What This Little Guy Can Teach Us About Dealing with Change

My roommate has a very cute, very neurotic dog named Buddy who is unnaturally attached to her.  Buddy doesn’t like to be more than six inches away from her at any time, he doesn’t want her to leave the house without him, and he doesn’t want anyone else to touch him – ever. He’s about as loyal to my roommate as any dog could possibly be.

Once or twice a year however, my roommate goes out of state to visit her family, leaving little Buddy without his faithful companion and one true love. She packs her suitcase while he watches in horror and then he’s left alone with us, the rest of the family that most of the time he just tolerates.  Every time his mom leaves, Buddy goes through his own very predictable stages of change:

Day 1 – Avoidance:  Buddy hides in his room, restless and barking out the window at every car that passes by.  There’s lots of whining. His demeanor is anxious, and he seems to be saying “I can’t believe this terrible thing is happening to me.”

Day 2 -Depression:  Buddy is moping and acting like a terrible tragedy has befallen him.  He wanders around the house listlessly, going from room to room, searching for his mom. He refuses treats and shows no interest in taking a walk. He thinks, “I’m never going to recover from this horrible thing, I can’t go on.”

Day 3 – Adjustment:  Buddy starts coming downstairs to hang out with the family.  His mood starts to brighten although he still appears hopeful that his mom will appear. He starts seeking food and looking for ways to survive his ordeal.  He thinks, “I might as well make the most of this new situation.”

Day 4  – Acceptance:  Buddy accepts that his mom is never coming back and fully assimilates into the household. He asks for walks and begs for treats. He follows other people into the bathroom.  He hangs out on the couch and in the yard.  He seems content. He thinks, “Hey, life is still good here, and I’m totally fine.”

Watching Buddy go through his stages of change makes me think of how we, as humans, respond to change.  As they say, the only thing constant is change.

Have you ever had one of those perfect moments where you thought, “I hope this never ends”?  But then it does. Or maybe you’ve had the experience where you have one of those great teams at work where everyone feeds off each other and it’s super supportive and productive but then someone leaves, or you get a new boss, and suddenly, things are different. And you think to yourself, “Why do things have to change?” Or you spend time with an old friend and think, “He’s really changed, if I met him now we’d never be friends. How did this happen?”

We all experience change all the time, some more major than others. How do we ensure that change doesn’t get the best of us?

The first thing is to accept that there’s going to be change whether you like it or not. Change can be positive or negative or neutral, but you can’t avoid it.  All you can do is hone your change management skills.  Here are some ideas to help you get through it:

  • Give yourself a pre-determined time to wallow.  Sometimes we all need time to feel sad or feel sorry for ourselves, but at some point you need to get over your sadness about the change and make the most of it, like Buddy does.
  • Engage in some self-care.  Eat healthy. Stick to your exercise routine. Get a massage. Do some yoga. Take a long hike. Get a make-over. Take a mental health day. Do whatever will make you feel good and brighten your mood.
  • Talk about it. Talk through your feelings and experiences with someone you trust.  Sometimes the best person to talk to is that one friend you have who will support you but will also tell you things you don’t want to hear.  It’s good to have someone who will point out the things you’re not thinking about, or where you’re not thinking clearly.  A neutral party like therapist or priest/minister/rabbi may also be able to help.
  • Think about what’s good with the change. If you think hard enough, there’s good in every change. Your husband left you, but you got the house.  You lost your job, but now you are going back to school.  Your kid left for college but now you can focus on yourself.  Focusing on the positives can really help you move forward.
  • Make some more changes.  Maybe this change is just the kick in the pants you need to encourage you to do something different.  Ask yourself if you were really happy before, and what are the chances you’ll adapt to this recent change. If it seems impossible, move on and make something else happen. Let this be your turning point moment.

In the end, no matter how you feel about change, chances are good you’ll be OK and like Buddy, you’ll be hanging out in the living room blissfully eating beef jerky before you know it. Or, you know, whatever makes YOU happy.


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