If there’s one thing teachers have had to get used to in recent years, it’s change. Policy changes, assessment changes, curriculum changes…it’s been a bumpy ride! Change can be a very positive thing; after all, we’d never make any progress if things stayed the same. But change is often met with trepidation, mainly because of the fear of the unknown. As Kylie once sung, ‘it’s better the devil you know’. Or is it? Without change, we wouldn’t have discovered black holes, won women the vote, abolished slavery or developed effective treatments for cancer.
Therefore, with change being an inevitability that we’re going to experience throughout our lives, the trick is to tackle the anxiety that’s often associated with it, so that we can focus on the positive aspects, and empower ourselves to take action against negative changes.
Here are my top three tips on how to effectively manage change – whether that be at work, school or in your personal life.
What’s the worst that can happen?
It’s human instinct to envisage the worst possible outcomes so we can plan how to protect ourselves if the worst should happen. But often this thinking can become unreasonable and lead to unnecessary stress. Let’s take a child’s first day at secondary school as an example. I’m sure all children have thought they won’t make any new friends, they won’t be able to understand the lessons, they’ll get lost, they’ll fall victim to bullies and so on. These are all very understandable concerns but, when looked at objectively, is it likely that the child will make no new friends, or be the only one in their class to not understand what’s going on? They certainly won’t be the only one with these fears. Year after year, children start secondary school worrying that the world as they know it will come to an end and they’re walking into a scary world of big-boy bullies and tyrannical teachers. Fortunately, in the vast majority of cases, these fears prove baseless and children adapt to their new surroundings in the amazing way that only children can.
You shouldn’t condemn yourself for having these anxieties. Of course, you shouldn’t become complacent and assume that everything will be fine either, but it is senseless to worry about things that will most probably never happen (easier said than done, I know!). If you can’t control your natural urge to foresee the worst, take the time to consider what the absolute worst outcome of the change would be, think about how likely this is to happen and then, if it makes you feel more in control of the situation, make a plan for what you would do in that unfortunate situation. If you don’t make any new friends, maybe join an after-school club; if you fall behind in class, speak to your teacher about how you can catch up or ask to be moved to a different class; if you get bullied, think of who you can speak to that you trust. For every problem there is a solution. Telling yourself this will help you to tackle any change.
Take control or let it go
One of my favourite pieces of wisdom comes from the Serenity Prayer (don’t worry, I’m not going to start preaching; it’s perfectly applicable to the non-religious). It goes like this: “God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference”. As a recovering control freak, it’s difficult to accept that sometimes you just have to let things go as, believe it or not, you don’t have the immense power required to control everything. And thank goodness for that – what a drain such omnipotence must be! When it comes to a big change, however, this can leave you feeling powerless.
If your best friend suddenly tells you they’re moving to the other side of the world, for example, you may feel like your whole world has been turned upside down and there’s nothing you can do about it. But that’s precisely the point – there’s nothing you can do about it, so worrying is futile. Think about the things you can control: you can ensure you stay in contact with your friend by speaking to them regularly on Skype, sending them letters and postcards, and making plans to visit them as often as possible. And if you’re worried about losing a friend who you can catch up with regularly, resolve to make new friends and take action by joining a new club, inviting a work colleague out for a drink or reuniting with an old friend. By focusing on the things you can change, rather than worrying about the things you can’t, you can ensure that positive outcomes come from the change and you don’t waste time and mental energy sitting around waiting for the worst to happen.
Look on the bright side
Very rarely is anything purely bad, through and through. There is almost always a good side to any situation or change; sometimes you just have to look a little harder for it. Let’s say, for example, you lose your job. This can be hugely stressful and you may find it hard, at the time, to conceive of anything good ever coming from it. But if you look at it as an opportunity – an opportunity to pursue a different career, maybe retrain or develop a new skill, and to meet new people, you’ll begin to see that it may even be a gift in disguise. Of course, the practical implications need to be addressed, such as how you’ll manage financially, but these are things over which you have some element of control. Be sure to focus on finding solutions to these problems while remaining positive about the good things that may come as a result of this change, rather than expending valuable energy on something you can’t control.
Maintaining a positive outlook in times of change is no mean feat (and you don’t want to become one of those nauseating people who are happy about absolutely everything; let’s face it, sometimes life is rough). But take a moment to look back on all the big changes in your life. I bet that, in each circumstance, you can think of at least one good thing that has come from that change. Now think about where you would be if none of those changes had occurred – probably in the same position as you were a decade ago, perpetually bored and craving a change!
If you have any words of wisdom on how we can effectively manage change, we’d love to hear them. In this unpredictable world, you never know when we may need them.
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