Life is a little different for everyone on the planet right now. Day to day life has changed, for some more than others, but no one has escaped change. The coronavirus is a global pandemic that is causing huge shifts in the ways we live our daily lives.
One of the hardest parts of all of this is that we have no idea when this will end. And when it does end, our world is going to look a lot different, possibly forever.
Change is something that we have all been dramatically, drastically, and suddenly thrown into in recent days. And change is not easy for most people.
(If you prefer to hear and watch this message, you can watch my YouTube video on this topic through this link.)
Change or Lose Your Mind
When someone is diagnosed with heart disease, they can’t just go to the doctor for a pill or surgery and then move on with their lives as they were. Instead, heart disease patients go home with a long list of things about their lives that need to change. They must change the way they eat, exercise, their sleep, their stress levels, and more.
For heart disease patients, the choice that they face is to change or die. If they don’t make the changes that the doctors are recommending the heart disease cannot be fixed and they will eventually die, much sooner than if they had made the changes. And what we know about heart disease patients is that most of the time, the changes are too hard. They fail to make these long-term, major lifestyle changes because the changes are too drastic, sudden, and difficult.
For all of us, around the world, right now, we are being forced to make changes to our lives in incredibly drastic, life-altering ways. While many of these changes may be temporary, we will still be living in this temporarily different lifestyle for many weeks. We still have to deal with the reality that our lives are incredibly different from what they were just a few weeks ago. And the choice we are given is not necessarily “change or die” like heart disease patients. For most of us, we aren’t going to die during this crisis. But the choice we are facing is to change or lose your mind. And we’re trying to avoid that here.
The 3 F’s That Don’t Work in Change
In the world of change management, researchers have discovered that there are three approaches to change that rarely work. They are known as the 3 F’s – facts, fear, and force. Right now, we have a whole lot of facts, fear, and force that are trying to cause us to change. We are allowing our choices to be led by facts, fear, and force.
We have facts coming at us from every angle every time we look at our phone, turn on the TV, or talk to our friends. Facts are good. There is nothing wrong with facts, and it is quite helpful to understand the facts of a situation to make good decisions, but facts cannot be the main driving force to motivate us to make changes in our lives.
There is also a lot of fear going on in our current situation and there are so many “what ifs” that we could worry about. The truth is, there are so many things we just don’t know, but we can’t allow our fears to motivate us either.
The third “F”, force, is also largely at play in our current environment. The schools are closed so you are now forced to teach your kids instead of sending them to school. The government is “forcing” you to stay at your house. Or if you’re an essential employee, you are being “forced” to put your health on the line and go to work each day.
These three “Fs”, facts, fear, and force are driving most people right now. But we know that these are not healthy or effective ways to make changes in our lives.
The 3 R’s to Effectively Cope with Change
Fortunately, there are three approaches to change that actually do work. These are known as the 3 R’s – relate, repeat, reframe. Let’s examine how we can use these three ideas to positively and effectively cope with the changes in our lives that are needed to stay healthy and thrive during the COVID-19 crisis (or any future crisis we might face).
Our first idea is to relate. Relate is something that is both really hard and really easy right now. The easy part is the fact that everyone on the planet is dealing with COVID-19 right now. Most of the time in a crisis situation, you feel alone and isolated, but in this situation, we are all in this together. None of us are dealing with this by ourselves. The challenge of our situation though is that we aren’t able to relate in person right now. This is somewhat unique. We can’t meet for coffee to talk about our challenges. We can’t give each other hugs and build that sense of in-person community that is so important to help us get through challenging times.
We must find new ways to relate to each other during this crisis. We cannot relate in our usual ways, but we can find ways to build those relationships and that community that we all need, even as we practice social distancing.
Many people are using basic social media for their relationships right now. And while social media can be very valuable and helpful in this situation, if the only relating you are doing with other people is through likes and comments on social media posts, you are not going to be able to build the depth of community and relationship that you need during this time.
Instead, we can use technology options that allow us to relate with each other with more depth. This would be things like text messages, phone calls, FaceTime, Zoom, Voxer, and the like. The more it feels like you’re connecting face to face in person, the better. It is a tremendous blessing that we are going through this challenge right now when we have the technology that allows us to connect by 2 way video through the device that is constantly in most of our hands. Find creative ways to relate and build community. Meet and connect with your extended family, friends, and small groups in this way as much as you are able.
(Learn more about how to build strong friendships as an adult in this post.)
The second idea to help us manage change is to repeat. Let me give you a very simplistic explanation for how our brains work. Think of your brain as a roadmap. There are certain pathways that your brain uses all the time and no longer even has to think about. Your drive to work, for instance. Your brain can take you to work almost on autopilot, you don’t have to consciously think about the route you take. These types of activities and thoughts are like a superhighway in your brain. They happen quickly, easily, and don’t take much energy for your brain to travel across.
And then you have those thoughts and activities that are used sometimes. These might look like a regular highway in your brain. It’s pretty easy to go down these, but not quite as easy and fast as those superhighways. You also have smaller roads and pathways for things you do even less often.
(This post can help you understand your thoughts and your brain a little better.)
What is happening right now is that everything is new and different. All of those superhighways your brain has built over the years are no longer working. Road closed, can’t get through, must build a new path. This is making our brains freak out because there is nothing reliable for our brains to depend on. There are no easy paths.
So what we want to do here is to build some new repetition into our lives to give our brains some things to depend on. We’re going to be in this “new normal” for at least several more weeks. We want to quickly take some time to build some new habits, new routines, and new thoughts that we can repeat over and over to help our brains build some reliable roads and highways that it can rely on during this time. We can help our brain not freak out by providing repetition to give our brains some easier paths when everything feels like it is chaotic and always changing.
The third thing we want to do to cope with change is to reframe. We reframe when we take the time to see our situation in a fresh and new way. A lot of us are currently using the news, the changes, and the unknowns to freak out. We’re experiencing a lot of anxiety and fear about things that we can’t control and this is not serving us or helping in any way.
Instead, we need to consider the thoughts and the perspective we have on our situation and question whether it is serving us. How are your thoughts helping or hindering you right now?
If your thoughts are not serving you, this isn’t the time to feel guilty or experience shame for these thoughts. The purpose is just to get curious and recognize what is happening in our brains. Because one of the few things we can control in this crazy world is the thoughts that are happening inside of our own brains. So take the time to notice what thoughts are running through your brain and then decide if those thoughts are helpful. Are your thoughts allowing you to thrive or causing you to suffer?
If the thoughts aren’t serving you, take the time to reframe your thoughts to get a new perspective. Figure out what you can think about your situation that will help you see it in a different and more positive light.
(For a helpful guide on changing your anxious thoughts, check out this post.)
Self Application – How to Effectively Cope with Change
Now we understand the three ways to effectively implement and cope with change in our lives. We have to find people we can relate with during difficult times, use repetition to give our brain something it can rely on, and reframe our thoughts to see our situation from a helpful perspective. Below are five questions for you to journal through to help you deal with the changes you are currently facing. They are written for the current COVID-19 crisis that we are facing, but if you are reading this post sometime in the future, change the “coronavirus crisis” words to whatever change or challenge you are currently facing.
- In what specific ways is the coronavirus crisis affecting you?
- What are your thoughts about the coronavirus and the ways that it has impacted your life?
- How could you reframe some of those thoughts that might not be serving you to see your situation in a fresh way?
- What can you do today to find support, community, and relationship as we practice social distancing?
- Take some time to write out some new habits and routines you could implement to help your brain be more at peace in the coming weeks.