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Unlearning (Part 2)

If nothing changes, nothing changes.

As coaches, we facilitate change.  Why does it require guidance?

Because it’s intimidating and tough. It means taking a long, hard and objective look at yourself, your beliefs and your behaviours.

Change is something many people avoid at all costs, particularly when they’re in a comfort zone.
But there’s a predictability to change in both personal and in business growth curves – pop back to read my previous article that unpacks this concept.

By anticipating where your growth spurts and challenges may lurk, you remove the element of surprise and a great deal of discomfort. 

I promised to examine Fisher’s Personal Transition Through Change curve more closely, with examples that may make it more relatable to you. 

Firstly, who is Fisher and why does he have credibility? 
John Fisher worked closely with the renowned Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, whose charting of stages of grief is still used widely in psychological fields. He adapted the theory to create one which plots the processes of change. Fisher’s model initially focused on business and is a transition curve which plots how people respond to change, as distinct phases until the point of acceptance.  

Understanding this process was what kept me moving forward during the many changes I made and through transformations I’ve undertaken in the past five years. 

 

Let’s work through this theory with two common, modern examples: Emigrating and Changing jobs.

EMOTION EMIGRATING CHANGING JOBS
Anxiety I don’t like where my own country is going. I’m uncomfortable with the lack of opportunity. I fear for my family’s safety. I dread going to work in the morning.
I don’t see a future with my current employer.I’m restless and uncommitted.
Happiness My partner agrees. Australia is looking for skills like mine. This is an adventure! LinkedIn shows me there are plenty of openings for my skills. Yay. I can’t wait to try something new.
Fear Will I settle into a new culture? What will my parents and siblings think? What if nobody else wants me?  Am I capable of being something more?
Threat It’s not as easy as I thought. I might have to get recertified. Can I afford this? If my current employer finds out I’m looking around they’d be furious.
Guilt I’m being disloyal and taking the easy way out. My parents and siblings can’t afford to join me. Who is going to manage Project X? They’ve spent so much time and money training me and I’m throwing it in their faces.

 

It always begins with anxiety (a quick tip here – if you’re living in constant anxiety, something needs to change –  find out what that is).  Anxiety, when it’s on the radar of change, means it’s leading you to a decision to change. This doesn’t necessarily imply always knowing exactly what has to change, but being aware that something has to give.

 

It’s at this point that the first drop-offs tend to happen. You are disillusioned by the reality of the change facing you, and believe that it’s easier/more sensible to maintain the status quo. What were you thinking anyway? 

Image sourced on Canva Pro
Image sourced on Canva Pro

You ascribe the desired shift to temporary emotions or circumstances and find internal and external reasons to abandon the change journey. 

OR 

You become a fighter. You decide you’ll do whatever it takes, to change. You’ll resist counter offers and arguments, dig in your heels and treat this like a battle that has to be won at all costs.

 

Depression comes next. 

At this point, you will be lacking objectivity and clarity. Your human instincts kick in and you’ll be wanting to move back to the safety of the known, no matter how undesirable that might be. 

It’s here that we must percolate: we must process and distil (yes, many words to describe the work here, as it’s a mixed bag of emotions and experiences that occurs). A part of this means reminding ourselves of the reasons we started this journey in the first place. What drove us to make such drastic changes?  It’s here where commitment, courage and determination are required. Knowing this now, you could even pre-plan to haul in a frank or encouraging friend when you hit this point.


I encourage my clients to pause and spend time in this space, when they reach it. Once you remember that this is a temporary state and that it only FEELS like depression – it’s unlikely to be the real thing – then pausing here for a while becomes the very best action you could take on your path towards change or transformation. It is here that you consciously unlearn. 

 

Use the time to deliberately shed obsolete habits, behaviours and beliefs that have kept you rooted to inertia. As you become impatient with yourself (which you will), remind yourself of the many reasons you sought change in the first place: it was either essential (no room for career growth); critical (this is the best opportunity you’ll ever have to make the change); or deeply valuable (it’s going to significantly change something for the better).

Don’t rush your stay at the bottom of the curve. You will know when it’s time to boldly step up and out. 

 

 Let’s examine the final stages: 

EMOTION EMIGRATING CHANGING JOBS
Depression You’re like a trapeze artist, wondering if you should let go and grab the next swing. You question yourself and doubt everything. “Things never work out for me, why did I think I could do it?” Do I accept new offers? It will mean losing friends and valued colleagues. I’m going to have a longer commute. Leave days are going to have to be accumulated from scratch. I’ll be starting as a newby again.
Gradual acceptance This is OK. We’ll adapt. The kids will make new friends. I am capable and resilient enough to start over. It can only be better than where we are now.

If not, I’ll have learnt something new along the way.

I’ve watched others do this, why not me? I’ll grow my professional circle. It’s an opportunity to learn new things. It can only be better than where I am right now.

If not, I’ll have learnt something new along the way.

Moving Forward I’ve applied! We’ve started planning what to sell and I’m accepting all the interviews I’m offered. This is going to be such an adventure! I’ve declined my company’s counter offer. The new job is going to offer me so much more room to grow and I think the new company’s culture is so much healthier for me. I’m looking forward to new challenges.

What you might not want to hear?

You’ve unlearnt as much as was needed to get to this stage – now it’s time for the new learning to begin: the integration of the old with the new.   As you step out into the world, it’s with the knowledge that you’ll be here again at some point. You once again begin the process with its emotions of anxiety, happiness, fear, threat and guilt. Undoubtedly you will again reach the bottom of the curve where “depression” sits. This time, and each time you pass through this space, your time there becomes less.  You percolate, process and adapt quicker.  That is the wonderful benefit of life-long learning and change.   It all begins with unlearning. 

 

The great news? 

This time, however, it’s known territory and you can plan for each stage, either alone or alongside a skilled coach, confident in the knowledge that you will come out smiling at the other end.