November 24, 2015
There is one constant in all aspects of life whether it be in business or in personal lives -- change. Change isn't something you can simply avoid. It's inevitable. No one is immune to change. It has to happen. It is because of change that we -- humans -- are even here. If we hadn't adapted -- or changed -- to our environment, then we likely would have succumbed to the predators that were intent on driving our extinction.
It feels like change is happening quickly today than it ever has. We experience a faster pace of life due to the technological advances in the last decade or two. Interesting that it seems less scary to say "technological advances" rather than "technological changes." We should be accustomed to change. We have all dealt with so much of it in our lives, yet for most of us change is scary. Change can be downright terrifying.
Why is change so scary? It's the fear of the unknown.
"The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is the fear of the unknown." -- H.P. Lovecraft
It doesn't matter whether we perceive the change to be positive or negative; it will always create uncertainty. We get comfortable in the way things are done. Our confidence comes from the familiarity of knowledge we have acquired over time. Any modification to our familiarity wobbles our confidence to create apprehension and anxiety. Change is difficult because our brains expect things to stay the same way. We are creatures of habit and change makes us uncomfortable. We thrive through routine and predictability. It gives us control. Everything we learn gets programmed into our minds, and the more we do something, the less our brain has to think about it -- we just do it. That's why changing something we have been doing a certain way for a long time is tough; the earlier we learned something, the harder it is to change. The process or thought pattern is deeply ingrained. The phrase "can't teach an old dog new tricks" has some truth to it.
Change also brings loss more often than not. When something changes we may have to give something else up -- a way of thinking, a place, a person. Our minds hate loss. When we become emotionally invested in something it becomes a lot harder to change because we despise the idea that we have wasted our time and effort. We simply can't let go as our minds convince us that everything was for nothing. The rational thought is that we learned something from the experience, but the irrational part of our brain leaps up and says "but we have invested so much in this… It can't be for nothing."
While change happens in every aspect of our lives, it happens with ferocity in the workplace. People who perform at the highest levels seem more adaptable and comfortable with change, but how do they do it? Here are some universal approaches for dealing with change:
- Acknowledge the change. You simply can't make the change unless you first acknowledge it. Burying your head in the sand won't help. Ignoring change will only prolong the sense of trepidation you are experiencing.
- Label your fears. Much like acknowledging the change, you have to acknowledge the emotions you are feeling. Naming or labeling our emotions is the first step to moving past them. We are emotional at our core and emotions prevent us from being rational. Naming the emotions we are feeling helps us start to become objective about how we're feeling. Write the fears down to avoid dwelling on them.
- Stay positive. Fear can spiral when we let negativity run wild. We start to fixate on all the things that could go wrong. We exaggerate every possible negative until they feel insurmountable. Our fears come from how we choose to view the change. We need to keep our mind fixated on the positive possibilities. Consider the past and ask yourself to remember times you've successfully navigated change. What were the positives that came from that? What worked well for you in the past when dealing with change?
- Take care of your health. Change requires a great amount of energy. We are being dragged -- often kicking and screaming - out of our comfort zone, and that requires more of our mental and physical energy. Taking the time to exercise and eat well helps us to better manage the stress, gain perspective and keep our energy reserves topped up.
- Get involved. When our fear takes hold of us, it's easier to retreat than it is to attack. We remove ourselves from the change that is happening. We hide on the sidelines. Accepting the change is one thing, watching while others figure it out doesn't help manage our apprehension. Instead, get close to the change. The closer you get, the more you'll understand the rationale and processes. Understanding helps squash the unknown.
Change will happen. It should happen. It needs to happen in order for organizations (and individuals) to grow. We can choose to fight it, but that won't do any good. It will only make us unhappier - even if we can't see that at the time. Successful people aren't immune to the emotions surrounding change; they have the same fears we all do. The difference is they have learned to manage change for themselves. They don't fight change. They evolve with it.
"The secret of change is to focus all your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new." - Socrates