Changing any situation that makes us unhappy – a job or career, a fitness regime, a relationship or friendship, a neighbourhood or country – is daunting, if not terrifying. Many of us feel we should intuitively know how to do it, as if understanding how to make changes is innate. The opposite is true. Experts agree letting go of long-standing situations, people, places and things is a skill that requires conscious effort to learn. A certain amount of emotional chaos and uncertainty is natural so it’s not something to beat yourself up about.
The scariest part of change is not so much letting go of an unhappy situation, but the uncertainty over what comes next. ‘Focusing on what comes after is part of the process,’ says clinical psychologist Dr Cecilia d’Felice. ‘We wouldn’t be leaving one psychological, emotional or physical place if we weren’t travelling to something better.’
When we’re lost in a fog of anxiety, it can be hard to see what’s next. Some experts believe it makes sense to make time to find a new vision. But d’Felice suggests we use this only to ‘facilitate movement forward’ rather than becoming fixated on the vision.
It’s reassuring to learn that the fear of making the ‘wrong’ decision is also natural. We’re wired with this fear, making it all the harder to overcome. D’Felice encourages us to look at change as an opportunity. ‘In reality there are no wrong decisions because everything we’re experiencing is a lesson.’
There is no science to the perfect time and conditions for change. Consider all the risks involved in any decision for change, then lean towards taking action.
How to handle the difficult discussion
Your decision to move on from a situation will usually affect someone else too, so developing a few strategies for handling the inevitable tricky discussions ahead are vital. Chartered psychologist Sarah Rozenthuler offers some crucial advice :
- Prepare what to say. But remember you can’t control how others react
- There may be several conversations you need to have, so think through and plan the best sequence
- If you tend to procrastinate, then enlist an action friend who will hold your feet to the fire. And if you’re impulsive, take time to have these conversations with yourself and prepare what not to say
- Plan your answer to questions that you dread after whatever it is you are changing: ‘I’m taking time to decide what’s next.’ Or ‘I’m not ready to talk about this for the moment.’
- Consider professional support – advice from somebody neutral, like a personal coach or counsellor who has no vested interest in the changes you make, can be hugely empowering
- Blame and shame. Keep the focus on yourself and how you feel
- Burn your bridges on the job front. You may need a reference from your employer in the future
- Launch into a difficult conversation at an inappropriate moment – like soon after a bereavement or, at the other extreme, while the other person is engrossed in their favourite TV show
- Ease into the conversation with a rambling preamble. It makes other people anxious
- Be triggered into shouting or storming out. Identify your triggers in advance and plan how you will handle them if things get difficult, for example leaving the room to get a drink
Read ‘Life Changing Conversations’ by Sarah Rozenthuler (Watkins, £8.99) for more advice
Read Love, loss and recovery - moving out and moving on by David Head on LifeLabs