Planning For Change

Despite the inevitability of change, many people hate it, pretend that change will not happen, and resist it with all their energy. However, few types of change are truly avoidable, and those that are, such as preventable injuries and illnesses, require willingness and forethought to apply preventive measures. We all know we will (hopefully) become old, probably get sick, and certainly die, yet most of us make few, if any, plans for those eventualities or take well-known health maintenance measures. Avoiding inevitable change does not affect what will happen, it just means that we are less prepared and less in control than if we had made plans and acted on them.

Even for less drastic changes than illness or death, planning can ease the stress and difficulty of change. It is a very simple equation: the more time and energy spent on avoiding or resisting change, the less time and energy is available for coping or making a well-designed transition. The time and energy spent on denial was needed for planning and preparation.

Avoidance and resistance generate stress, but acceptance (asking yourself “How can I make the best of this situation?”) and preparation lower stress. No matter how much we pretend that a necessary or unavoidable change isn’t happening, the truth seeps in, generating anxiety and internal distress. By accepting that change is happening, that we cannot prevent it, that preparation will make it happen better and easier, and that there might even be some good to it, we lower our stress. Acceptance frees energy for managing change as beneficially as possible. Indeed, when we plan how to cope with change, we shift from being the ‘victim’ of change to being empowered and in charge, as much as possible within the constraints of the situation.

Planning how to manage likely changes does not mean living in anxiety about possible troubles: anxiety is not the same as planning and is usually counter-productive. Even probable events can be greatly influenced by your actions. Focus on real, high probability events and actions rather than phantoms. Analyze the real probability of events you are concerned about (get input from knowledgeable friends if your imagination tends to ‘horribilize’ situations), best-and-worst outcomes for each situation, and what actions might tip things in your favor.

The value of planning and preparation in managing change is not in creating an absolute roadmap to always follow. Instead, planning creates depth of knowledge, that supports handling change with calm confidence, competence, and rapidity. Most changes have myriad elements that cannot be anticipated because we have not encountered this situation before. Still, forethought will enable better coping than if there were no planning – envisioning change scenarios and options means fewer unpleasant surprises and better responses and preparation. Researching the various ways that events could unfold, options for influencing changes, finding resources for help, and so forth, will improve planning immensely. The more such research you do, the better you will likely manage. Checking out your assumptions in making plans is the most crucial part – most erroneous plans contain mistaken assumptions.

Good planning is often just basic project management: identify all the elements, figure out all the steps and contingencies and requirements involved in each element, identify any sequencing issues and the best schedule for carrying out each task, and find time each day to both work on the next task and modify the plan as needed. Using my move as an example, the major elements were:
- find a place to move to (this should have started about 10 years before I
  actually did start – I only got this place out of sheer, blind luck)
- identify what would move (not only did I throw out many things that were
  part of a life I would no longer be living, but many things had to be
  acquired to furnish the new apartment)
- set up at least an approximate schedule for each element and task
         - set up a budget and find ways to stick to it (ouch)
         - find movers
         - identify post-move tasks (seemingly endless)

Each element is comprised of many, many smaller tasks that can be worked on in tiny bits, making the whole process continually move forward. Your plan assures that everything will progress with as few bumps as possible.

I reviewed my written plan daily, usually updating it every time I looked at it as more information became available, checking off tasks that were done and adding ones that I just realized I needed to, and identifying the next task to do. Plans that exist only in your mind are not sufficient for large projects – write it down so you can keep track of where you are, see progress, identify tasks that can be broken down further or are next, and keep yourself on track. A further benefit of written plans – they can be used to guide the follow-up that goes with most major life changes. I am still working with and updating my highly modified plan daily.

Applying these principles to organizing and time management, we see that accepting the necessity to clear things out and get organized cannot be avoided indefinitely – refusing to accept the necessity of these tasks, conquer our fears, and dedicate the time required, only leads to increasing disorder, chaos, and adverse consequences, and to feeling bad about ourselves for not doing what we know we must do. Better to bite the bullet, accept what is needed, and get on with making everything better. The positive feelings that result are worth the effort, and the life benefits will pay back the time invested many times over.

In my own recent change, I did massive amounts of planning before the move. Did that mean that everything happened as I planned? Absolutely not. But my plans were invaluable for reassuring me that I was on top of the process, that I had not overlooked anything important, and for preventing many crises. I could not really plan for what my life here would be like as that was unknowable, but there were many aspects I could anticipate. What I did was leave as many doors open as possible. I brought my teaching materials, supplies, and clothes, but if returning to teaching does not work out, all of it will go.

BOOK OF THE MONTH: I’m reading “Look What Happened to My Pocket Change: Low to Middle-Income Saving and Investing” by Rochelle Melanie and recommend it for anyone who thinks that poverty and being broke are inevitable limitations. And surprise! – she encourages the same self-care practices that I have been encouraging everyone to do!


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© Gloria Valoris, 2015

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