To value comfort over everything else. To send the message that I'm really a nice guy who won't get in their face. To become friends with the middle of the road.

And then what happens?

Standing in the middle of the road will ensure instant death. Emotional retardation sets in. Intellectual muscles are under nourished. Relationships deteriorate. And I become a serious drag.

Options?

Invite trusted friends to challenge your status quo. Say THANK YOU when someone takes you out of your comfort zone. Create an activity that is unusual, creative, out-of-the-ordinary. Do something that borders on being ridiculous.

If you're a manager, you are likely to say NO when others want to engage in unusual stuff. Become a leader, take the risk, make friends with unstable people and stuff, take the brake off your brains, go with the flow, become a Henry Ford or Steve Jobs.  Learn that when you're kicked in the rear, you must be out front.

Getting out of your comfort zone reading this? YES? Wonderful.  You're on your way!

***********

My favorite line is LEARN THAN WHEN YOU"RE KICKED IN THE REAR, YOU MUST BE OUT IN FRONT!  Come on, decide to be out in front with something ... take off the shirt and jeans that allow you to feel all sloppy and sit on the couch. Put on the pants that are a little too tight and are downright uncomfortable - then GET UP AND STRETCH THEM OUT!

As always, I'd love to hear where you would like to stretch ........................

Meet my Leaders

      

 

 

How do I introduce you to these ten amazing leaders in a way that will serve your needs, as a reader? You need to know something about who they are and what they value, so you can relate to them, either aligning or opposing. It’s important for you to get a sense of what their transition was; in other words, what they were leaving behind and what they were stepping into. You need to know that they are real – that they made mistakes just like you and I; they weren’t superhuman or even voted leader of the year – they were everyday people that found themselves in a strange, new land where they desperately wanted to be successful. I was lucky enough to spend at least four hours with each of these leaders over a six-month period. They shared every part of their journey – the comfortable, the uncomfortable, the strange, the painful, the embarrassing, the “I want to turn around and quit”, and the moments of excitement that came from meeting a challenge, not giving up, and taking others with them on their journey. I trust these leaders; I would follow them into unknown territory – unknown to me and to them. I would follow them because they are anchors, lighthouses, base camps, whatever term you want to use for something you hang on to when things get rocky and you feel lost and afraid. I hope that in these brief introductions, I can give you a sense of who these trusted leaders are. I want you to trust them so that you can trust what they taught me; they taught me how to wander through unfamiliar territory with a sense of purpose and come out on the other side with a smile, and a few wrinkles, on my face!

Over the next several weeks, I will introduce you to these men and women and ask you to find your own lessons in their stories!

How do strong leaders navigate uncharted waters?

This was THE question I had when I began the difficult task of conducting doctoral research and writing a dissertation. At the time I had been working in the area of organization change for about 10 years and was often frustrated when leaders I had thought were effective became ineffective during times of change. These leaders were great when they were in familiar territory, but when the surroundings or the rules or the crew members changed significantly, their strong leadership wavered.  Like any good academic, I went to the literature and I came up pretty empty. I found a lot of theory without supporting evidence. I found books with lists of leadership actions that lacked depth. I found stories of super hero change leaders like Jack Welch or Lincoln, but no stories about the everyday type of men and women I was working with. Where were these people that had figured out how to be strong leaders when they were weak in the knees and found themselves walking on brand new paths? Where were their stories of what they experienced? I couldn't find them, so I went in search of them.

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What I found was not only great stuff for leaders, but fascinating stories that can teach any of us valuable lessons about how to successfully move through uncertain and challenging times. For nearly 3 years, I have been trying to take this research that landed me a doctorate and transform it into a book that will benefit everyday people like you and I. I have not yet figured out how to do it.

That bothers me - not just a little bit, but a ton. There isn't a day of my life that I don't have a disappointing thought about this unwritten book. I have an alter ego who loves to sabotage my writing by feeding me different stories about why I can't write this book. One of the stories my saboteur tells me is that no one would be interested in the stories these leaders have to tell.  I've bought into that undermining message long enough!  Tonight, I am going to start to tell you about these leaders - I'm going to share their stories with you. I want to hear what you think about them. Are they interesting characters? Do their stories teach you anything? Shall I charge ahead and try to figure out how to make a book from their stories and share the lessons they learned with the world? As the keeper of their stories, I feel a sense of responsibility to share them and allow others to learn as I learned; to keep it to myself seems selfish.

10

There are 10 leaders. I may not share all 10 stories, but then again I might. I won't share more than one story per week.  I may not share a story every week. Their stories aren't short. They don't really belong in a blog. I'm going to do it despite all the reasons I shouldn't because that is who I am. If you never want to read any of them, I understand. If you do read them, I need to ask you to do two things each time I share a story!

#1 - Please send the story/blog to anyone you can think of that is facing changing times. It is especially important to send it to anyone you know that works in a management or leadership position, as I believe they are my target audience.

#2 - Please post comments on this site and you share your thoughts about the leader's story. What was interesting? What did you learn? What could you relate to? What did it make you think about?

This at least feels like I am taking a step toward sharing these stories in a "voice" that can be heard by people outside the walls of a library at an institution of higher education!

The Hard Part is Letting Go

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The only way to successfully grab onto something new is to let go of the old ...

I am an individual who really likes change. I like change in my life, and I love working with organizations and individuals on how to envision, navigate and sustain change. However, there is a bit too much change going on in my personal life right now!  It's all positive change, but that doesn't make it any easier to weather the rough waters right now.  Our best friends moved away. I have another great friend moving to California for a year. My son-in-law has graduated from college and in the job search has put that he is open to move "anywhere" (that would mean having the 3 year old grandson move away - not to mention my daughter).  My youngest son is getting married and has graduated from college - time to find a job!  Those are just the big changes - add in all the small ones and it begins to feel as if all parts of my life are in flux. That is not at all true, but can feel like that at times.

All of this has brought my change management consulting back into the forefront of my mind. I want to share 2 simple change concepts with you today that have helped me greatly over the years, and I hope that you can use them in your own lives.

#1 - The hardest part of any change is letting go. We tend to focus our energy on the new (new job, new house, new baby, new haircut, new boss, etc.).  That tends to be the exciting part of change - the reason that we DO change in the first place. The harder part of the change, that typically gets overlooked, is the letting go. I love this picture of the two trapeze artists. You know that the woman on the left doesn't want to hang onto her trapeze forever - she really wants to grab onto her friend's hands.  Yet, there is an instant where she is just so afraid to let go of that very comfortable swing.  She can't do both.  The only way to be successful is to let go. It can be scary to let go. We may let go and fall flat on our face. It may hurt. It may not work out. It may not be as great as we thought it was going to be.  But, until we truly let go, we cannot embrace the new.  We don't see the safety net in this picture, yet you know they have (or had) one.  PQ - What is a change that you want to make but are afraid to? What  is the safety net you need in order to let go of the old?

#2 - All change involves loss. That is actually the reason that letting go is so hard. We can miss things that we didn't enjoy or appreciate because at least they were familiar. We often mourn the loss of familiarity. When we have been doing something for a long time, we start to take things for granted. We no longer have to really think about what we are doing - it's automatic. It isn't until you have let go and step into the new place that you realize what you miss.  You can actually anticipate the loss if you try. If you can anticipate or predict the loss, then you can better manage the change and not be so surprised or frustrated when you start to feel how different things are. Does that makes sense to you?  Plus, we have the greatest opportunity to learn (about things, about others, about ourselves) during times of change.  As humans, we try to skip over it - pretend that it isn't hard to let go  or pretend that we know how to do everything in the new place. That's just not true! Let's not skip the learning. Dig into the time between old and new and learn. PQ - Think of an upcoming change in your life. What are you going to miss? What is going away? What will never be the same again?

For more on what I believe to be an essential life skill,  I highly recommend reading a short little book by William Bridges. It's about 30 years old, but as relevant today as the day it was written.

Transitions

Embrace the changes that come your way!

Everyone knows someone who struggles with change. Please do me and them a favor-forward them the link to this blog today and encourage them to signup.  THANK YOU!

Only 29 days to change, huh?

At the core of all the work I do, both in my consulting/coaching business and as a Jazzercise instructor, is CHANGE. I love change. I love that people struggle with change. I love that change keeps us on our toes, and gives us opportunities to stretch and grow. It only makes sense that I am continually reading books and articles about how to change - better, faster, cheaper, easier, with less angst, with longer lasting results, without getting or giving gray hair, without losing your job or damaging relationships. There are always old habits or ways of doing things that need to be altered in the process. Recently I bought a book

29 DAYS ... to a habit you want!

I am not suggesting you go out and spend $9.99 to buy this book. I'm not even sure that I completely buy into his model for change, but I do think there are some nuggets in the book that make sense. How about if you just trust me to share the nuggets that I think are worth a try?  It's what I do; I read books and ponder what I read and then write a blogpost about it. You, my lucky subscribers, get the best part of books for free and very little time spent reading.

I will try and summarize his model for change and then give you the powerful question that could lead you to action. Fast (the author) claims that it is a rare individual who can make a change for the positive with just willpower. Willpower exists in the conscious part of our brain, and that part of our brain is only engaged for erratic parst of any 24 hour period. On the other hand, our subconscious is running 24 hours a day, so what we need to do is rewire our subconscious with the change or new habit. The subconscious mind fears change, so we need to sneak up on it with tiny, bite sized chunks of change.  Example: I want to stop losing my temper when an employee (or family member) does something that disappoints me. That is too big and too vague and sheer willpower cannot get us there. Not only that, but our goal is stated in the negative. Our subconscious will get stuck on the word "temper" - you cannot stop losing your temper until you acknowledge you are losing it, and that is what our subconscious focuses on.  The way to change this habit is to first state your goal in positive terms.  If you want to stop losing your temper, what do you want to do (think in the positive)?  Perhaps you want to react to situations with less emotion or you want to react to disappointments with a calm demeanor ... maybe that isn't exactly how you would state it, but you get my point? It's not what you want to STOP doing, it's what you want to START doing.   That is the first thing I want you to try ... take a habit you would like to ditch (eating fast food, drinking pop, shopping when you don't have money to spend, swearing, being sedentary, yelling at your kids, watching too much TV) and state in the affirmative.  What is the thing you want to do - NOT the thing you want to stop doing?

Got it?   Let me explain the other nugget that I think makes sense and is worth trying!

Now that you have your goal stated in the affirmative, think of one little thing you could do that day that would move you closer to your goal.

"I will eat a healthy breakfast today."

"I will read a book tonight for 15 minutes."

"I will drink a glass of water before I have my first cup of coffee or can of pop."

"I will turn off the TV and play with the kids tonight for 15 minutes."

"I will read and respond to one old email in my inbox this morning before I do anything else."

Is that starting to make sense?  You identify a baby step. And, then you do it. You do it every day for several days. Fast says that this starts to set up new thought paths from your subconscious to your conscious brain and your thoughts become altered. When you realize you can do that, you stretch your tiny goal. You then go through the same process for several days. Eventually, you have altered your thought patterns in a positive way and you believe, at a subconscious level, that you are living your goal. You can take the goal as far as you want. He shared a story of a depressed, overweight, sedentary, exhausted single mom at the end of her rope that changed her life by accepting the challenge to march in place during one commercial while she watched TV at night. It's a fascinating story to see how she moved from that tiny, almost meaningless goal, to a lifestyle where she had good energy, lost weight, went back to school and got a better job. It really is nothing short of a miracle, and it started with a tiny thought stated in the affirmative.

DISCLAIMERS

I did not explain all the neuroscience behind his 29 days change model, nor did I check his sources for validity.

I have not tried this model yet.

COMMITMENT

I am going to try this with my book writing project, and I'll keep you posted on it. I have been trying to write a book for 2 years and it's not going very well.  I am sick and tired of talking about it - I want to do it.  So, I am going to apply the 2 steps above (state my goal in the affirmative and identify little things that can get me closer to my larger goal) and see how it goes.

POWERFUL QUESTION/CHALLENGE

What is a habit that you want to change (personal, family, work)? Word it in the affirmative and get it into your subconscious (first thought in the morning and last at night)

What is one small thing you can do to move closer to your goal today?

SHARE

If you are willing, I would love to hear about your affirmative goals and your baby steps. Share with us in the comments section.

GOOD LUCK TO ALL OF US WITH OUR EXPERIMENT!

The Experiment With a Rat

No ... I did not experiment with a rat; at least, not recently. I remember peforming some type of surgery removing body parts from a white rat in high school, but that was a LONG time ago, and has no relevance to the topic at hand. Have you heard of Carl Rakosi?  He was a poet - a Marxist - a University of Wisconsin alumni. I did not know he existed until Friday. I was leading a session on change at Physician Leadership College, when a participant shared a brief poem with me. She had seen it on the side of the bus many years ago and thought the message in the poem was relevant to our discussion regarding change.

The Experiment with a Rat by Carl Rakosi

Everytime I nudge that spring, a bell rings and a man walks out of a cage and brings me cheese. How did he fall into my power?

Let me share the context ... when I teach leaders about change, one of the commonly repeated concepts is that everyone has a different perspective regarding the change - regarding priorities - regarding the leaders - regarding what is hard and what is easy. It is simply a foundational element of leading change, and if leaders do not consider alternative perspectives, they will not be successful.

Sometimes, I call this concept "frame of reference" and that makes even more sense to people.  We are the holder of the picture frame, and we are the only ones that can move it. When we shift the frame, we see a different picture or at least some elements of the picture look different than they did before we shifted. In typical conversations, we only hear a person's perspective (tip of the iceberg)  - we do not hear the rest of the picture (what lies below the surface). There are experiences, emotions, and thoughts that have led a person to have a certain perspective, and it is only in understanding those that we get a full picture. So, in change, it is critical for a leader to move the picture frame and try to see things differently.  It doesn't necessarily mean that a leader will really change their position or opinion after trying on various perspectives, but it will do two things ...

1) It will strengthen the relationships with others because the leader took the time to understand instead of simply judging them as different or wrong and shutting the door.

2) When they return to their original frame of reference, it will be different because they have looked at it from a different perspective. A good metaphor here is when we go on a trip and come back home - we notice things that were there before we left, but because we have experienced other things, home will appear a bit different.

This wisdom is not just helpful for leaders, but for all of us. When someone sees things differently, it might be fun to shift the frame and look at it from where they stand ... it will certainly be interesting!

Make sense?  I'd love to hear your comments on this - share a thought or a personal example or a metaphor. This random wisdom belongs to all of us ...