How to deal with big life changes, from a former NASA psychologist

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  • New working rules and coronavirus lockdowns have affected everybody’s routines, and many have found it difficult.
  • Former NASA psychologist and organizational development lead Laura Gallaher said that for most people struggling with radical change, the issues stem from the impacts of the change, rather than the change itself.
  • In an interview with Business Insider, Gallaher revealed the eight steps everyone should follow to deal with big shifts in life, including writing a “future journal” and taking control of your feelings.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

From those who lost their jobs, to those who had to self-isolate from family and friends, to those going through family tragedy, the coronavirus pandemic has affected everybody’s lives. Disruptions to daily routines and worries about health, loved ones, and careers have increased both anxiety and stress.

Laura Gallaher, an organizational psychologist, started her career in 2003 after NASA’s space shuttle Columbia exploded on reentry, killing everybody aboard. The NASA Kennedy Space Center hired her as an organizational development consultant, and after just three years she was asked to lead the team. She had to improve the culture and train leaders and teams on how to better achieve their goals.

But her experience doesn’t end there. Gallaher left NASA in 2014 and founded Gallaher Edge, her management consulting firm based in Orlando, Florida. The firm advises and trains C-suite teams to help them deal with change, and her clients include the tech firm UniKey Technologies and the crowdsourcing company Topcoder.

Gallaher said most people don’t usually struggle with change — we struggle with the effects of that change on our life. When change is on the horizon, we tend to focus on what we are giving up, not what we’re gaining.

In an interview with Business Insider, she talked through her top eight tips on how to deal with big changes in life. Here they are, in her own words.

1. Change always brings gains and losses.

A loss is going to be twice as painful as a gain would be pleasurable. But you’re in control of your perceptions, so choose to focus your mind on the gains.

2. Don’t suppress your emotional response to change.

Allow it to flow through its natural process, so that you feel clearer about the thoughts underlying the feelings.

3. Humans react poorly to loss because it is painful — but we can also determine the value of the loss.

Much of the pain is artificial attachment, so dedicate some time to minimizing what the losses feel like.

4. Some of the loss and resistance to change come from defensiveness, which runs deep.

Ask yourself how this change might be affecting how positively you see yourself, to identify the defensive triggers.

5. Get a notepad and write a “future journal.”

Future journaling will bring into greater focus what the future could look like and how you will get there. Sometimes, we focus more on what we’ve lost because it’s clear, whereas the gains might be fuzzier.

6. Remind yourself of other times when you’ve been through change.

This will help you reflect on what you learned and how you coped.

7. Remember that one fear overrides others: That we cannot cope with what will happen next.

Focus on your ability to cope with the world around you, to feel more empowered and in control.

8. Never forget that you can always choose how you react to your world.

You don’t have to stay married to your first reaction either — create the meaning that helps you best cope with what you are experiencing.

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