Thriving During Undesirable Change (Like COVID-19)

“The secret of change is to focus all your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new.”

Dan Millman

For the past few months, we have been dealing with change in one way or another. I recently talked with three different people who were dealing with big, unexpected changes in their life. Today I’m going to share those stories and strategies that help us walk through change and thrive in uncertainty. 

I was coaching a COO as he was preparing for a big off-site meeting with his senior team. He had just reported to his investor group his quarterly earnings, and his revenue was down due to COVID-19. He was brainstorming how to get back on track. Together, we strategized about ways to help his team move forward despite the disruptions.

I was also coaching a CFO of a small start-up. He was in the process of selling his shares and moving to another company. The share evaluation came in lower than expected. He felt betrayed and at a loss of what to do.

I was having a conversation with my 85-year-old father recently. My parents were doing quite well through COVID-19. My brother and his wife were visiting and bringing the necessary supplies that would allow our parents to stay safe in isolation. 

My parents are missing regular human interactions, but are doing quite well with all things considered. Unfortunately, in the last three weeks, my father experienced significant, undiagnosed chronic pain in his knee and foot. He started using a walker, and his steps were slow and gated for the first time in his life. He was struggling to deal with the change.

What do these stories have in common? They're all stories of transition and change. Most of us are experiencing significant changes personally and professionally during this pandemic.

Responding to Unexpected Change

What is the best way to respond to unwanted and unexpected changes in our life?

Some of us spend a lot of energy focusing on what we have lost. Of course, we all need time to vent and mourn our losses. But after the mourning, after the venting, what’s the best strategy to deal with unwanted or undesired change?

Is the best strategy to work harder? Is the best approach to meditate more? Is the best strategy to connect more with others? Should I exercise more? Should I give my team a big pep talk?  

All these suggestions are helpful, but how do I truly move on?

I love the Dan Millman quote I included at the beginning of the article. The best use of our energy is not to focus on the pains of change, or blaming the boss, your employees, the doctors, or God for the change. It might feel better in the short-term to complain or confess the sins of somebody else, but that won't help you move forward. 

The best use of our energy is building something new. But how?  

The first step to moving forward is to accept the change.

Accept, Connect, Take Action

I highly recommend Russ Harris’s book, The Happiness Trap. He has some great tips to stop struggling with change and to start living. Russ shares, “Once you acknowledged a story, that’s it—just let it be. You do not have to challenge it or push it away, nor do you have to give it much attention. Simply let it come and go as it pleases, while you channel your energy into doing something you value.”

The formula for effective change is:

  1. Accept
  2. Connect to your values
  3. Take appropriate action

When we have a challenging or negative thought, Dr. Russ recommends asking, “Is this thought helpful? Does it help me take action to create the life I want? If it’s helpful, pay attention; if it’s not, defuse it.”

How does this apply to a business that’s suffering from the pandemic?

The first step is accepting that the pandemic happened, and there are long-term changes associated with it. One of the saddest things I hear leaders say is, “I can hardly wait until the pandemic is over. Then I can fix my budgets, sales will go back to normal, and I’ll start hitting my goals.” Or individuals who say, “I can hardly wait until the pandemic is over, then I can finally be more successful, lose weight, and start working on my goals again.”

Some of the effects of COVID-19 are here to stay. If you’re waiting for things to get back to how they used to be, you’ll be waiting a long time.

With the COO I mentioned above, we discussed an approach that allows his team to vent about the effects that the pandemic was causing on their sales. After that exercise, he coached his team to move on. 

Then he asked questions like, “How will this pandemic change business forever? How do we stay in front of those changes? How do we adapt faster than our competition? If our clients won’t meet with us in person, how do we become the best remote sales team in the world? How would the best remote sales team do things differently now?”

These types of questions and exercises helped the team move forward and make new plans rather than waiting for things to return to normal.

How does this apply to undesirable personal changes?

Accept the change. Try to observe what is happening, be an observer of your own story in your head. After a day of venting and a night of sleep, approach the change with a new mindset.  Accept what is. Find the learnings. Develop some small steps that will help you try new ideas to cope with the new reality. 

The CFO mentioned above, the one who felt betrayed by a low share evaluation did vent for a day or two. He got over the personal hurt and started focusing on the facts. He disassociated with the personal loss or any personal slight he might have felt and negotiated based on his values of integrity, honesty, and fairness. 

He shared the updated evaluation data with the other owners. He tried not to make it personal and eventually received an improved evaluation and an eye-opening lesson on change. If he held on to the feelings of betrayal, he wouldn't have had the peace of mind to negotiate based on his value system rather than anger or hate.

My dad is also doing better. He kept trying new things to fix his leg. He came to grips with the idea that this may be here to stay. He got more comfortable with others helping and serving him (which is not an easy change). Eventually, they did find the cure, and the pain has subsided.

Change is hard, no question about it. Having a plan can help tremendously. Remember to take things one step at a time:

  1. Mourn the change and move on
  2. Accept the change
  3. Connect to your values on how you want to show up through the change
  4. Develop small steps each day to deal with the new reality

Develop your plan to deal with change. Be ready to spend your energy on the new. I believe there are always new opportunities to build something new and thrive in business and life.

If you want to learn more, set up a coaching session with me.


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