New Year can be a time of resolutions and a commitment to change. Managing change can be a result of either a choice we have made or a response to choices made by others that directly affect us. Managing this can often be a difficult and confusing experience. How do we manage change giving ourselves the best possible chance of success?
In thinking terms, a realistic approach can be effective in helping us move towards our goals. Realistic thinking is not about thinking positively or negatively, but an evaluation of both aspects enabling you to see the “reality” of a situation rather than just the “all or nothing” aspects. A realistic evaluation of the good and not so good fosters a flexible approach which helps us adapt to the ebb and flow of life and moves us towards our goals. “All” (positive) or “nothing” (negative) thinking can mean we are less well placed to be able to adapt to these changes and move forward. We often think in all or nothing terms when relating to change. For example, we have made the decision to look for a new job. We feel unfulfilled in the job we currently have. These feelings are what motivate and drive us to make change. However, as we move forward with these ideas we can get caught in absolute (all or nothing) thinking. For example “My old job was awful and my new job will be great”.
This type of thinking is seen as rigid and will get in the way of us achieving our goals and effectively managing change. The problem with this example is it is not a realistic evaluation of our current situation. To start with it is sweeping statement that is far too brief. If we think more fully about this we can begin to see that “my new job will be great” is perhaps setting unrealistic expectations for our new role. Does this mean we expect every aspect of this change to be “great”? Are there any parts that we may find challenging (and so allow ourselves time to work with them)? What happens if when we start there is an aspect of our role that isn’t “great”? What does this mean? In our absolute (or all or nothing) thinking terms this one aspect may end up colouring our whole experience. We can then get caught up in “catastrophic” thinking, and so a downward spiral begins. “My new job is a disaster!” Can you imagine how thinking in this way would make you feel?
Additionally we can also negate the aspects of our old job that were important to us. “My old job was awful” - does this mean every single aspect of your old job was “awful”? The reality is probably somewhat different to this. Perhaps there was a part of your work that you enjoyed or didn’t view as “awful”. Maybe you will be sad to say goodbye to a particular work colleague because you enjoyed working with them. Being curious about this and exploring the emotional impact more fully can help to view these changes in a more realistic frame. We can then understand more about what this change means to you emotionally, particularly by acknowledging the loss and allowing ourselves the appropriate space to mourn.
It is interesting to consider that if we approach change with a realistic mind set this can help us overcome or avoid altogether getting stuck in unhelpful thinking patterns. All or nothing thinking is likely to end up impacting more negatively on our emotions than is necessary which will then influence what we do (or more likely what we end up not doing). For example, giving up on the idea of making any more change, so feeling stuck and unfulfilled. Of course any change involves an element of risk and can be scary. This is necessary if we are to lead fulfilling and meaningful lives. Counselling can help navigate important life decisions and support your journey in bringing about sustained meaningful change.
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About Gary Baker
I am an experienced integrative counsellor and an accredited member of the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy. I currently work with individuals and couples on a broad range of presenting issues. Of particular interest is developing the relationship we have with ourselves to be more compassionate, nurturing and supportive.