10 Tips for "Finding the Pony" Amidst Change


This month it's been hard not to think about the challenge of change amidst the natural disasters and the anniversary of 9/11.

Some are also dealing with change of reorganization, new limits due to illness or injury, and death of loved ones.

Of course, life is full of positive change such as this week's change to fall and the advent of a new year (Shanah Tova!) plus births and weddings. Yet, adjustment to these are less likely to be painful.

Reaction to unwanted change follows a typical cycle of shock, denial and anger - where we may get stuck rather than moving to growth. As we try to find our footing and continue to work amidst change, what can make a difference in whether we stay stuck or move through and grow as a result?

"Finding the Pony" - 10 Tips to Help Move Through to Growth

In one of our first client engagements, whenever we would uncover a new challenge one of the health system executives would say “There’s got to be a pony in there somewhere.” I was curious as to what he meant but was focused on other priorities. About the third time he said it, I had to ask. He said, "When you come to a pile of manure, you know something made the mess" and so the quest to "find the pony" or something good in any mess or change. 1. Take care of yourself and notice how you are feeling, rather than simply pushing through and beyond the emotion. I’m not suggesting you dwell on feelings. Rather, notice them and consider what, if anything, you can/want to do about them. Take time (even 5 minutes a day) to do something that brings you calm and/or joy to keep your energy up - a walk, more time with a friend or family member, a bath, chocolate, exercise and/or meditation. 2. Get clear on your highest priority at work so you can focus sufficient energy there. Change can be destabilizing. Continuing to achieve results on the most essential work projects gives you some structure amidst the chaos. Consider what you say 'yes' to even more carefully and try to leave space to deal with the impact of the change. 3. Consider ‘what’s my best next step?’ In the midst of change, it may be hard to see or consider the whole, but to keep from being stuck it's helpful to think of the best next step. 4. Identify areas in which you can exercise control and areas you can influence. In times of change we may feel helpless and lost. Having something, even very small, which you can control or influence helps you move through it more effectively. 5. Think about what support you need and where to get it. 6. Recognize what is ending for you as a result of this change. Let yourself mourn the ending. Consider what it represented to you and how you might meet that need moving forward, probably in a somewhat different way. "You can't steal second base with your foot still on first." 7. Consider what is possible now that wasn’t possible before this change. There’s got to be a pony in there somewhere. When I was going through a particularly difficult personal change, the idea that 'when everything is up in the air anything is possible' helped me through. 8. Resist the urge to focus on getting things back to the way they were. Sometimes our urge for certainty or stability gets in the way of our ability to be resilient. Change is pervasive and perpetual so going back can be a challenge and can also stunt our growth.

“Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don't really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.” Pema Chodron

9. Practice Gratitude. There is plenty of evidence of its benefits. No, I'm not a pollyanna. I know that change can bring real and significant pain. Yet there is beauty if we look for it. Amidst the hurricanes and the earthquakes and 9/11, people have shared stories of courage and compassion. As I said goodbye to a long time friend who died in a boating accident last week, I reconnected with friends I hadn't seen in a while and was reminded of my friend't warmth and good humor as stories were shared. It doesn't take away the pain but it can buoy us enough to keep going.

10. Take stock of what you are learning as you move through the change. It can help you to keep moving forward and also deepen your growth. Writing can be very helpful with this and here are ways that you may find helpful.

In closing, as you consider these tips for yourself, also think of how they inform your perspective in helping others through a change you are leading.

Here are a few books we find helpful for growth in change:

  • When Things Fall Apart, Heart Advice for Difficult Times by Pema Chodron

  • Transitions, Making Sense of Life's Changes by William Bridges

  • Managing Transitions by William Bridges

  • Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life, How to Finally Really Grow Up by James Hollis

  • The Middle Passage, From Misery to Meaning in Midlife by James Hollis​

Support, Guidance, Sounding Board

We’ve been helping individuals and organizations with change for a few decades and would welcome an opportunity to talk with you about what you are dealing with and how we can support you - whether its finding space to lead amidst change around you or helping you be most effective in leading change. Take a look at our website to see What Clients are Saying and Case Studies, and contact us to set some time to talk. In the meantime, enjoy the tips and resources above and please drop me a note to share feedback or ask questions.

Carol Gausz, Founder & President

m: 302-388-5301 www.blueheronassociates.com

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