Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Living Through Changes

written by Gavin, from The Greening of Gavin.

When openly embracing a simple, green, or frugal lifestyle, you will inevitably have to make some changes to your current way of living.  In the fourth of my not so obvious series of posts about green psychology, I will try to explain the different stages of change, and what to expect when embarking on your journey towards a more sustainable lifestyle.  Please note that I am not a psychologist, just someone who has gone through an incredible change, and hopefully can articulate from experience what each stage feels like. The information provided is a rehash of many sources found on the web, that I have collated into a sensible format.

During my life's journey I have found that change is an unusual and personal thing. I have noticed that some people embrace it and find it exciting, while others resist it with their very last ounce of strength.  Why is that so, I have often asked myself?  Why would humans rather endure pain and discomfort of the status quo than change for the better.  Usually, the change happens when they realise that the pain of the status quo is a worse place to be than the change itself or the new reality. Change can be made by you or made to you.  I prefer the former!

Lets dig a bit deeper to discover the emotional stages that happen when humans are confronted with a change.  I found this diagram below which is a seven-stage adaptation of the five stages of grief identified by Elisabeth K├╝bler-Ross, the acknowledged expert on grief and bereavement. Following the publication of her book "On Death and Dying (1969)", it became clear to practitioners that the stages in the grief model were transferable to all personal change and had a far wider relevance than just to death and dying.  So, based on the evidence that all change contains some sort of loss, her model is used to this day to map where an individual is at any given stage of a change that is affecting them.  (Click chart to enlarge)

Now, although the stages are fairly consistent for each change you may experience, the speed at which you move through the stages varies from person to person.  You could fly through the first two stages and get stuck in Self Doubt for ages before you finally accept the change, or you could whiz through to Experimentation in just a day.  It all depends on how expectant or open your mind was for the change.

Lets go through each stage whereby I have attempted to articulate the types of emotions that you may (or may not) experience during the stage:

Stage 1 - Shock.  This reaction is usually immediate and from experience, it can be within a few hours.  Even if you have planned this change, the fact that it is actually upon you will give you a strange feeling of disorientation.   This stage will last longer if it is unexpected.

Stage 2 - Disbelief/Denial.  You have usually managed to get back to everyday life at this point.  Intellectually, you know that the change has happened and what may happen, however emotionally, you may block out the new reality from daily life.  You will probably be processing this new reality in your sub-conscious mind. Cognitive Dissonance usually occurs at this stage, and you are more likely to get stuck in this phase if you are change resistant.

Stage 3 - Self doubt.  This is a very uncomfortable stage.  Old habits and beliefs are no longer relevant, as are some of the things that used to be important to you.  Your sense of identity will be shattered.  You feel a sense of nothingness until you develop a new way of 'being'.  Your confidence will be low, and you may be fearful of the future, become angry, depressed, and have an overwhelming sense of guilt.  I have personally felt doubt as to whether I have made the right decision or whether I am up for the job.  You also may want to seek isolation to mull it over further, and at the same time feel unmotivated.

Stage 4 - Acceptance.  You have come to the decision to accept the change and face the future.  By letting go of the past reality, the pain goes away and finding your new way of being becomes exciting and a challenge rather than a loss.  Your energy levels will be going up, as this stage usually begins just after rock bottom on the emotional scale. You still might not know what you are going to do, but at least you know that your reality has changed.

Stage 5 - Experimentation.  You try something new from the new paradigm, but don't be surprised if you can't stick to the plan.  You could be all over the place, trying little changes to fit with your new reality.  You will still be working it out in your mind, however your energy levels continue to rise.  Try little things before attempting any major change at this stage, because you may slip back to self-doubt if a large experiment goes pear shaped.

Stage 6 - Search for meaning.  When you have embarked on your journey towards your new reality, you may start to appraise where you were before the change occurred, what has happened since, and why.  You will begin to fit your experience into your "life story" and re-examine your view of yourself and the world around you.  You will start to make sense of it all.

Stage 7 - Integration.  At the end of the change process, and all being well, you will be comfortable, confident, and a feeling that you belong or are seeking belonging in your new way of life. 

Now just a realisation on my part.  Change may be difficult at times and for a long period, but it can also be exciting, energising and uplifting.  It is a part of life.  Also remember that just because there is a model, it does not mean that everyone will experience all stages or the same change in the same way as others.  Every person is different and the above model is for guidance only and is based on my own experience.  Yours may differ significantly.

I see major changes happening within our society, and I see many people stuck in stage 2 - Denial/Disbelief which is disheartening.  However lately I have noticed many more people who are more advanced and are well towards the end of the cycle and seeking like minded individuals or groups to enforce their new paradigm.  I often write on my personal blog about the big issues like climate change, peak oil, collapse, and demonstrate the things you can do to soften the blow and assist.  Living a simple, green and frugal lifestyle will help to us no end, as will paying down as much debt as you can.  However, if you have a basic understanding what stage of change you and others around you could possibly be in, it could help to adapt to the current situation in a better way. 

I wish my family and I had have know about the stages of change when I had my very own green epiphany!  Maybe my wife would not have thought I was having an affair at the time.