There’s a storm coming, you just don’t know it yet.
No matter how we plan, prepare and organize…the universe often blows us off course with the winds of change. If we are lucky, we notice the gentle breezes in the trees and the darkening of the sky, which tingle our senses to pay attention.
Oftentimes, we are too distracted to feel the winds of change until they are smack-dab on our doorstep as a hurricane-force tempest.
And then we freak out, right? (Be honest, sister. You and I both know how easy it is to turn into a puddle of poo in an instant.)
I had my own little Category 4 storm this week when the For Sale sign was placed in my front yard. (Don’t misunderstand me, I knew it was coming, I signed the realtor contract.) Yet, the reality that we were selling our home that we have lived in for the last 16 years, hit me in an emotional-gale force winds kind of way.
Change is really a metaphor for the unknown. And the unknown is scary. Even when we make the change willingly.
So we have a choice. We can bend in the breeze, adjust our sails, and hold on for the ride or we can give in to the fear and be blasted into the stratosphere of chaos. (So dramatic, I know. But it feels that way sometimes.)
So in an effort to help myself cope with this move, I decided to do some research on how best to get through the storm.
According to Chip Heath and Dan Heath, authors of Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard human beings are fundamentally schizophrenic. (Well that is comforting.)
The authors don’t mean literally, though. What they mean is that we are driven by two distinct sides, the rational side and the emotional side, and at any given moment they are in an internal debate over who is going to rule your reaction and behavior. The Heath’s describe the two sides to the Elephant (our irrational brain) and the Rider (our rational brain). This colorful analogy was created by psychologist Jonathan Haidt who explains how the weakness of the Elephant (emotional, instinctive, and needs a quick payoff) and the role of the Rider (in control and holding the reins of a beast much larger and stronger than herself) play out when they disagree. The Elephant is always going to win when it is a battle of strength as the Rider is completely overmatched.
(It must have been my Elephant that directed me to inhale an entire bag of Pretzel chips right after the For Sale sign was placed. It was a glorious 15 minutes which was followed by 12 hours of regret. I did not want to gain 5 pounds as a result of a move.)
So, how do we manage the Elephant when she’s storming through the compound?
The key is to get the Elephant and Rider working together. The Elephant’s strength and energy, and the Rider’s planning and direction, work together beautifully to navigate through change. In order to get them to sync, we must direct the Rider, motivate the Elephant, and shape the path. Want to know the Cliff Notes Version?
Follow these 5 steps to navigate through change.
Step One: Design a well-prepared path. If you know your irrational brain succumbs to pretzel chips during times of stress and change don’t bring them into the house during stress and change. Period. I normally don’t keep salty snacks in the house for that reason but happened to succumb to the lure after a long day of cleaning and packing. I have resigned myself not to purchase any “bad food” until after we have moved. My Elephant may demand them, but if they are in the store instead of my pantry, I can likely redirect until the craving passes.
Step Two: Soothe the Beast. If the Rider is exhausted (mental fatigue from over-analyzing threats) she won’t be able to steer the reigns. When you notice the symptoms of burnout (irritability, bad food choice, reaching for the third glass of wine to calm down) plan a break. Just stop and do something that is completely unrelated to the task at hand. For me, this meant taking 2 hours out of my day to go get a Mani-Pedi even though I had closets to pack. It made a big difference when I came back to the task.
Step Three: Shrink the Change. Break up the new actions required by the change into small, manageable bite-sized pieces. The Elephant loves to blaze ahead (or run away from) problems. Without the Rider’s direction, and analysis of the best way to navigate the pace, she can make the situation ten times worse. By scheduling specific tasks each day to prepare for the move, (rather than tackling it 6-8 hours at a time on the weekend), I felt more in control of the enormity of the to-do list. The win-win is checking off the small chunks. The Elephant is motivated by progress.
Step Four: Find the Bright Spots. The Rider, for all her planning and problem-solving strengths, loves to spin her wheels and focus on the scary stuff; (Can we get the house ready in time? Will it sell quickly? What if it doesn’t sell?). Finding the bright spots (The yard looks amazing. We have awesome Realtors. We have already packed up the upstairs.) keeps the rider focused on directing the Elephant’s energy and gives her hope. Focus on what’s working right now instead of looking for an enormous solution.
Step Five: Point to the Destination. Reassure yourself that you will get through the change (as your track record for surviving change is always 100% if you are alive and kicking.) Visualize a stable end result as this will help keep the Elephant on her path and the Rider focused on ways to get there. Imagine the end result as if it has already occurred. For me this means seeing the Sold sign in the yard and imagining a set plan for next steps which include building a new house. Notice how after visualizing you feel calmer and more focused. Your Rider is back in control and is leading your Elephant to your next journey.
I know its hard to reset when an Arctic blast upends your calm seas. Stand in the storm and adjust your sales. You are too strong to be blown away.
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