Dana Arakawa, MAPP '06, is a PhD candidate in social psychology at the University of Hawaii. Before venturing into psychology, Dana graduated with honors from Georgetown University with a B.S. in International Economics, and spent a year in Buenos Aires, Argentina as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar. Her research has appeared in the Gallup Management Journal and International Coaching Psychology Review, as well as in publications in Latin America. Full bio. Dana's articles are here.
I have 3 days to pack up a year of life in Philadelphia. Coming to Philly for the Master in Applied Positive Psychology at Penn is one of the best things I have ever done, and after a year working in the city post-graduation, it is time for me to move on to a distinctly different phase of life. I am about to embark on 2 years of travel and study abroad; the first stop is Peru, where I will study Spanish in a language school and volunteer with kids for two months. Over the last few weeks, with the impending move getting closer and closer, I have felt so excited, nervous, overwhelmed, joyful, appreciative, and most of all, scattered! This experience has got me thinking about transitions—with every exciting new beginning is an ending. How can we deal with change better?
My apartment shows almost no sign of the upcoming move…
With Peru three days away, my apartment reflects almost no sign of major upheaval, and I still have all my furniture to sell. The weird thing is, that I have thought about packing and selling off my furniture for months! I even made a full inventory list of all the things I needed to sell, so it’s not like I haven’t been thinking about it. I talked about it all the time too – I don’t think one person in my environment has not heard me complain about how anxious I am to sell all my furniture. But did I take concrete, active steps to get it all sold? Nope. And as I procrastinated more and more, the feeling of anxiety has built.
While my experience pertains to the logistics of moving, the problem of procrastination is common. Even when we are excited about moving forward, why do we procrastinate on things and simultaneously hold ourselves back? If anyone knows of good research on this, please let me know!
Making sense of procrastination
One change management tool that I have found helpful is the Inter Change Cycle™, from Interchange International Inc., which describes the different stages we go through to process changes big and small in our lives. When any change occurs, we go through the stages of loss, doubt, discomfort, discovery, understanding, and integration.
As I procrastinated on packing and selling my furniture, I found that I stayed in the third stage of discomfort for quite a while, with feelings of anxiety, thoughts of confusion, and unproductive behavior. According to the Inter Change Cycle™, I am in the danger zone, which happens when you stay in the third stage of discomfort rather than moving forward to the stage of discovery. The state of discovery is undoubtedly a better place to be: you feel anticipation, think creatively, and behave with more energy. Yet many of us procrastinate and purposefully keep ourselves in the state of discomfort, and if we stay there too long, we can regress to stage 1, the stage of loss fraught with emotions of fear, thoughts of caution, and paralysis.
As we learn more about ourselves, I believe that we can better navigate the pivotal juncture between stage 3 of discomfort and stage 4 of discovery. We learn our tendencies in each stage, so we can first discover our current state in the process of change, and then do what we need to do to move forward.
So now that I realize I’ve been in the danger zone—lingering too long in the state of discomfort by procrastinating on packing and selling my furniture—what can I do to get out of it? Here are just some ideas to brainstorm—I’d love to hear what you do to manage the negative emotions around change, and your thoughts on how we can move more quickly into an energized, open, and receptive state.
o Mental action – setting goals and making lists to help you get clear on your priorities
o Physical action – getting out of your head and into your body
o Mental distraction – maybe we need to stop thinking about the change and just enjoy the moment, while our left-brain takes the time it needs to sort through and categorize all the new information. When we finally let go and give our brain space, we allow it to do what it needs to do.
At the final stage, the change has been integrated into our life, and we finally feel satisfied, our thoughts are focused, and our behavior is generous. I look forward to writing again in two months on my experience traveling in Peru, having fully integrated this change into my life!