Hindsight would be such a formidable superpower, wouldn’t it? Well, sometimes when we look back at events that happened invariably if we are looking back at them then they have probably shaped our views and approaches since that particular event. Rarely do we take the time to revisit what went well and examine how we might replicate it for future success. Instead, we often adopt the post-mortem approach and consider why did certain things happen the way they did and ask ourselves the much-asked question ‘If I had my time again, what would I do differently?

I was introduced to the concept of a pre-mortem a few years ago whereby we look ahead and discuss why a particular event was not successful (even though it hadn’t been unsuccessful yet). It allows us to be self-critical and identify what the potential hurdles to success might be before they become a hurdle. Furthermore, once identified, plans can be put in place to mitigate resulting in there being no need to have a post-mortem. I liken this to one of my favourite activities of learning from other people’s mistakes.

When horizon scanning and we identify an event or an activity that we know is imminent and one that we already know is going cause unrest, anxiety or concern either in our personal lives or at work with our colleagues. Approaching it with an open mind, and borrowing a phrase I heard recently from a friend, to plan your panic is a positive way to prepare for such challenges. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross talked of the seven stages or states a person may experience when faced with a significant challenge. Her change curve was designed to help individuals to identify the different stages of grief they might experience when dealing with death and dying when going through a grieving process.

This model was introduced to me a few years after I had transitioned out of elite sport and struggled to understand why I found it so difficult to come to terms with it. It wasn’t a death nor am I attempting to compare it to dying. However, the powerful thing for me was that I realised that this model could be used for most scenarios where a significant challenge and change will be experienced. I was able to immediately recognise the 7 stages I went through and I’ve since used it to help others plan for their own panic.

My aim is not to remove the curve but instead to raise awareness to help make the curve shallower. What I have since learned from the years of working with individuals and high-performing teams on change management is that having this understanding also actually helps us identify when others may be experiencing one of the difficult stages and how we can help them through it.

Once I was comfortable sharing my own lived experiences, I was then able to use that as an example for others to learn from my mistakes and what I had experienced. This was when I went through one of the most difficult periods of my working life and I was struggling to come to terms with many things.

The first stage, Shock, was clear and obvious to me and it came when I was told my rugby career was now over and the surgeon couldn’t fix my damaged knee. I thought I was going under the knife like I had many times before and that I would be back playing again in 4-6 weeks but No, not this time apparently!

I believe I have been fortunate enough to have access to the best knee surgeon in the business. However, even after a fair few knee operations, I decided his diagnosis was no longer accurate and he was wrong on this occasion. I wanted a second and then considered a third opinion. On reflection that would have been the Denial phase, I was languishing in.

Representing my country was always one of my major goals and playing for England five times remains one of my greatest sporting achievements. However, now knowing my career was over and that international cap number six was never coming, really hurt. This was a period of extreme Frustration where my thoughts raced to things that I had not achieved yet and were now out of my grasp. I am proud to have earned five caps but I would have loved to have earned six. However, if I had played six times, guess what I would be saying right now?

Depression was a big scary word and not something I really knew much about back then. In sport when things don’t go your way we often refer back to it as simply ‘a tough time’ and something I felt I could train through. This wasn’t one of those times, so I stayed in this phase unknowingly for a long period. Not knowing what or why I was feeling that way or understanding how to potentially move out of it.

Once I felt I was slowly coming to terms with the dream being over, I understood I needed to reinvent myself. I started trying lots of different things and throwing lots of mud to see what stuck. I was fortunate that I had a strong network and I wasn’t short of opportunities to explore. On reflection, this was definitely my Experiment phase.

A real skill with having lots of options is knowing which ones to not pursue and which to prioritise. My mindset, born from being engulfed in an elite sporting environment was that whatever I put my mind to, I could be good, if not great at it (not in an arrogant way!). However, when faced with 10 spinning plates and not wanting to let any drop meant that I eventually dropped nearly all of them as it was too difficult to say no to all of the opportunities. I needed to make a Decision if I was to proceed.

A recognition that this model doesn’t have a finish line and that Integration is a temporary position is an important understanding. Choosing my desired path was easier when I accepted that I was on the correct journey. Here’s a tip that can help you learn from other people’s mistakes, once you get comfortable then there is likely to be a shock around the corner taking you back to the start of the curve again!

I am fully aware that my experiences are unique to me and are likely to be unrelatable, but I am confident that all of us can relate to some of the stages through our own different lenses.

Let’s use a scenario that we all can relate to and put the Change Curve to the test. Do you remember when you first heard of this new virus called Corona? I suspect there we feelings of shock when, if like me, you researched what a pandemic actually was. I remember thinking that it was both terrible and scary but that it was happening somewhere else, and it wasn’t going to impact me/us here in England, right…Could that be denial?

Being introduced to lockdown created many emotions and not being able to visit loved ones in theirs or our own time of need was a real frustration. This coupled with not knowing if this would ever go away, whether would we be wearing masks every day for the rest of our lives, might we only be able to leave the house for an hour once per day, wishing we had invested in toilet paper and flour!

The closing down of thousands of businesses and redundancies caused a great depression for so many, with many still stuck at the bottom of the valley of despair today. Loved ones lost without a chance to say goodbye is something many can relate to. A second lockdown didn’t help our mental health and whilst homeschooling for some offered a new way of learning, for the majority, it would impact them and their parents (and the education sector) forever.

Before Covid 19, had you heard of Teams or Zoom? I remember thinking a Skype call and FaceTime were quite cool but then being thrust into experimenting with new ways to communicate and work from home. Home baking, be that sourdough or banana bread, we all experimented with new things.

Those more agile made early decisions to adopt the new way of working and living coming up with a hybrid version. Not always getting it right to this day, but making a decision and learning how to deal with change certainly helped so many of us through that period of uncertainty.

Accepting that the world has changed and how we as people live and now need to interact and operate within it is when we entered the integration phase. This has been referred to as the new normal. But wait…what do we learned about the integration phase? It’s not a destination and instead it is fluid. Just when we start to get comfortable, something is coming around the corner as change is constant. Learning to be comfortable being uncomfortable I believe is also a superpower, but how do we learn that.

As we approach the start of a new year, there will no doubt be some uncertainty in many areas of our lives. Try horizon scanning and identify a potential challenge you know is likely to happen and map your feelings and emotions using the change curve against the particular challenge. Try to set out some actions that may help positively impact the potential change or challenge that may be ahead of you, in other words, get on the front foot and Plan Your Panic!

Feel free to let me know how you get on or can relate to change curve and if I can help in anyway please do reach out.