Change is hard, and when unnecessary, it is a waste of resources. There are some very predictable phases that change prompts in humans, which Elizabeth Kübler-Ross describes in the phases of grief. Understanding these phases may help us to understand some of what is happening in the world right now.
Prior to the event that may require you to change, maintaining the status quo is the most efficient way to be. You have a rhythm, a set of expectations and known measures for success. It is within your best interests, as a general rule of thumb, to keep things going this way. An advantage of keeping this status quo, even if it isn’t that good for you, is that it is predictable, and even if we don’t like what we are predicting, predictable is comforting.
Generally change events are unexpected. We experience surprise as our predictions for what is supposed to occur fail. Prediction helps us know what to do and when our predictions fail, we need to pause to re-assess. Consider crossing the road. If the traffic behaves as you predict, then you know when it is safe to cross and when it is not. If the traffic starts doing weird things, then you will freeze as you assess how you are going to get across.
We don’t want the change to be real, or if it is real, bad enough that it requires us to change. Often if we just wait a bit, the anomaly that has caused the change in our prediction will go back to normal and we can continue as we have before. There is an efficiency in denial, where it delays us expending resources on change when that change isn’t necessary as the event was a false alarm, or delays us in over committing resources to a thing that only requires a small modification. We usually don’t notice when denial is effective, because things didn’t become a problem.
If we can do a small thing, pay a small price, make a small deal to get us back to how things use to be, then that is an efficient use of resources. If that doesn’t work, then we will expend more resource on a bigger bargain with someone or something to try to get back to where things use to be. In the cold light of analysis, this expenditure of bargaining resource can be more expensive than making the needed changes, but it feels smarter to do, because we return to the known model – the status quo. When bargaining works, when we can solve the event, then life returns to normal and it was probably the smart way to go. When bargaining works, we often feel like we have overcome a thing and we feel powerful.
When we realise that bargaining has failed, we try harder. With more aggression. When that fails, we feel powerless. We push harder, or find someone to blame, or something to blame. When we can’t find someone to blame, or blaming others is not in our nature, then we turn the blame to ourselves. When we try harder, or find the person or thing at fault, we can force it to change the thing we can’t do ourselves. When this works, the status quo is resumed. When it fails we run out of options. We despair.
Sadness, despair, numbness – these are all ways to describe the reassessment phase as you realise this is real and you can’t stop it. The change has happened. At this point going back is not feasible, but you don’t know what going forward looks like. You are lost.
The change is real and to survive this you must change. An acknowledgement of reality and an assessment of self is common here. Things you use to do that are no longer valid, relevant or effective are discarded and a search for new strategies to go forwards begin. It is important to survive in the moment.
We have survived, but we haven’t really grown into our new future. Planning looks forward to what the world now looks like with this new reality begin, amidst a frank assessment of how things need to be. Plans are made for that future and changes in the now are implemented to get there.
It is important to note that resources can be emotions, action, assets, wealth, friends and so on. IT is also important to note that people don’t just go through these phases linearly – there is a great deal of jumping about between phases, you can visit phases more than once and not everyone goes through every phase.
As I look at the world today, I see a great deal of the first four phases and not much of the last three. Mostly because we just don’t know yet how the world’s changes are actually going to affect us.
It is important to be patient with people who are in denial, who are trying to bargain a way out of this and who express their anger poorly. It is also fair to be patient with people who are sad and between actions. These are all normal. Help people to transition as best you can.
Some people have made it to acceptance and they are making immediate changes to survive the now. We just can’t really do the planning bit as the picture of the world keeps changing every time we look back into it.