Resilience In The Face Of Unexepected Change

Resilience In The Face Of Unexepected Change
This post was written by Arne Dรถrries


As humans, we are known for struggling with change and particularly having to deal with too much change at the same time.

But when this challenging change is also unexpected, that's when things really start to get tricky.

In this blog-post, we are taking a look at why dealing with unexpected change is pretty much inevitable, the different levels of unexpected change and how to practically deal with it in a way that allows us to not get crushed by it and move on with our lives.

Are you ready to learn? Let's dive straight in!

This post covers...

  1. ๐Ÿคœ What is Unexpected Change
  2. ๐Ÿ“ˆ Differentiation Part I: The Different Tiers of Unexpected Change
  3. ๐Ÿง  Differentiation Part I: The Mind Problem
  4. ๐Ÿ› ๏ธ Solution Part I: Situative Measures
  5. ๐Ÿ‘๏ธ Solution Part II: Preventative Measures
  6. ๐ŸŒ Conclusion

Unexpected Change

Unexpected Change describes the experience of unexpectedly being confronted with a (significant) change of circumstances or in more abstract terms: an experience of being confronted with a significant discrepancy of your imagination of what something would be like and then the actual reality of that thing, which turns out to be completely different.

This does not necessarily imply that the unexpected change of circumstances must be worse than your imagination, but in the situations where you are going to experience this phenomenon as a problem, it is most likely going to be exactly that: something is worse, significantly worse and is also unexpectedly significantly worse than you imagined.

In those situations, where you experience the unexpected change as something negative, it may be that the unexpected different circumstances genuinely seem bad to you, or it might just be that the fact that your imaginations and expectations weren't meant is causing you to feel lost and you therefore project negative feelings on these new unexpected circumstances.

Either way, specific unexpected changes are causing you problems, so let's take a look at how to overcome this!

"Change is a normal part of our lives, but it's uncomfortable for the vast majority of people because it makes them feel like they've lost control."
Mary Jo Asmus

Flight-line explosion at 2010 Miramar Airshow.

Differentiation Part I: The Different Tiers of Unexpected Change

Before getting into the practical bits though, we must first take a look at the root-cause of unexpected changes causing us these problems of emotional disturbance, feelings of being lost, anxiety and stress.

This way, we can not only understand how to solve the symptoms of these unexpected changes - you feeling troubled - but understand how to prevent them from showing up in the first place.

And there are two parts to this.

The first part concerns itself with the different tiers of unexpected change and the underlying understanding that not all confrontations with unexpected change are that detrimental and that only those confrontations with a certain characteristic will cause serious damage and are therefore worth further looking into.

To give an example, when you expected it to be sunny but it turned out to be a rainy day, you may feel a bit disappointed, but it's unlikely that this one event is going to majorly negatively affect your happiness, health or outlook on the future.

Having just bought a house with your partner though and then discovering he or she has had a secret affair - this example of just another experience of unexpected change clearly seems like it will create a much bigger wave of negative emotions and longterm effects.

These examples make it clear to see that only specific types of confrontations with unexpected change cause serious damage and are therefore worth trying to prevent or at least need to be strategically tackled when they show up: existential unexpected change

Existential unexpected change refers to situations where the unexpected change is not only significant - meaning there is a large discrepancy between your expectations of something and then reality - but the change also affects you and does so on an existential level, meaning the change has some serious affect on the stability or the future outlook of your life.

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Differentiation Part II: The Mind Problem

The second part, the root-cause of unexpected change taking place and causing problems, is the central role our mind plays in creating confrontations with unexpected change.

Because what "unexpected change" inevitably says is that (1) you and your mind assumed you'd be smart enough to foresee the future and make accurate assumptions about the future circumstances of your life and that (2) you and your mind were naive enough to not consider the possibility of life taking an unexpectedly drastic turn.

Therefore by definition, your mind sits at the core of your negative experience of dealing with existential unexpected change - an important piece of understanding to solving the problem practically.

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Situative Measures

Now that we have identified that unexpected change is (1) only detrimental when it is existentially relevant and that (2) the root-cause of the problem is your mind's imagination and projection of the future, we can now finally move to the practical measures you can take to solve the mystery of unexpected change.

Starting of with the situative measures, these are the things you can do and try out when you unfortunately read this post to late and are already struggling with the consequences of existential unexpected change.

  1. ๐Ÿ“ Reframing Unexpected Change Thanks to our survival-oriented instincts, we humans are absolute masters at bending our perception of reality to fit our needs. And whilst this causes many problems in our modern world - especially when it comes to cooperation with ourselves and others - in the case of confrontations with detrimental unexpected change, it can actually be a strength. The idea of reframing unexpected change boils down to simply to looking at our specific case of challenging unexpected change and instead of indulging in the pain of it, doing our best to reframe it as an opportunity - an opportunity for a changing direction, trying something new or at least learning to deal with this type of situation.
  2. ๐Ÿ™Š Strategy Sessions When you last had a serious problem somewhere, did you sit down with a friend or colleague, take a sheet of paper and a pen and try to strategically find options to solve or overcome this problem? Unexpected changes are often so overwhelming, because they cause disorder and blind us from seeing clearly. Understandably, we start to worry. The idea of holding a strategy meeting is about having a clear event or conversations, either with yourself or even better with a friend, to take on the mess and return clarity to what it is that actually changed, the options that have been closed and the new doors that have opened due to the unexpected change. Afterwards, you should have at least have a clear pathway of how to tidy up the mess created by the unexpected change or ideally have already overcome it in the conversation entirely.
  3. ๐Ÿ”’ Manifesting closure When everything has fallen apart and you feel completely lost, the last and only thing to do is to come to peace with the detrimental unexpected change, close that chapter and start afresh. Manifesting closure is about having some physical and therefore graspable event or ritual to clearly indicate to yourself that you have come too close with the mess created by the unexpected change. Whether it be writing down a final closing statement in your journal or having a final closing conversation with the person responsible for your unexpected change of circumstances - make your closure as much of a real thing as possible.
โ€Getting over a painful experience is much like crossing monkey bars. You have to let go at some point in order to move forward.โ€
C.S. Lewis
Final puzzle piece hovering over position.

Preventative Measures

Because the goal should always be to prevent problems before they even show up, let's now take a look at preventative measures.

  1. ๐Ÿ‘๏ธ Anticipating Unexpected Change Anticipating unexpected change is connected to the idea of "the mind problem". By simply remaining aware of the fact that you are going to make false assumptions about the future and that this can even happen in high-stake situations where there are existentially relevant parts of your life involved, you instantly become much more resilient to existential unexpected change, because at the very least, unexpected changes showing up won't actually be entirely unexpected anymore.
  2. ๐Ÿ“ˆ Always! Diversifying your plans Not only does the principle of diversification help you make more sustainable financial investment decisions, but it can also be a major help in sustainably protecting yourself against existential unexpected change. And whilst always diversifying plans may trigger negative responses in some people (like when you have strategic backup plans for your marriage failing), I consider it to be a false dichotomy to assume that commitment and diversify planning are incompatible. After all, you can still be totally committed to your partner whilst still having the personal need to have some kind of backup strategy should something (which neither of you may directly be responsible for) go wrong. And shouldn't we respect each other's individual needs for safety and stability?
  3. ๐Ÿงฐ Having Short-term and Long-term Exit-Strategies Having exit-strategies is one of the concepts and components of "Building Your Toolbox For Life". To repeat the essence, it's about having at least one or two legitimate plans (i.e. things to do and places to go) when your life completely, and absolutely devastatingly falls apart. These exit strategies therefore both need to be super flexible to even suit the worst scenarios, but at the same time they need to be legitimate enough so that you can actually really on them as valid emergency exit-strategies. And whilst this may not make these moments of total devastation easy, it might make them just a little easier.
  4. ๐Ÿง˜ Becoming Comfortable With Uncertainty And finally, easier said than done of course, the best way to deal with uncertainty: becoming somewhat comfortable with change and unexpected change or at least learning to accept it as a fundamental part of life. This is challenging and takes time, but by incrementally voluntarily exposing yourself to uncertainty, you can slowly build that resilience to help you stay calm when life throws rocks at you. This way you become familiar with the confrontation with uncertainty and learn to face it without as much fear.
"As dealing with change becomes a regular activity, leading it becomes a skill to hone, an internal capacity to master."
Arnaud Henneville
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Change and uncertainty cost a lot of mental and physical energy. But especially when we didn't choose to deal with them ourselves, they become particularly nasty, cause anxiety, depression, fearfulness and breakage to our outlook on the future.

To deal with and prepare for this problem, it is important to understand that unexpected change is (1) most dangerous and detrimental when there is deep existential risk to it and (2) is fundamentally rooted in us making overly naive assumptions about the future.

To tackle this problem practically, there are situative measures that can help deal with the negative consequences of existential unexpected change in the moment. And then there are preventative measures to solve the problem on a more fundamental level.