Article: How to master change?

Change and uncertainty. The new constants of our time?
By Jan-Martin Berge, specialist in psychology at Aker Care

The past years have brought about many changes. For many individuals and businesses, the pandemic marked the beginning of a journey of change that is still ongoing. Uncertainty is evident on a global scale as we witness unrest and armed conflicts in the world. And on a national level, many have experienced major and minor changes in the form of job insecurity, energy crises and increased inflation, interest rates and costs.

Uncertainty makes planning challenging. Companies and leaders feel a great responsibility towards owners and employees. 1 in 3 companies in the retail sector are considering downsizing (Reference 4). High costs and declining demand have created an unpredictable market, and certain surveys show that 1 in 4 business owners, for example in the construction industry, fear layoffs and layoffs in the coming year. The conditions for operating profitably have been challenged as a result of the pandemic, war, and energy crisis.

Resistance to change
Loss aversion is a psychological and economic concept that refers to how outcomes are interpreted as gains and losses, with losses evoking stronger emotions in individuals, in comparison to equivalent gains. Kahneman and Tversky (1992) suggested that losses can be twice as psychologically powerful as gains. Therefore, change and loss are painful and something that humans initially do not desire. How does this apply to our time?

The Psychologist’s Office: Present Status
In the psychologist’s office, I see ordinary people trying to adapt to change. Most people manage change well, while others need help to handle change and uncertainty. What is common to all people is that we adapt to and survive most changes we encounter on our journey. Despite the fact that people can tolerate and cope with change and uncertainty, many may feel exhausted by an unpredictable everyday life that has persisted for many years. We have not seen an increase in mental disorders in Norway in recent years, but many experience stress-related symptoms such as sleep problems, restlessness, tendency to worry, negative thoughts, and shorter tempers. It is reasonable to assume that the sum of recent events has contributed to putting pressure on many people’s mental health.
It is important to remind ourselves that humans are highly adaptable, and we have managed change and uncertainty before, and we will do it again. But what characterizes individuals who handle change and adversity well, those we call resilient individuals?

What characterizes dandelion children?
Dandelion children is a popular term used in social work to describe children and young people who survive and even thrive despite almost impossible conditions such as substance abuse, violence, neglect, and sexual abuse (Reference 5). Dandelion children are resilient. Resilient individuals are flexible and adaptable. They are capable of adjusting to new environments, routines, and work methods quickly and efficiently. This enables them to navigate through uncertain situations. They are not afraid of change but rather see it as a natural part of life. They are willing to change course and adjust their approaches when the situation requires it, and they do not see adversity as an obstacle but rather as an opportunity to adapt.

We all have something to learn from dandelion children and resilient individuals. What do we need to be able to handle change and unrest? What do we need when we are in crisis? We need hope and tools!

5 tools that contribute to handling change in the best possible way

• Employer’s responsibility – Information
It is important for employers to provide sufficient information to employees. Leaders often underestimate how much information employees need regarding changes that affect their work life. The lack of information can lead employees to create their own theories and speculations about upcoming changes, and some may even become suspicious and conspiratorial. Good leaders understand the importance of reducing chaos and protecting employees from drifting into their own fantasy world. Even if there may not be particular new information to share, it can be reassuring for employees to be informed about this. This will help them feel safer despite the uncertainty in the future.

• Manage expectations
Resilient individuals have internalized that “shit happens”. They acknowledge that suffering is an inevitable part of life. This perspective on life can be learned. Individuals who have experienced pain have embraced this realization and do not have a naive expectation that life should be easy and pain-free. They understand and accept that difficult things happen.

• Focus
You can choose where to focus your attention. Resilient individuals ask themselves: What can I change? What can I accept? What can I influence and control? They are good at choosing where to direct their attention. This can be learned, but as humans, we are good at detecting dangers, so it can be challenging to choose where we focus our attention. We hold onto negative emotions, which has served us well evolutionary. Being focused on the negative ensured survival when we lived alongside dangerous animals on the savanna. Noticing a beautiful rainbow instead of a tiger could have had catastrophic consequences. In today’s society, we are rarely surrounded by tigers or dangerous animals, but some argue that we are bombarded with stimuli, which the brain perceives as threats and leads to stress. By choosing where we focus, we can influence how many threats we perceive and how much stress we experience. Adaptive individuals carefully choose their focus and show gratitude for positive things in life.

•  Behavior
Ask yourself: Does what I am doing now help me or harm me? Resilient individuals have had to ask themselves this question and then choose their actions based on the answer they give themselves. This strategy can be applied to various aspects of life. In therapy, we often work on learning and choosing: Does what I am doing now harm me? Or does it help me? This applies to many areas, such as alcohol consumption, whether to remain in a marriage, or whether to stay in a job. This strategy is powerful, and we all have the ability to influence what we can all control: our behavior.

• Belonging, social support, and role clarity
How good are you at seeking contact with other people when faced with something challenging and uncertain? When facing change, it can be valuable to seek contact with others, especially someone who has the prerequisites to understand you. There can be great value in seeking social contact and avoiding isolating and “disconnected” behavior. By role clarity, I mean that those who succeed in managing changes at work are good at breaking down the changes and impending tasks into smaller, clearer, and manageable parts. When you are dealing with changes and new demands, seek clarification from customers, leaders, and other colleagues: What is expected of me? The goal is for you to experience role clarity. Role clarity means that you know what tasks you are supposed to accomplish and what is expected of you to do a good job. To achieve this, it is important to define how tasks should be prioritized so that you know what is most important when time pressure arises (Reference 2).

Resilient individuals have a strong social network they can rely on during challenging times. They seek support when they need it and are also willing to offer support to others. They understand the importance of having a strong support system of friends, family, colleagues, and other resources that can support them through change and uncertainty. They are good at building and maintaining strong relationships that can support them. These qualities enable individuals to cope with change and uncertainty in an adaptive and effective manner and can contribute to personal growth and development even in challenging times.

The past years have brought about many changes. For many individuals and businesses, the pandemic marked the beginning of a journey of change that is still ongoing. Some people feel tired of change and struggle to maintain motivation to adapt to an ever-changing world. These reactions are completely understandable, but with this text I have tried to provide hope, but also hints that change is here to stay. You have managed change before, and you will manage changes in the future. Together, we can succeed.


  1. Kahneman, D. & Tversky, A. (1992). “Advances in prospect theory: Cumulative representation of uncertainty”. Journal of Risk and Uncertainty. 5 (4): 297–323. CiteSeerX doi:10.1007/BF00122574. S2CID 8456150.
  3. Secrets of resilient people: