The greek philosopher Heraclitus is quoted as saying, “change is the only constant in life.” Despite this truth, so many of us are woefully unprepared for change when it happens unexpectedly. In the moment, we lose our sensibilities and show up in a way that isn’t who we really are.
This happened to me recently. I found myself in a situation where a very significant change occurred, requiring me to make a really tough decision.
Fortunately I’ve developed a tool to help my clients work through the 4 emotional stages that we go through when we experience unexpected change and transition. It’s part of my Win the Day Framework and it’s designed to help entrepreneurs get past confusion and overwhelm and get back into their own mind where they have clarity so they can make decisions and move forward. Today I’m going to share with you what those stages are and how it looked for me as I was dealing with a problem that popped up in my business.
Let me give you the backstory about what happened to me. A business that I had a working relationship with had rewritten the terms of our agreement and at my annual renewal offered me a little box that said, “Do you agree to our Terms and Conditions?” Normally I when it comes to agreeing to new terms, I don’t think much about the decision. I click the little box that says “I agree” without finding out exactly what I’m agreeing to. It’s a pretty careless way to handle these matters but it’s never been a problem so I’ve allowed myself to be lazy in this way.
At the encouragement of a peer, I took a look at what this company was asking me to agree to in their new terms. Almost instantly, I knew this wasn’t a slightly updated change. What they were asking me to accept was significantly different. The new terms removed some of the rights and benefits that I was agreed upon when I became associated with their organization. The change worked in their favor without an equitable exchange in my favor. It was quite clearly a one sided update.
This might seem like a easy decision to make, either I agree or I don’t but it wasn’t. This professional connection wasn’t the same as getting a new email service provider or signing up for a new CRM software. It was a relationship that had a lot of advantages for me and my business. I had a certain level of access to products, programs, and publicity that I wouldn’t have access to otherwise. Not everyone gets this access but I meet the criteria and have enjoyed being part of the very exclusive program.
It boiled down to this, I could either agree to the new terms or I would be pushed into a much less favorable association with them.. In essence, the relationship was changing regardless but I could decide how it looked going forward. Agreeing meant that I would give up some rights and privileges that I am entitled to as part of our original agreement. Not agreeing meant I would retain those rights but I would lose access to all of the other benefits that came with our professional relationship. Those rights exist whether or not I maintain my association with them. We have a contractual relationship written under very specific terms that we both agreed to at the time.
I’m being asked to agree to new terms. It came down to this: If I wanted to have future access to the daily benefits of being a part of this organization, I had to agree to let go of some of the original benefits. It was written that this new agreement supercedes any previous ones. By agreeing, I would forever forfeit those past benefits.
Now I had a choice to make: am I in or am I out?
With this realization weighing heavy on me, in that moment, my brain did what it always does in these situations – it freaked the eff out. It had a complete mind drama meltdown of epic proportions.
My brain did not care that I intellectually knew the 4 stages and how to overcome them, it wanted to have a mega temper tantrum. And I let it because that’s part of this process. But I also observed it carefully to see what it would do. Watching our automatic reactions is a great way to get unexpected insights into some of our hidden thoughts and beliefs. It is the exclusive design of humans to be able to experience and observe our emotions at the same time. We never really take the time to do both but when we do, we’ll learn so much more about how we’re wired as individuals.
After reading the new terms, ones that took away some rights that were part of my original terms, I moved into the first stage of unexpected change. The first stage is the resistance stage. Resistance can show up as anger, confusion, bargaining or even denial. Although denial often comes across as pretending the problem doesn’t exist. As in literally ignoring its existence and moving forward as if nothing happened or changed. All of these reactions are really common and can be such a part of us that we don’t really notice how quickly we default to it. What’s really happening in that moment is that our brain is trying to reject reality or at least change it back to some version it was before.
For me, when I first read the new terms and conditions, my brain chose to respond with confusion. I assumed that I didn’t understand the words as they were written.
Side note: it is very interesting to observe my own thoughts defaulting to the problem being my intellectual capacity to understand. Confusion is a common response but to default to the assumption that the problem is me, is probably rooted in something much deeper. I can see that this is an area of my own self development that I need to explore.
Since I was feeling confused, I thought I would get clarification. I emailed the organization and asked about what I read. Turns out, there is nothing wrong with my ability to comprehend the new terms. I understood them perfectly. The problem is the new terms themselves.
Which took me to a different type of resistance – anger. I couldn’t believe that they were trying to sneak past all of us such a significant change by burying it in the terms and conditions and giving us nothing more than a checkbox as a warning. I stewed on my thoughts of outrage and injustice for a long time. This is the freak out and temper tantrum I mentioned earlier. My mind drama came out in full force and it consumed me. I wasn’t able to focus on work, I replayed other smaller questionable decisions by this organization that I had excused away. I indulged all of my emotions and placed the blame squarely on tham.
Once my thoughts slowed and my rage passed, I entered the 2nd emotional stage that we go through when there’s an unexpected change in our life.
When the dust settled and I was faced with the fact that I had a decision to make regarding the nature of my relationship with this organization, that’s when fear showed up.
My previous relationship with them was gone. I had to face a future that was different and not one what I wanted. This choice could have a significant impact on my business. What if I make the wrong choice? What if I had to live with regret for the rest of my life? How can I possibly know the right choice when both choices are awful?
In episode 6 I talked about moving through grief. As I mentioned in that episode, we have to allow our emotions to come to us and through us. If we allow them to come and go, they won’t stick around. I reminded myself that mourning the loss is a perfectly acceptable way to process the change. I had to allow myself to feel all of the fear, sadness and disappointment that comes with grief. So that’s what I did. I let myself explore all of the worst case scenarios. I walked through all of the emotions of how it would feel if they came true. And as always, when the process of grieving was over, I felt the peace that inevitably follows.
That’s when I knew I was ready to move into the 3rd stage. The stage of Acceptance.
Acceptance is the critical turning point in moving forward after an unexpected change. It’s easy for our thoughts to spin us round and round as we bounce between resistance and grief. That’s why so many times we get stuck there. We get caught in a spin cycle.
When we move into acceptance, we are no longer arguing with reality, trying to change it, looking for answers, or assigning blame. Acceptance does not mean that we agree with what happened, it means we’re acknowledging that it did happen.
This is the critical phase because it is here that our momentum shifts. We stop looking backwards and start thinking about where we want to go from this point. There’s a benefit to this change in energy within us. Acceptance brings with it both peace and clarity. In my case, clarity was really important because I had a decision to make.
For me clarity isn’t always a lighting bolt of knowing what to do, although, if I’m being totally honest, my instinct told me what to do almost immediately. My mind needed to go through its own process and come to its own conclusion.
I handle getting clarity for myself the same way as I handle it with my clients. I get really curious and ask a lot of questions. The very first thing I needed to address was assessing fact from fiction.
One of my fears during the grief stage was that going my own way would have a negative financial impact on my business. It’s certain that I will miss out on opportunities. I would no longer have access to their products and programs. How would being on the outside affect me? Is it true that not agreeing with these terms would have a financial impact?
The immediate effects of not accepting their terms were obvious, but I also had to think about the bigger vision I had for my business. How would agreeing to give up my rights affect my business in 5 or 10 years? How would giving them up affect me today? Who would I become if I walked away?
As I explored these questions, I was struck by a single thought. This decision decides how I will show up in my business from this point forward. This isn’t a casual check the box choice about terms and conditions. It’s an opportunity for me to stick my flag in the sand and declare who I am to myself.
That one realization took me from acceptance of what is, the the 4th and final stage – empowerment.
The empowerment stage where we once again connect to possibility. This is where we’re inspired to dream, create and take action. This is the stage where we are in love with our business. It’s the stage where we want to spend most of our time because it feels good.
When I had the realization that this decision was about me and my level of trust in myself to the most out of either choice, it was as if a light bulb went off in my mind. I can create any amount of success that I want. The presence of this organization was just a detail. All I had to do was decide if I wanted that detail or not.
At this point I went through a 4-step decision making process that I use for myself and my clients. I’ll go through that in next weeks’ episode because it’s a whole other process in itself.
I can share that when you make decisions from the acceptance and empowerment stages, you will create very different results than you will in the stages of resistance and grief. Moving quickly through the stages is a skill. Which is good news because any skill can be learned. And with practice, they can be perfected.
The next time you’re faced with a situation or change that you don’t like, it will be an opportunity to develop awareness on how your brain reacts and to develop the skill of moving through the 4 emotional stages of unexpected change. You do this by being the observer of your mind and identifying which stage you are currently in. Ask yourself, am I in resistance, grief, acceptance or empowerment? Then ask, what do I need to do to move to the next stage.
Don’t forget to give yourself grace in this process. Changing our reactions in the midst of change adds a layer of complexity to our life, but you certainly can do it. All you need is a little practice and maybe a little guidance to help you out too.
I’ll be back next week to tell you what I decided to do about accepting the terms and conditions and the 5 step process I used to help me make that decision.
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