Managing Change Part 1: Letting Go

 The only way to make sense of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.

Alan Watts, philosopher, writer

The ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus famously observed that the only constant is change and that life is a rapid river, perpetually flowing, churning and transforming. When challenged by change in our lives, how do we successfully navigate our journey through seemingly turbulent, treacherous waters?

Change comes in a variety of forms and how we each handle it is uniquely personal. Some of us rise to the occasion, sure-footed and resilient; others stumble along, coping at best; while others yet simply bury their heads in the sand.

In order for us to overcome painful circumstances and move forward, there is the letting go process. Without endings, there can be no beginnings.  Processing change and a new reality is not an easy task. I know. After a workplace injury and a surgery left me with a disability, I grieved for a long time. It was far easier for me to deal with the physical pain itself than with the psychological release of my former dream and identity.

It is important to clarify that change and transition are not the same. As explained by change management expert William Bridges, in his book, Managing Transitions: making the most of change, “Transition is the psychological process people go through to come to terms with the new situation. Change is external, transition is internal.”

What can we do to help us say goodbye to the old so that we can embrace the new? The following activities helped me with transition.

  1. Attitude check – A successful transition is more likely when we perceive change as an opportunity for growth, rather than a setback.
  2. Identify the loss – It is helpful to define clearly for ourselves, as best we can, what it is we are letting go. Doing so helps us to accept the ending we face.
  3. Acknowledge the loss – The open expression of our confusion, anger, sadness, anxiety, fear and other emotions is a normal, healthy part of the transition.
  4. Say goodbye with a bang – Nothing says farewell to the past more memorably and concretely than dramatizing it with a symbolic action. Personally, I favour a good old-fashioned bonfire into which I have ceremoniously tossed more than my share of items.

Are you ready to ride the river?

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