There has been lots of talk about curves over recent weeks, from exponential curves, flattening curves and ‘squashing the curve.’ Another important curve to consider during this pandemic is the change curve, and a greater awareness of this theory can really help us to understand and accept the change we are all experiencing as well as navigate through it in a more positive way.
The change curve first came to prominence in 1969 thanks to the work of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in order to explain death and the grieving process. It originally outlined 5 stages of ‘grief’ that people go through when there is significant change in their lives. This is particularly relevant today as many of us are grieving for people we have lost, as well as our way of life e.g. plans that are no longer going to happen over the coming weeks and potentially months.
This model has been updated over the years and is widely used to understand how people react to change at different times. I like this 3 stage version below as it is simple 😊
The arrowed line represents performance over time. If you think about any major change you have been through in your life, whether this is a change that has happened ‘to’ you, or been initiated ‘by’ you, the stages are likely to be familiar.
- Stage 1 – Shock and denial
An initial shock or surprise at the event. At this point we may feel wobbly, uncertain, even fearful. Denial can occur, as we refuse to acknowledge that the event will change things to any great extent, and it will go away of its own accord. In my case regarding Coronavirus I was certainly in denial for a time (January/February), and then the shock followed once the grim reality was known in mid-March.
- Stage 2 – Anger and depression
As we recognise that things are different, and that this is genuine change, there is frustration and sometimes anger. We don’t want things to change. Depression is often referred to as the ‘valley of despair’ resulting in low mood and energy levels, morale is low and anxiety peaks. We are grieving for the way things used to be. Many of us will have experienced this as the lockdown measures took hold, we could no longer see friends and family and we felt the impact of plans being cancelled such as Mother’s Day and Easter.
- Stage 3 – Acceptance and Integration
In this stage we begin to accept change, deal with it and feel more positive about the future. There are green shoots! Eventually, we come out of the other side of change and we learn to live life in a new way under different conditions that the change has brought about.
As human beings it is often said that change is one of the most difficult things for us to cope with and confront. It is happening all the time, but generally at such a slow pace that we don’t give it much thought. It is common for us to be fearful of change in scenarios where the outcome is unknown, and that is certainly true at this time.
As someone who has been through a fair amount of change over the last 10 years (becoming a parent, a redundancy, and a separation) I still wouldn’t say it is something I am necessarily comfortable with. With regards to the Coronavirus, I can definitely see how the change curve would apply in my own experience. Following the initial shock and denial I experienced some very difficult days as the gravity of the situation set in, I felt empty and low, worried about my children and people I love and the impact that life on hold would have both now and in the future. I was at times tearful and panicky.
From that low point I have managed to reach a point of acceptance. I’ve achieved this through a combination of speaking to people and doing various things to stay calm and positive. I have been at this more positive stage for a couple of weeks now, although if things change further e.g. if outdoor exercise is stopped then I could well head back down into depression.
You will have your own version of the above, and although we have all been plunged into this change at the same time, some people move through the stages quicker than others.
How The Change Curve Can Help Us
So, you may be thinking ‘how is this helpful to me?’ Well, in my view the first thing which might be useful is to understand where you are right now on the curve. Then, you can start to think about how you might move more smoothly and quickly through the stages of the curve. By taking some positive steps we can put ourselves into a position where we can deal with change effectively and come out of this in a better place.
Some of this will take time and will be affected by what is happening in the external environment. Merely understanding that this is ‘a thing’, and that we all go through these emotions, in itself can be of benefit.
As we are in a global pandemic that we seemingly have little control over, if ever there was an appropriate time to apply the change curve it is now! Aligning it to our own experiences can be useful for the following reasons:
- Understanding there is some theory behind what we are feeling – it is a known cycle of human behaviour.
- Knowing that things will often feel worse before they feel better and being prepared for this as we work through the stages.
- It is natural to feel how you do and other people are going through exactly the same thing.
- Change is a process that can take time, but things will get better!
Some Practical Things
- Recognise where you are on the change curve right now.
- Think about significant change you have been through before and come out of positively. What learning from that can you use now?
- Speak to friends and family to share how you are feeling. What things are they doing to deal with this challenging time?
- Consider what you can do to move towards acceptance of this situation.
- Make plans for the future post-lockdown. Change is a process and there is an end to this.
- You could plot yourself on the curve each day or each week and see what progress you are making. If you go back one or two stages, don’t worry as this is a natural part of the process, and we will all experience this in different ways.
Having read that brief overview of the change curve and my take on it, how are you feeling right now? How useful is this tool in helping you deal with the situation we are in? Where would you say you are on the curve? What can you do to help you move through the stages?
I hope you have enjoyed reading this short blog and as always I’d love to hear your feedback. Next week I will be focusing on how we can develop our resilience to help us during these tough and extraordinary times.
Darren Lawrence is a qualified Personal Performance Coach and works with individuals and organisations to help them move forward. During this pandemic Darren is offering FREE coaching to anyone wishing to explore how to move forward effectively, whether from a personal perspective or in business. Please get in touch using the ‘contact’ tab above.