Perhaps the “Psychology of Change” is a label that hides too much variation in types to reveal any common patterns. Let me explain.
First of all, what “works” or what “predicts” change in such diverse situations as:
- One imposed from without by force (as prison inmates, say;)
- Acquired as a child through acceptance of the cultural norms (as is normal);
- Enlightenment in an elderly adult through contact with a child (as in Silas Marner, Finding Forrester or Ana).
May well have nothing to do with one another. In addition, the speed of change, and even the acceleration of change, and, yes, possibly even the jerk might have an impact on what happens. Again, consider a few examples.
You are the major breadwinner (by being a bread maker) in your family of four. You are moderately “well off” financially but your business has been going steadily down for the last five years. You could relocate but you all love the private school your kids go to. Finally, your youngest is a senior, so next year, you will relocate to a part of your nation that is growing.
This is no doubt a fairly large change. But, it is also moderately slow. And, not only is it slow; there is only moderate if any acceleration. You will naturally see more details that need to be attended to as the date creeps closer. And, there will be some surprises. But for the most part, the speed and predictability of the change is within your capacity. If you didn’t perceive it to be so, you wouldn’t have decided on the move.
Now, let’s change things just a bit. Same family of four. Same worsening of conditions. Only now, before your youngest even starts her senior year, COVID 19 strikes. Your business is no longer slowly shrinking. It plummets to the ground. Some people were predicting this might happen months ago, but you chose to listen to the people who said it would all go away. But now is now. You are experiencing much faster and less predictable change. Not only that; the potential magnitude of the change is much greater. Before, you realized it would take time to build your business back up in a new location. But now? You might not even have the wherewithal to survive the next six months, let alone move. And when? And to where? You had a spot all picked out in one of the more trendy and affluent suburbs in Silicon Valley. But now? It’s a hotbed of COVID!
Are the same things that are important in situation one above the same things that are important in situation two?
Now, let’s add just a little more to the scenario, but without the COVID19.
As before, you are the major breadwinner (by being a bread maker) in your family of four. You are moderately “well off” financially but your business has been going steadily down for the last five years. You could relocate but you all love the private school your kids go to. Finally, your youngest is a senior, so next year, you will relocate to a part of your nation that is growing. You are on your way to your bakery and the sky grows dark. You worry that it will be pouring down rain just as you make the 50 yard dash to the front door of your bakery.
You need not have worried because the Class Five tornado delivered the front door to a spot only two feet from your normal parking spot. That front door was the largest remaining piece of what had been your grocery store. Your house was also destroyed. And, so was the private school. Luckily, your youngest was unharmed. Not so luckily, your other child and your spouse were killed in the storm along with 73 others in the area.
We all have the intuition that this person will make the most profound changes, but in what way? Of course, nearly anyone would be in complete shock for a time and not know what to do. But then what? It seems equally likely that the person would:
A. Decide that life is absurd and it’s out to destroy you and the only way to protect yourself is drink like a fish. And, the child’s better off somewhere else.
B. Decide that life is absurd and it’s out to destroy you and the only way to protect yourself is to never love again. And, the child’s better off somewhere else.
Of course, A and B are not mutually exclusive. They often go together.
C. You decide that life may end at any time and that the most important thing in life is to enjoy every moment. And, that means, among other things, spending a lot of time with your remaining family & friends.
D. You decide that service to others is the most important thing in life and you and your child both eventually become involved in a UN project to show people how to bake more nutritious bread.
There are endless possibilities of course. And, they are not fixed outcomes. The person may decide that life may end at any time and that the most important thing in life is to enjoy every moment — and to spend time with friends and then — three years later —- take path A or D instead.
As someone trained in “Experimental Psychology,” my disciplinary reflex is to try to identify parameters and try to relate conditions of change to results in terms of outcome as a function of those parameters.
Perhaps, however, a better approach is more like the Periodic Table. Rather than an “infinite variety”, it might be true that most cases fall into one of several dozen categories. Each category is basically a theme or premise for a story which we relate to precisely because they are common “types” of change.
Examples might include:
“Situation slowly deteriorates and protagonist makes adjustment.”
“A natural disaster destroys much (or all) of what the protagonist loves and they must create a whole new life.”
“Situation slowly deteriorates, and in turn, the protagonist engages in ever more self-destructive behavior, making the situation worse and eventually resulting in disaster.”
“Situation slowly deteriorates, and in turn, the protagonist engages in ever more self-destructive behavior, making the situation worse and eventually resulting in — enlightenment followed by a complete turn-around.”
And so on.
The Invisibility Cloak of Habit
How the Nightingale Learned to Sing