Lessons I Have Learned About Change

By Michelle Mclean

In my last post, I blogged about the inevitability of change. Since then, I’ve had various conversations about why change feels so difficult. I don’t accept that all change is hard. I think we often make it harder than it needs to be because of how we frame it and because of the way in which we enter into it.

That’s not to say that some change isn’t awful. Bereavement, redundancy, or serious health issues can be extremely difficult to transition through. But I am talking about every-day change (new ways of working at our jobs, family pressures and so on) and change that we’ve initiated ourselves (new habits & routines, lifestyle improvements etc.)

Think of the language that is often used when we go through a period of change. I hear things like I just need to get through this bit. The language can be very negative and this creates an unhelpful mindset right from the off. Pace can also be problematic. Rather than experience what’s going on, there is a tendency to try and get straight to the end goal. This is done with good intentions but inevitably, the change will fail and then it feels hard.

So, here are some of the key lessons that I have learned during my past decade of coaching and through experiencing my own changes.

Change doesn’t start with a plan, it starts with a sense that something needs to change. You may have feelings of dissatisfaction, a sense of restlessness or something is obviously broken. Sometimes, it is an unexplained gut feel that a shift needs to be made somewhere. You won’t have all the answers at this stage and that’s ok. This is just the start of the process. Feeling like you need to have everything mapped out (you don’t) can paralyse you into inaction.

Spend time engaging with the issue. It’s natural to want to jump straight to solutions but it is worth spending some time exploring what’s going on first. In the same way that you wouldn’t put a plaster cast on a limb without an x-ray, look deeper at what is going on. This exploration will help you get to the root of what really needs to change and in turn, allows you to focus on the real problems rather than the presenting issue.

Diagnose before you prescribe.


Get to know your appetite for change. Understanding how you typically respond when change is happening, can help you to set realistic expectations. Some of us like when things are shaken up a bit and some of us prefer things to stay steady. If you’re a Steady Eddy you’ll probably want to take small steps and make incremental gains. If your change appetite is bigger it will be safe for you to make bolder choices. Neither is better than the other, this is just about understanding what will work best for you.

Reframe uncertainty as curiosity. Curiosity is exploration without expectation, it is showing an interest and taking small chances in a way that is gentle and kind on oneself. Take a moment to consider the change which you are currently experiencing. If you approached it with curiosity, how might that look? Curiosity can be as simple as asking ‘If I could…‘ I spent a whole year consciously taking a more curious approach, you can read about it here.

You aren’t starting from scratch, you’re starting from experience, so use what you’ve learned in the past to help you prepare, plan and navigate your change. Use the experiences of others too. You don’t have to know everything, tap into your existing networks or find communities online who have done what you want to do. When I first made the move to self-employment, I did not know where to start. I had two friends who ran their own businesses and I took each of them out for coffee and said ‘teach me!” This saved me so much time and pain.

Name it to tame it. Emotions can run high during change but emotions are useful data. Rather than just acknowledging that you feel ’emotional’, sit with it and identify exactly what is going on for you. Try to be specific, then consider what effect this is having. Is your emotion blocking you, motivating you, clouding your judgement? Identifying how we feel is the first step to managing it.

Change and learning happen when there is high emotion.


Hope is not a strategy so take appropriate action. This can be something modest or something huge, both are valid and both will have a motivating effect that will propel you to take the next action…and the next. Waiting for the perfect conditions, means that you will wait forever. The circumstances will never be perfect so the time to act is NOW.

The best is the enemy of the good. It is important to take pride in what we do but high expectations can cause us to overlook our silver and bronze achievements, whilst we have our eye on the gold standard. When starting something new, ask yourself ‘what does good enough look like’ and aim for this first. It takes the pressure off and gives change a better chance of sticking. You can build on these small wins as you grow in confidence and experience.

Failure brings you closer to a better answer. Scientists fail over and over, testing an hypothesis and this is not only acceptable it is expected. Reframe how you think about failure. Making errors gives you information that you can use in the future. So, if you’ve got something wrong, take the lesson and try again.

You are allowed to change your mind. How often do we stick with things, not because we want to but because of what people might say if we quit? You may have made a resolution or started a project that was a great idea at the time but is no longer serving you. Let it go. This is not failure and it’s not quitting. It is freeing up space, time and energy that you can put into other things.

Change may not be easy, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be hard. If you are feeling like the time is right for you to make a change in your life, you may benefit from personal coaching or mentoring. You can find out about working with me here.

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