Why Managing Change Is an Essential 21st Century Skill
July 13th, 2012 by Dr. Bruce Johnson
College students need to be expert multitaskers – balancing competing demands, approaching deadlines, and personal responsibilities in a limited amount of time. Many react by establishing a set routine so they can feel a sense of control. But then a new assignment or forgotten deadline threatens their equilibrium.
Over time students probably get used to dealing with minor changes, but when a bigger challenge occurs–a new class with a new set of expectations, for example—they may confront stress and anxiety.
A change management plan—a set of coping strategies—will enable students to maintain a sense of control and remain productive.
What is Change?
The inevitable nature of change is often what is written about or discussed because nothing in life remains constant. Over time, many people become change-weary – especially students – when they continually have to adapt to new conditions within their environment. For students, that environment includes their school and their classes, as policies, procedures, processes, and expectations are likely to change on a regular basis. You may begin to resist change or grow tired of changes if you believe that your environment is unpredictable or that change is continually forced upon you, as it causes feelings of apprehension and uncertainty. Students establish habitual patterns of studying and working that provide a sense of stability. Whenever that routine is disrupted it may produce a feeling of insecurity, which can interrupt your productivity if you have not developed coping mechanisms.
The Process of Change
Change can best be understood as a process through the Transition Model, which was developed in 1991 by William Bridges, author of Managing Transitions. He established three stages that occur as we adapt to change and made a distinction within this model between change and transition. Bridges stated that “change is all about the outcome we are trying to achieve; transition is about how we’ll get there and how we’ll manage things while we are en route.” As you review the elements of this model you’ll notice that types of change are not taken into consideration. This is due to the varying degrees that change is individually process and internalized. Some of us are more adept with being able to adapt and other people can get stuck at the very first part of the process.
1. Ending, Losing, and Letting Go. When change first occurs there is a wide range of emotions that may be experienced, including disappointment, discomfort, fear, and anger. There may be periods of frustration, anxiety, disorientation, and uncertainty. The reason why someone can get stuck at this point is that they either don’t accept what has occurred or they won’t let go of the past and accept something new, which causes further resistance to the process.
2. The Neutral Zone. As people continue to process and think about what has changed, they may either respond in a negative or positive manner. Once the reality of the situation has been determined, whether it’s due to a new procedure that must be followed, a new expectation to be met, or any other factor, a resulting negative reaction may include resentment, skepticism, and a feeling of fight or flight. For students, this can manifest in reduced productivity, motivation, and engagement in the class. If students are able to accept the change and let go of the past, they may experience a positive outcome where they feel capable of adapting and readjusting.
3. The New Beginning. If you can accept what has changed, and approach it from a positive perspective where you are willing to adapt and adjust your schedule or life as needed without resistance, you will likely experience a sense of accomplishment as you’ve demonstrated to yourself that you can be flexible. This is important because it can increase your motivation and result in feeling energized, creative, and resilient.
Change Management Techniques
To help you learn to successfully navigate through the process of change, there are two important techniques you can use to manage your reaction so you can adapt to it.
1. Change your perspective: Sometimes when change occurs it can feel very personal because it happened to you or was forced upon you. While that may be true, stop and consider the bigger picture. Robert Puff, Ph.D. reminds us about the impermanence of life and that many people simply do not adjust well to constant change. If we can learn to accept the constant impermanent nature of life, especially while going to college, it is possible to become less resistance. If you take classes on-ground, you will likely change classrooms and instructors every semester. If you take online classes, the technological nature of the environment is likely to change as enhancements and features are added. In other words, you can never eliminate change.
2. Change what you can control: Many of the changes that will occur while you are a student are going to be beyond your control. However, what you can control is your attitude, feelings, and self-belief. You have an ability to minimize your resistance no matter how negative the circumstances initially may be. You can manage your feelings and take ownership of the situation by being proactive. If you feel uncertain, ask questions or seek assistance. You do not have to feel powerless as there is always some aspect you can control. This includes your expectation about the learning process and attending college. Sometimes the most difficult change for students occurs when they have to adjust or adapt to the reality of being in college as compared to what they expected it would be like.
As you develop an ability to be adaptable to circumstances, specifically changes that occur, you’ll find that you also become more open to the process of learning as this is a time of acquiring new skills and knowledge, which changes to how you think and what you presently know. While it may feel better to have a fixed schedule and set of procedures that don’t change, your ability to be flexible will not only assist you as a student, it will help you in your career.
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