Change and its role in personal development

The beginnings of things often coincide with the endings of others.”

They say that ‘change is the only constant’, and as tired an analogy as it is, there’s some truth to it. Things change around us without our knowledge or input, time marches on, and we must keep up or be left behind. But what of the changes we instigate? What becomes of us when we start to look at change as an opportunity, not just a liability or an inevitability? That’s what New Year’s resolutions are all about; taking initiative, setting a goal, and moving forward. So why, oh why, do we often fail, or at the very least, find these changes so damn hard? What is the key to managing change effectively?

Personal change requires choice

The human experience is fraught with inconsistencies and double standards. We are taught to honour traditions, but also that we should grow up to change the world. We depend on the wisdom of history, yet we do so little to understand and avoid its pitfalls, doomed to repeat the mistakes that came before us. We are told to blend in and take the path of least resistance, all while being expected to be an individual. Think freely … but not too freely! It’s a mess of misinformation and contradictions and at the core of all of it is the ever critical crux of all things: change.

With all these misguided messages, it’s easy to become fearful of change and the unknown, easy to allow our confidence to be trampled, easy to feel like a victim of the change around us. The key to remaining afloat in a sea of change is as simple as two potentially life-changing steps:

  1. Assess your agency
  2. Take action

What is agency?

One’s sense of agency is an important factor in personal development. Personal agency can include our beliefs, perceptions, feelings, thoughts, preferences, choices, values, attitudes, behaviours and what we do with our bodies. In some instances, changes that affect our agency are foisted upon us by government bodies, religious institutions and other hegemonic forces (think Roe v Wade being overturned). When this happens, it can be very hard to feel in control or in possession of that agency.

Managing through change with agency and action

The key to agency is that it is your own. We all have it, but we don’t always know what to do with it. If you’re feeling like a victim of the change around you, stop and ask yourself some questions (assess your agency):

  • What exactly is changing, and how does that feel?
  • What is the scope of the change? (this may be unknown, but assess what you can)
  • Is this something I need to respond to immediately, or can I sit with this discomfort for awhile?
  • Why am I upset/frustrated/scared/etc. by this? Is this an initial reaction or how I really feel?
  • What can I do right now to feel more secure?
  • What information do I need to gather to fully understand this?
  • When I feel less overwhelmed, what actions can I take work with the change I’m experiencing?

Maslow was onto something …

Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs’ is a psychological theory about motivation which states that five categories of human needs dictate an individual’s behaviour. Those needs are physiological needs, safety needs, love and belonging needs, esteem needs, and self-actualisation needs.The degree to which these needs are met can, theoretically directly influence the readiness, ability, and adaptability to manage change.

Taking action when agency is compromised

Human beings love the feeling of control. “But Violet! I’m not a controlling person!” You don’t have to be ‘controlling’ to want to feel in control. When our sense of agency is compromised, we feel out of control because that agency defines who we are and how we respond to situations. The tighter a stranglehold someone/something else has on our agency, the more uncomfortable and desperate we become. And when we feel desperate or threatened or panicked, our judgement is clouded. We are more likely to say things or make decisions that we may later regret when that sense of agency is restored or better understood.

When that ‘victim of change’ sensation strikes, don’t panic, simply take a deep breath and look at the situation with your own agency in mind. You may find that you have much more control than you think, and even if you don’t, you can take actions to acquire that control and manage the change, unscathed. Remember: you can’t control how others operate, only how you respond. Once you assess the agency you have to work with, take the actions that will best benefit you:

  • Get more information. Think critically and inform yourself from trusted resources
  • Find an ally, or become an ally
  • Give yourself grace and patience – change is hard and can be very complex
  • Small actions can lead to big changes, don’t underestimate your own power

Proactive change

Navigating change under pressure or duress can be incredibly hard. It requires persistence and nerves of steel and even the most experienced people can struggle. But what about changes that we decide to make, of our own volition? Creating change under our own power and for our own betterment is top tier self actualisation. It can generally be thought of as the full realisation of one’s creative, intellectual, and social potential via internal motivations (versus external rewards like money, status, or power). So if you feel like a New Year’s resolution is too much this year, perhaps there are other needs and motivators in your life that are lacking. Addressing those gaps may help you take more confident strides forward in to what and who you really want to be.

Not being in a position to dedicate energy towards proactive change can be frustrating. We are socially conditioned to believe we are lazy, useless, or underdeveloped if we are not rigorously pursuing change and self improvement. Don’t let that pressure get to you! We are all individuals with different situations, upbringings, understandings and beliefs, all of which can impact our ability, or interest, in effecting change in our lives. It’s okay to not want to change, that’s a personal prerogative, but examining and being curious about change may yield you better results. Yes, you can dig in your heels and cross your arms and harrumph and grumble and resist changing. You could also take stock of the areas in your life you’d like to see improvement in, assess your agency to do so, and make a plan, or take a step. It’s like the old adage: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

You don’t have to wait to change

If you want to make changes in your life you needn’t wait for New Years or a birthday, or any other convenient day on the calendar. You can make changes, however small, however incremental, today. Give yourself permission to explore change and growth. You don’t even have to commit to doing it, just think about it. Start with an idea and let yourself dream and envision that change, then take the leap and try.

Change isn’t simple, nor is it linear, but it is personal. Your decisions, your agency, and your actions will yield your outcome, even if the impetus for the change was not on you. Whether you respond to change around you, or you blaze your own trail forward, you have what it takes to manage change, both big and small. Take change as an opportunity, don’t be swallowed by its inevitability, because if one thing is true, it’s that everything, and everyone, changes.

How do you feel about change? What are your tips and tricks for approaching and managing it? Your comments and anecdotes are most welcome in the comments below.

This post is part of January Jumpstart 2023, a community writing project designed to help you get a jumpstart on a new year of writing. Want to join in or get more info? It is also a part of Revelations, hosted by Molly Moore. Learn more about Revelations here.

Violet Fawkes

Violet Fawkes (she/her) is a freelance writer and sex blogger focusing on pleasure education, erotic fiction, and the intersection of identity, kink and mental health.