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Phases of Change

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When you ask people to think of a process or journey they often think of the storybook formula: beginning, middle, and end. Phases of Change contain those components but are actually in reverse order: an Ending, a Turning Point, and then a New Beginning.

Let’s take an example of training to run a marathon and break it down to highlight each phase.

As you train, you keep Then Ending in mind first; imagining yourself crossing the finish line motivates you to keep going.

Then you think about the distance you will need to run to get to the finish line and all of the Turning Points along the way. You take precautions for trips and falls by buying new equipment, practicing daily, and maybe even hire a running coach. Good hydration, healthy eating, adjusting your sleep schedule are all modifications you make along your training process. Each of these actions are part of The Turning Points you take to achieve your goal.

Finally, after long hours and hard work, you push through the last few feet and cross the finish line to what you can now call your New Beginning as an experienced marathon runner.

Can you see how this example describes the phases of change? You decide to do something more with your life and set a big goal (The Change). The Ending of a couch potato phase of your life and all the unhealthy habits that went with it. All of the Turning Points along the journey to becoming a marathon runner. And then reaching that pinpoint of a moment when the change process has complete, and you start The New Beginning as something else. This process is the same no matter the change.

Now that we have established some common terms, let’s look at how the change process flows.

The Flow of Change

The only thing about change that is predictable is the flow. It always goes from The Change to The New Beginning. Let’s look at the illustration below and talk briefly about the flow of change.

The first phase begins with the Change itself: The event that made you stop behaving one way and alter direction from your original path. This could have been a conscious decision (a diet or asking open-ended questions to customers); or forced upon you by another person (job change or store schedules), or the environment (a blizzard or local construction).

The second phase is called The Ending. When there is a change, something always ends and because of this we have a lot of emotion and self-talk that is tied to it. It is important that we learn to manage our self-talk and work through our emotions to move forward to the next phase.

Third, is the Turning Point where we go through trial and error to see what works and what doesn’t. We have most of our successful failures during The Turning Point phase. Depending on how we behave through this critical phase will determine if we survive our change or thrive through it.

Reviewing our model, why do you think each phase touches and overlaps with each other?

Here are some responses we’ve gotten from other SMaRT Club members.

  • “The circles are touching because change is a continuous process that doesn’t end. You go from one phase to the next, sometimes more quickly than others depending on the event or situation.”
  • “They are overlapping because we are experiencing several change processes at once. Since we are constantly adapting to change, we are also managing multiple phases. For example, we could be in the Turning Point phase at work, but in our personal lives we are experiencing a significant change event and managing The Change.”
  • “Although the change process is sequential, our movement within that process is sporadic. We go forward, backward, and sideways depending on our success and/or failure of our desired results.”

Ultimately, we feel drawn to the phase that is directly linked to the strongest change occurring at the time. When we are at work, whatever changes are occurring there and where we are at to the relative phase is what will come up for us the most. Then we go home and everything can switch based on where we are at with that change process.

This is one of the reasons why you might feel the rollercoaster of change is never-ending. You can think, feel, and react in so many ways because of the number of changes coming at you, the predominant phase you are in, and the level of success to your results you feel.

We also feel overwhelmed and bombarded by this non-stop change because our phases of change get interrupted by more change and we don’t finish the process of the change before.

If we experience multiple changes at once, regardless of their size, the process is the same, but the emotions, thoughts, and behaviors are all different. Each of these can be contrasting to one another which makes change even more difficult to navigate.

For example, at work you are getting a new boss which you are very apprehensive about and, at the same time, you just got tapped to lead a major project, something you are thrilled about. These two changes generate opposing thoughts and emotions, and require different actions which makes both changes now more complex and challenging to process. Sometimes the positive changes, when accompanied by stressful changes, get swept up into that negative space and we miss out on the positive effects of growth. This is one of the main reasons people see all change as negative, which turns change into a threat, thus triggering our stress response.

Although change events will continue to occur, it is important to complete each process fully so we can recognize and appreciate the positive changes, separate out the stressful ones, and thrive through change at all times.

We’ve discussed what the Phases of Change are all about.  Now let’s explore what they look like in our lives/workplace and how we respond to each phase.

Key Takeaways

This module provides you with basic information about the process of Adapting to Change. It introduces the Phases of Change through illustration and describes the importance of Understanding the End Game. An overview of each phase is discussed and identifying key components as they relate to the Adapting to Change process. The concept of non-stop change is explored so you understand that change is multidimensional.

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