One thing I know is that when things go wrong in life, they SERIOUSLY go pear-shaped. You lose your job, the car breaks down, your children get sick, you have no savings, and your husband files for divorce. All at the same time! I always say life is about the ‘AND’ not the ‘OR’. But in this case, it would be a relief to push pause on the ‘AND’, and deal with changes one by one.

There are three key reasons why unexpected life changes disrupt our lives and bowl us over! If you have been listening to my podcasts, you will know I have a fascination and respect for how the brain works. If you can understand your conscious and sub-conscious decision-making during times of crises, you can bounce back far quicker to overcome and succeed.

Show notes

  • Life happens! And when it rains it pours!
  • There are three key reasons why unexpected life changes disrupt our lives:
    1. The brain is programmed to respond under threat
    2. Familiarity is our comfort zone
    3. We often have no idea what we have until we lose it
  • Our brain perceives major life changes as a threat to our basic need for protection, provision and status.  The reptilian part of our brain controls our automatic functions such as breathing.
  • The mammalian part of our brain is responsible for emotion.
  • Lastly, the upper brain controls logic, reasoning and the ability to override the lower two brains.
  • Under abrupt change, the Amygdala detects a threat and initiates the ‘Fight, Flight or Freeze’ response.
  • This diverts attention and energy from reason to survival.
  • Money allows us to feed, protect, clothe and provide for ourselves and our families.
  • An income is an integral part of our social standing and status.
  • Change stimulates fear and our subconscious searches for reasons to find our comfort zone.
  • We hold on to the known despite the potential opportunity to live better lives.
  • The purpose of option-thinking to quickly overcome abrupt change.
  • Solving our ‘limiting belief’ system with the ‘four whiskeys and a Heineken’ test and ‘if you knew’ question.
  • The steps of the change curve:
    1. Denial – characterised by a lack of reasoning ability and acknowledgement.
    2. Anger and blame – characterised by self-loathing and scorning.
    3. Bargaining – characterised negotiating to minimise the uncertainty.
    4. Acceptance – accompanied by rationality to plan, experiment and hope.
  • Change can be devastating if you are do not have the tools to unpack and plan forward.
  • The importance of short, sharp ‘I AM’ and ‘I CAN’ statements to be brave to be free!

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Lisa Linfield: 00:09 Hello everybody, and welcome to today’s episode of Working Women’s Wealth. One thing I know is that when life goes pear-shaped, it goes seriously pear-shaped. It never seems to happen in once. You always seem to be able to lose your job and the car breaks down and an unexpected medical expense happens, or your husband files for divorce and your most precious dog, your little baby becomes ill and you lose a big client. Now, I always say that it’s all about the end and not the all, but in this particular case of surviving life’s big changes that are thrust upon us, it would be so nice for the end to just press right on to be able to deal with the things one by one, but it seems it doesn’t happen that way. They say the hardest changes are death, divorce, and moving house, but I think there are many more than that.
Losing a job or getting retrenched, retiring from a corporate at a mandatory age, being kicked out of the company you founded, your kids wanting nothing to do with you. Combining blended families. I always say if you can understand the workings behind something, it’s often easier to then figure out how to beat it, how to succeed. There are three key reasons why these big changes smack us, apart from the obvious that often we were not expecting them. The first one is that the brain is programmed to respond under threat. For those of you that have been listening for a while, you’ll know that I have a fascination with the brain and how it’s designed, can either work for us or against us. When we go through any of these major changes, the brain perceives the change as threat. A threat to our basic needs of protection, provision and status.
Remember, we have three parts to our brain, the reptilian part that controls automatic functions such as breathing, survival, et cetera. The mammalian part, which controls the part of the brain that is responsible for emotions. Lastly the upper brain which controls logic, reasoning and ability to override the lower two brains. So the minute these changes are thrust upon us, a piece of our brain called the amygdala detects a threat and initiates the fight, flight or freeze response. You see, it’s been proven that the same area of the brain lights up when a physical threat such as a lion in the old days or a perceived threat such as losing your job, has the same impact. Under major threat, what happens is that the brain’s energy gets diverted almost as if it shuts down energy to the outer brain. The logic, reason and override functions.
If the threat is continued, it will shut down the emotional side so that all of the energy can go to just surviving. It’s why in the aftermath of any major trauma, getting out of bed and feeding yourself can be a major one for the day. With a little more energy, we want to fight to protect ourselves and our family. When it comes to any change to do with money. It’s important to realize that our income allows us to feed our children, put a roof over their head to protect them and us, and provide for their schooling and other needs. A job and income is an integral part to our status. In the evolutionary context, our status was our place in the tribe, our ability to get the best food, the best partner, the best life. So most major traumas always include an element of threatening our income supply and therefore, threatening what Maslow calls our basic human needs.
The next reason is again related to the basic brain’s functioning. Familiarity or comfort zone is our brain’s best place to be. It [inaudible 00:05:00] out the threats that knows our needs are taken care of, that we have protection and that we have provision, and we have a known status and position in the food chain. Change takes us out of our comfort zone, which stimulates two things. Fear, as fear’s big job is to protect us and take us back into our comfort zone. Secondly, our subconscious, which goes through our old filing system in our brain to find every possible reason why this is a bad idea, and cheer on the fear systems to take us back to that comfort zone. The problem with these two things is that while it was appropriate in our evolutionary history, our brains haven’t been able to evolve quickly enough in the last 100 years to keep up with the changes we’ve seen.
Our historic tribe was the only tribe out there that could keep us safe. Now a new one might be better than that. A new job might enable us to live a way better life than the old job. A new country may hold better opportunities than the one we have, but our brain keeps taking us back to the old days. Screening out all the reasons why we should not change and highlighting the good reasons for staying the same, because it perceives the threat of lions and fights desperately to keep you in a comfort zone. Someone else’s territory out there means that you have to fight for it, and you have to protect yourselves against the threat of that person. So don’t go there, stay safe. As the saying goes, a ship is safe in the harbor, but that’s not what ships were made for, and you and I were made for so much more than to just play it safe.
The last reason change makes us so hard is that we often have no idea what we have until we lose it. So stick with me here. Let’s take retirement as an example. Almost without exception, when I ask people what they plan to do in retirement, they say, “Nothing. I’m going to sit on the couch and chill out for a year. I’m going to have a few holidays, and then if I feel like doing something, I will.” My inevitable answer is to encourage them to create a vision of retirement, that includes doing some meaningful work right from the start. Not necessarily for money, but definitely for significance. They all look at me as I’m going nuts. They think that I just don’t understand how hard they’ve worked. That’s what people think that they need now. My experience of many people retiring is that the reality comes as a big shock to them. It’s like watching a train hurtling towards someone, and trying to convince them to do something to move out the way, but having them keep telling me I don’t understand.
They are inevitably surprised that they feel useless not contributing. That planning the week’s meals or activities somehow doesn’t provide the same level of meaning and stimulation that planning a project does. That they miss the sense of achievement. They miss the brain gym of debates. They miss the sense of belonging that the community of work gives them. They miss feeling that their opinion is valued and needed. They miss making decisions. The pressure that comes with that, and decisions that are bigger than just fish or chicken. The real challenge is that these are things that we take for granted over so many years. So we’re actually unable to factor them into our preparation, because we have no idea that we’ll miss them. When it comes to losing a spouse through death and divorce, the same thing happens. People miss having someone to watch Sunday night movies with. Someone to share the day with someone to help them think through a decision. Someone to share a pretty flower, or beautiful sunset.
When I tell young mothers or mothers to be that the first six weeks of their life will be the hardest they’ve ever been through, they all look at me with a massive sense of confusion. Why? Because they don’t realize how much they will miss autonomy. The ability to make their own decisions to rule their own lives, and not have every waking moment occupied by the demands of something that is so tiny, it can fit into your one hand. So understanding just some of the ways we are wired to resist change, even change we initiate and know is for the best, helps us to work out how to get through it the best. The first way to get through change is to create option thinking in your brain. The brain loves to problem solve. It was designed that way to solve the problems of no food, or a threat or predator.
So the key to using it to your favor is to work on finding what’s called your limiting belief. This is the thing your brain is using or believing to keep you in fear. I taught you a trick in episode 89, which was the four whiskey’s and a Heineken test, to keep asking yourself what and why and how for five rounds until you get to the root cause of your limiting belief, or that difference between the good reasons and the real reasons. Once you know what it is, then turn it into an if you knew question. So if you’ve been surprised by a divorce notice from your husband and your deepest limiting belief is I’ll never find someone to love me again, no one will marry me, I’ll be alone forever. Then the question that you need to create to stimulate option thinking would be, if you knew now that you will definitely find more happiness and deeper fulfillment on the other side of this divorce, how would you change your thoughts, actions, and feelings now?
After losing your job, it could be if you knew that down the road you will find a way to work with greater passion, purpose, and freedom, how would that change your thoughts, actions, and feelings now? The next step is to create short, sharp I am and I can statements that you can say to yourself throughout the day. It’s so hard if you’re fighting for your sanity in the first stage of shock or deep in the depth of despair, but that’s what I full-on visioning something can only happen later on when you’re in the middle stage of the change cycle. Sometimes at the worst moments, we can only cope with short, sharp statements. These would be, I am enough. I am worth it. I can get through this. I am going to find another job. I can be okay on my own. There will be a day when I don’t cry.
Hang onto each of those statements with everything you have. I know that when I go through deeply challenging times, those statements I can often say through clenched teeth. I say them repeatedly again and again and again, until I get through the change curve. That brings me to the last one. Understand the change curve. You see either you or the person who you know that’s going through change will go through each of the steps of the curve, but will also very likely get onto the other side. The first step is denial, especially if the change is being done to you, or like in the case of retirement that despite you knowing it was coming, you get hit by this unknown wave of changes that you didn’t expect. In denial, it’s characterized by blaming others, lashing out, trying to find someone else to blame for the reason this change feels so hard. Triggers the fight, flight, or freeze attitude in you.
This is when the brain is in fight mode, and has shut down the upper brain’s ability to rationalize. If you’re watching someone go through this stage of change, the best thing to do is listen. It’s so hard, especially if they are lashing out at you, but it is the best solution because they are almost completely closed to any other suggestion. Why? Because they’re trying to protect themselves and their brain from the attack the change brings to their provision, protection or status. Providing information that is useful to understanding is also good, but it needs to be information, not opinion, not judgment, and definitely not telling the person that they’re are mistaken to feel the way they do. What is the next thing that they need to know? If someone has just lost someone, how is it that the funeral arrangements need to be sorted? If you’ve just lost your job, how do you actually apply to get unemployed benefits?
This can also be the stick your head in the sand phase, when you just shut up what’s happening denying it exists, otherwise known as the brains freeze or flee stage. I’m seriously good ostrich. I can put my head in the sand like nobody else. It’s hard to listen. Trust me. In my financial planning business, people I’ve met try to blame me when I tell them that they haven’t saved enough money for retirement. I’ve only just met them and as they go through the transition of retirement, they will often lash out at me in various ways, because they see me in control of the money and that money situation feels under threat. It might not be they might have more than enough, but it feels under threat because the income is no longer coming in.
The second step in the change curve is anger or blaming themselves. After blaming others, the change curve forces you to blame yourself. I’m such a loser, I must have done something wrong. Why did I uproot my whole family to live somewhere else? People often waiver between the stages in the change curve, and specifically between stage one and two. They get angry at others and then they get angry at themselves. Whilst people are stuck in these two stages, the change will never be successful. You cannot get to the other side of the change whilst you’re still in this anger or denial stage, but then comes bargaining and uncertainty. It’s often when we say, if I just do this. In divorce, the one surprised part will say, “If you just let me back, I promise I’ll change.” In a retrenchment [inaudible 00:16:28] they’ll say, “If I can just keep my job, I’ll do double the hours.” If it’s retirement, people will say, “If I can just get another job then.”
The brain moves out of the reptilian fight or flight stage and moves more into the emotional bargaining phase. If you’re supporting someone in this stage, understand it’s very vulnerable and very confusing. Every now and then they will be glimmers of the next stage, acceptance, but people will flip in and flip out of each of the stages on either side. The anger stage positively and the blame stage negatively. The next stage is acceptance and this is when people start to accept the change, but is also often accompanied by a move back into that upper brain and the ability to rationalize, plan and even experiment with new ideas and new ways of being. More hope, more option thinking. Just remember that people will go up and down the curve.
A good thing to support someone here is to help them to do option thinking, and give clear direction if you can. The final step is moving on. Change is hard and takes a lot of what I think journaling and emotional work to get onto the other side. I think it’s worth doing the work and not just allowing yourself to be subject to the reptilian and mammalian brain. Understanding their brain allows us to know that when we shut down, we lose first the option to rationalize, then the emotional side. Finally, all we do is just breathe and get through the day. When it comes back, it comes back that we go through fight or flight. Then through bargaining and emotional, not necessarily manipulation but emotional bargaining and only then will we reclaim option thinking, and then intelligence side of our brain, our upper most thinking.
Most importantly, it takes for us to battle the worst critic ever. The critic inside your brain. Find ways to force him or her to shut up. Find people to help you see new options, and keep moving forward one hour at a time if you need to. Whilst there is change that is thrust upon us, there is also change that we choose. Seeing change thrust upon us as change we choose to go with not fight, can be the key to getting through it in the best way possible. Another short saying that we can have could be, I choose to get through this as best as I can. Saying that a million times a day can also make a huge difference to you.
One of the key elements of successful people is hope and optimism. It has been proven to have more correlation than IQ. Change is one of those times where hope and optimism can be key, and people who have a faith often do survive changes thrust upon you better than others, because there is hope and an optimism that somehow God or the universe will provide a better path.
If you want my free download on how to make change stick, please do go to That’s, and you can get that free download on how to make change stick. I’m Lisa Linfield, and this is Working Women’s Wealth. Take care. Have a great week.