Why “change” = a world of pain for most people

Organisations constantly advocate for restructure and continuous improvement. The human beings in them complain about the struggle of yet another change.

In psychology, we don’t call it continuous improvement – it’s called losses and hurts. It’s identified as the grief cycle.


This is why most people complain and struggle when asked to change the way they think or behave – psychologically and emotionally they are encountering the very same struggle as occurs when they have lost someone or something, or been hurt (see Model below).

I am a social scientist. In psychology and sociology, we understand that losses and hurts are a normal part of life. Humans journey through various cycles and seasons. In all forms of life, there is a life – death – rebirth cycle. You can’t have only summers –  autumn and winter must follow.  But not all stages are enjoyable, some involve anger or sadness.

When I teach skills for building change resilience and change capability I ask people to include in their mindfulness meditation “what needs to die in me a little more –  so some other things can come to live in me?”

The common forms of hurt are usually said to be loss of health, or relationship, or money, or self esteem, or change/loss at work.  But there are many other forms of significant change – when reality brings a cycle of autumn or winter at home or at work.

The Change Agency Model
The Change Agency’s Model

Those who seem to do better at these steps and stages we all need to go through, seem to do the stages faster. They seem to spend less time “unfreezing” and dealing with the unhappy stages around endings and they spend more time in the beginnings which involve “refreezing” with new choices after real forgiveness.

I have modified the usual model of change / continuous improvement / loss / hurts and expanded it to include more of the details of each of the psychological and emotional journeys.

I notice people who are not in, what I call ‘good shape’ or ‘healthy functioning’, seem to spend more time in the shock / anger stages and grind more slowly through using the ego/false self to “paper over the cracks”.   It seems to be slower or harder for them to get to the health-giving stage called sadness and then onto the lifegiving stage called forgiveness.

In my experience the stages of denial through to false self are the toughest for the person in the struggle (as well as for those they are living and working with). It becomes somewhat easier in the stage called sadness – this is a period often known as a time of low energy, ennui, ‘being lost enough to find yourself’. It is time in a wilderness of sorts, but seems to be experienced as a type of relief. By the time a person has moved close to forgiveness there is a level of enthusiasm, energy and even pleasure. The new has commenced and with it there are possibilities.

With forgiveness, choice starts to come quickly and easily and the ability to honour and stick with choices is now doable.

I work with hundreds (occasionally thousands) of people each year who are for various reasons engaged in personal growth and professional development. The rich anecdotal evidence I have researched points towards the best and the brightest at change, actually being the fastest at getting through the stages. Perhaps this is what is truly meant by the word resilient.

What makes people better at dealing with life’s hurts and losses and moving more comfortably through change? My best assessment is:

  1. Some people are more practised at it. They seem to have had “bigger” lives and often that has also meant more difficult times. Many say that adversity has assisted them to have bigger hearts, kinder eyes, and are able to remind themselves to find compassion – for self and others.
  2. Some people can do self-reflection and therefore self-management. People who are more resilient seem to have these habits in common. They are aware of their mind chatter. There is genuine self acceptance of being a human, with a brain that keeps firing off neurotic thoughts. They have some ability to detach from those thoughts and not be so at the effect of them. Self-awareness is about honestly accepting their defences and habits of ego.
  3. They understand that even though it may have the illusion of it – change requirements are actually “not personal”. It seems some people can move beyond believing someone is out to get them or owes them something and see that this is just the way life cycles and organisations behave.
  4. Developing the ability to give up the need to control – flowing a little more with what life brings you seems critical. Many of us have to learn the skills of cultivating surrender. It doesn’t come easily for most people unless they practice. It’s about realising, whilst you have an intelligent brain which is constantly thinking and firing off neurotic beliefs – the deeper more intelligent component of your being is your unconscious or true self.  That part wisely understands that life’s cycles and seasons are a mystery. You are not in charge here. No matter what you try, life will continue to happen to you.
  5. Yung is known as a psychologist but he also appreciated anthropology. Apparently he said that when women are around 47 and men 50 years of age, they move into a cycle or season of almost spiritual understanding that no matter what happens to you, it will pass and another season will replace it given time. So change resilience may also be easier for those of us who are over 47 years of age (women) or 50 (men). But that is if you are neurologically “typical”. Some of us are age regressed or under developed.
  6. Developed and practiced ability to give up old habits of blaming other people, justifying your ineffectiveness, denying your part in things or quitting. Instead take responsibility for the choices you do have and the actions you take. Also practice being responsible for the actions you don’t take – in the end it’s you who ends up living with the consequences.