Unknown to known : making change easier

Unknown  known

Having the courage to face change

Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change.

– Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

What is it about change that is so painful? It happens to us all the time and yet we cling on to things in the hope we can somehow avoid it. We dearly want things to remain the same and ignore the fact that change is one of the most constant aspects of life. As Heraclitus said “there is nothing permanent except change” and he was right, wasn’t he?

there is nothing permanent except change – Heraclitus

You would think that thanks to evolution, we humans would have found an easy way to accept change. But so few of us have. Even when we know that a change is going to probably be beneficial, we still do all that we can to uphold the status quo, procrastinating like true professionals. If someone is trying to put changes in place that will affect us, we will resist and complain as much as we can. Do we think this reaction will be useful or helpful? If we actually stopped to consider the consequences of our behaviour, we probably would conclude that we are actually making things worse, but it’s somehow easier to stick to what we know and stay with fear.

What is it about change that we so fear? I believe it’s all about the unknown. It’s a place that is strange and alien and decidedly out of our comfort zone. Our instinct is not to go there, to avoid at all costs. We will even stay in an unhappy or unhelpful status quo out of fear of the unknown.

But why?

We’ve stepped into the unknown before. Many times. And we’ve survived. And we might just admit that in entering the unknown, we learnt lots, we became stronger. Even if it was uncomfortable, we came through it. We have all had a fair amount of practise at it, so we should be good at it. Or at least able to do it without too much thought.

We fear failure. We worry about things not working out. What if we are worse off. We might not know what to do when we reach the unknown. We might make fools of ourselves.

But what if we didn’t fear the unknown?

What if we could think about the unknown as a place that we need to move into and once there, it will become a known. This has happened in the past. We know that once we get used to something new, it becomes a known and we settle in. Or if it doesn’t work out, we mostly have choices to do something about it. By changing our thinking around the unknown, by reframing our view, we can reduce the fear and anxiety surrounding it.

Unknown ⇒ known

If you’re thinking about change or are moving towards an unknown, try the following:

  • ask yourself what it will be like in the unknown
  • what will you need to make the unknown a known? It might be support, tools, training, finance, advice etc
  • what are the risks involved in the unknown?
  • what can you do to mitigate the risks?
  • will anyone else be affected by this change? If so, what can you do to ease the transition
  • what is it that you fear about the unknown? List these fears and see if you can find logical solutions.
  • think about previous experiences where change has happened and you went into an unknown. What happened? What did you learn? Could you have done anything differently?
  • list the benefits of moving into the unknown? Even if you can’t think immediately of any, there may be benefits such as a learning process, a new beginning etc.
  • ask yourself what sort of mindset you would like to adopt as you enter the unknown. It might be one of curiosity, one of courage, one of careful exploration. This should help you realise that you do have some choice in the way you will react.


In short, if you do some planning and work out how to ease the transition from unknown to known, your resistance and fear should lessen.

This exercise is part of a workshop and is useful for all types of change. It works well when you use if for yourself or when teams are facing the unknown and you want to help them feel less fear.

Actively seek out the good stuff

Hunt the good stuff

As a coach I work with many hard working, often ambitious people who want to be clear about what they want and how they’re going to get there. In a competitive world, entrepreneurs, leaders, heads of business know they must keep on going, persevere, never give up if they are to succeed.  When working over long periods in this way, it’s easy to get ‘stuck’ in a pattern of keeping their head down, focusing on the targets and being extra aware of obstacles or challenges that might get in the way of success.

This can be exhausting and create a mindset where they only notice the negatives in every situation.  What might go wrong? What if it doesn’t work? It could be better.  This treadmill of negatives, in turn has a negative effect on our state of mind.  Everything feels stressful, everything looks bleak.  Everything they do, no matter how good, will never be good enough.  It’s as if there’s an invisible whip that just keeps on pushing them forward, punishing them if they get anything wrong.  Often, this way of thinking also affects those around them, as they pick up on negatives and mistakes, rarely noticing things that have been done well or that should be celebrated. This mentality often spreads into their private life.

This is not a great way to live and work.

Hunt the good stuff

As a coach, I challenge clients on this negative treadmill to step off a moment and recalibrate.  It’s natural for humans to notice and remember negatives – we seem to be pre-programmed to do so (read about negativity bias here).

As soon as we become aware of our tendency, we can start to do something about it.  Making an effort to “Hunt the good stuff” (Martin Seligman writes about this in his book ‘Flourish’), can lift the mood and lighten the weight.  With practise (change is rarely easy), we can train our minds to actively search for positive aspects in situations.  This doesn’t mean we stop being dedicated to our project or business, it doesn’t mean we ‘take our eye off the ball’, or that we become naive or unaware of challenges, but it does mean we will find more pleasure in our work and life, as well as be easier to live and work with.

Simply put:

To begin with, it’s important to notice the tendency for seeing the bad stuff. Just notice these thoughts and let them go.

Every morning when you wake up or as you brush your teeth, and as you go to sleep in the evening, make an effort to think of 2 or 3 good things that will happen / have happened.  No matter how small, they are important.

Getting into this routine, will hopefully mean you start thinking of good stuff during the day. It might help to encourage others to do this, so that the “hunting the good stuff” idea spreads.

Start small and as you get the hang of it, let the good stuff take over. Clients find it transforms their thinking and makes everything a little more enjoyable.

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