“Change is inevitable – growth is optional…” – John C.Maxwell
Change – the only certainty in this world besides death and taxes. Throughout our lives we constantly experience positive or negative changes, whether it is a new job, marriage, child birth, or a death in the family.
The human change experience can be simply described as transitioning from our current state (where we are today) to the future state (our goals).
Emotional roller coasters tend to accompany our life changes, depending upon how we mentally process the transformation from the comfort of our current station in life to the disruptive uncertainty of the future. These emotions may include optimism, fear, excitement, anxiety, and frustration as the prospect of success or failure looms larger with every step we take within the change process.
These emotional feelings may cause us to resist change and try to hold on to the status quo if not managed carefully, or it may be the driving force for our successful evolution. Sadly, there is no magic pill on the market that will calm our emotional flares and transform us from change skeptics into proactive change enthusiasts.
However, we can increase our probability of success by focusing on a 3 step plan to mastering change: Plan, Execute, and Sustain the Change.
Step 1: Plan for Change.
There is an old adage that states “If you fail to plan, then plan to fail”. We can easily apply this saying to any change experience. Planning increases our probability of change success, and provides us with a road map for navigating through the required steps which we need to take to move from our current state to the future state. So exactly how do we plan for change?
1. Clarify why the change is necessary. Human beings typically require a compelling reason to change, otherwise change is not going to happen. There are tremendous amounts of perceived comfort in the current state, as the prospect of willingly enduring upheavals in our familiar routine may seem like a daunting task.
Before undertaking any change event, we should have a clear understanding in our minds of the purpose of the change, the definition of success once the change is accomplished, the specific steps that need to be taken in order to achieve successful change, and the inherent risk of not changing our current state.
One simple technique to gain clarity on why any change is necessary is the 5 Whys analysis which was created as part of the Six Sigma methodology. This analysis works by asking the question WHY when faced with the prospect of change. After the first question is answered, ask why again for deeper understanding. Theoretically, after five rounds of this question and answer process, we should get to the root cause of the real need for any change request.
Once we clarify the need for change in our minds, we are now positioned to move to the next stage in the change planning process.
2. Make a personal decision to accept the change. Once we gain clarity on the necessity of the change, we then need to decide whether or not we want to embark upon the change journey within our lives. This is decision is indeed personal to us, as no one can force us to WANT to change.
Personal change acceptance will lead to an increased willingness to embrace the change experience with an open mind and positive demeanor. This willingness to engage in the change event is important to meeting our change goals. Once this personal decision to embrace the change effort has been made, we will be well positioned for the next stage in the planning process.
3. Create a road map for change success. This is where we need to identify the actions that need to be taken within this change event, and create a list of tasks that must be executed to complete these actions.
Actions can include identifying and learning new skills for a new job, learning how to effectively manage a new diet for targeted weight loss, establishing communications with an estranged family member, or crafting and executing a business plan to turn a passion into a thriving business.
Associated tasks are the steps to complete the actions. For example, if our action is to learn a new skill for a career change then our task list will include the research effort to identity the new skill we want to learn, the specific learning courses that we need to take, and the certification exams we need to pass to prepare ourselves for this job. We would also need to include a time frame for completing this action and for securing the new job.
This task list should be detailed for each action, easy to follow, and should be linear in order so that we can keep track of where we are along the change journey. Each task should also have a start and end date to ensure we can identify whether we are behind or ahead of our change schedule.
There are many planning tools out there that can assist us in crafting a change road map, from simple spreadsheets to elaborate project management software. We should select the tool that is easiest for us to manage, as the main focus should be the change itself, and not the administrative documentation needed to enable our change success.
Step 2: Execute the Change.
Now that we clearly understand why the change is needed, made the personal decision to embark upon the change journey, and created a detailed roadmap for success, we now need to execute our plan to ensure a successful change transition.
This is the transition phase of the change process, and is the step that requires the most perseverance on our part. We will be challenged and overwhelmed during this phase at times, but we must stick to our plan of action! As long as we do not give in to despair and frustration we will be successful with our change endeavor because we took the time to carefully plan our course of action.
Step 3: Sustain the Change.
Congratulations – we have successfully transitioned from our current state into our future state – and we are loving life again!
Our work is not done, however. It is very easy to revert back into old behaviors and habits. Our focus must now shift to maintaining the built up momentum so that we do not get complacent and erase all of our hard work. So, how do we safeguard against slipping back into our old ways?
- First and foremost, we need to reward ourselves for our accomplishments. We endured until we made that difficult personal change. Cake and ice cream for everyone!
- Measure our accomplishments to determine whether or not we achieved our goals. If our target was to lose 40 pounds over 6 months, did we hit the mark? If not, we need to create a supplemental plan to keep going until we are finally successful.
- Assess and record what specific steps we took to overcome our challenges during the change process. We should identify which actions and tasks worked well and which ones were more difficult to complete. If we can identify the errors we made along our change journey, we can take the necessary steps to avoid those missteps when the next change challenge presents itself in our lives.
- Recruit a friend to keep us accountable for sustaining our changes. Friends make great cheerleaders, and we can benefit from having someone in our corner to push us forward when we find ourselves slipping back into old habits. A good friend can be that voice to keep us on track. Real friends should care about our well-being and will be there to support us before, during, and at the end of our change journey!
Change is a constant feature within our lives that present us with opportunities for personal growth. We will be more likely to master personal changes if we plan, execute, and sustain our efforts on our journey from the current to the future states.
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