A friend of mine wrote me an email last week, and mentioned how she used the “Change Curve” in teaching a business management course in her past corporate career. I had never heard of this concept, and her description of it was so completely relevant to what I’ve been feeling; I’m really glad she shared this with me.
In researching the change curve, it appears to stem from the Kubler-Ross model of the 5 stages of grief, which are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. It’s not a linear or progressive curve, but more continual one-step-forward, two-steps-back progress. In business coaching, the change curve is a model used “to understand the stages of personal transition and organizational change.” I know I experienced part of this concept first-hand in my own professional career, when our company made unavoidable and necessary changes which were met with significant resistance and antagonism. I recall my boss, when I was introduced as the new manager in a very antagonistic situation, telling me to step back (evaluate the issues), walk up (deal with the issues), and then step through (having dealt with the issues, move past them). It sort of worked, but some of my subordinates never did come around. Anyway. I digress. Sort of. Because it’s all about change, how people deal with it, whether or not they accept it, and what they do with it thereafter.
My friend said “all change, even good, comes with adjustment.” Truer words were never spoken. She compared it to climbing a mountain, and I immediately expanded the concept to running a race, too (since I have personal experience running races, but have never climbed a mountain – at least not a really big one). Climbing a mountain or running a race can seem like amazing ideas in concept, and even in training. At the start, it’s exhilarating and thrilling. Especially at the start of races, because everyone is hyped up and ready to go. There’s a thrum of palpable adrenalin; the world is our oyster. The blood is pumping, the path ahead is clear; we envision getting to the top of the mountain or to the finish of the race, and all the celebration and accomplishment of completing the journey.
But the higher one climbs or the longer one runs, the more difficult, stressful, and exhausting the journey becomes. I think it’s the rare person who doesn’t think about giving up, turning around and going back at this point. You’re so tired, your body is hurting, and it’s no longer fun or thrilling. It’s just hard, dammit. The world sort of ceases to be our oyster, and starts to become our torturer.
The thing is, this point typically comes more than half way into the journey or the race (at least it usually does for me). So, turning around is just stupid. You’ll end up having to go further if you turn around and go back and, obviously, you lose any ground you’ve gained.
It’s at this point in a race that I hunker down, let my focus contract a pinpoint, push out all the negative voices telling me to just quit, and slog on. It’s no longer the celebration at the end that’s driving me. I just want to finish; I want to make those voices shut the hell up. It’s putting one foot in front of the other and finishing what I started. 50% commitment, 50% challenge, 100% stubborn. Giving up is failure: I always deeply empathize with runners who get injured and have no choice but to stop.
In the change curve, the 5 (or 6) steps can be summarized as:
Step 1: Denial – blaming others, fighting any change to the status quo.
Step 2: Self-criticism.
Step 3: Confusion and doubt.
Step 4: Acceptance rationalization – no longer questioning what has been lost, letting go and starting to accept the changes.
Step 5: Solutions – accepting and embracing change.
Step 6: The change is now the “new normal,” and there is progress and success.
I recognize these stages in what’s been my outlook on my relationship and my life. For years and years, I bounced between stages 1, 2, and 3 (which, apparently, is not unusual). Unhappy, disconnected, feeling like there was something inherently wrong with me. Maybe it WAS me. Perhaps I WAS incapable of communicating or having a healthy relationship (as I had been told). Maybe I DID take everything too personal, retreat into myself, shut down (yeah, I did do all of these, but I realize – for the most part – it was not without reason. I didn’t just up and shut down for the fun of it).
At some point late last year I moved past the denial, self-criticism, and doubt and started to realize all of this self-doubt was wrong and was not what my self-talk should be. All I needed to do was look at my kids and my relationship with them, my friends and my connections to them, to know these negative thoughts weren’t true. The long, intimate talks I had with friends both old and new showed that I could, indeed, communicate. I realized I was fully capable of having good relationships; I could communicate with others; I really wasn’t missing some essential piece that was the catalyst of the problems inherent in the relationship I had with my husband (but, I am not blaming him for all of our problems, either, it takes two for sure).
Now, I feel like I am in steps 4 and 5. But it’s still a one-step-forward, two-steps-back line of progression, which is really not a whole lot of fun.
For whatever reason, I had a significant back-step kind of day earlier this week, when I found myself once again really questioning what the heck I was doing: if I was making the right decision, if perhaps I should actually stay the course, if I was the whole problem, if I have what it takes to be on my own. If I have the courage to take an opportunity and move away from everyone and everything I’m comfortable with (more on that later). And feeling scared and depressed all over again, even downright frantic about everything. Letting the “what ifs” get a foothold again.
And I realized: This process isn’t easy, and it takes time and patience to work through. Realizing that I’m going to have days where I question myself, my decisions, and everything I’m feeling, is part of the process. Being gentle with myself is essential. Sitting with emotions, seeing them, feeling them, acknowledging them, knowing that they are important but not necessarily “right” is definitely part of moving forward.