How to thrive by adapting to change

It’s difficult to avoid change; it’s everywhere. But why would you want to? Change is nothing new. We have always had change and welcomed it. It signifies growth and possibility. It enables us to adapt and thrive. It’s just that in a surfeit of change it can feel all start to feel just a tad overwhelming, tiring and tedious. What matters is knowing which change is worth going for.

In our crazy busy world with all our modern technologies, access to data and need for speed, adapting fast and in the right way matters. While much change is seen as good, necessary and highly desirable, let’s face it some change can feel like it’s change for change’s sake, or an ego stroke, or a desperate attempt to appear up to date and relevant.

What are the obstacles to change?

There are three main culprits. You. Me. Us. The biggest obstacle to achieving a desired change is ourselves. Your brain loves novelty. Any change in our environment is picked up by your internal brain scanner and determined as being either something potentially rewarding such as food, or potential danger such as a truck bearing down on us about to squash us flat.

Because the brain operates from a safety first perspective, the default setting is set to foe, so any change sets off the alarm bells. Your levels of stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol) rise and your body prepares to fight, take flight or freeze.

Fear of change is what stops us in our tracks. Leading effective change is all about knowing how to break down the sticky walls of change resistance and changing our perspective.

Safety first – start with why

Self-initiated change isn’t the problem. It’s when change is foisted upon us we get into difficulty. Putting yourself in a “towards” state of change acceptance starts with understanding the purpose of the proposed change or why it matters. In his Ted Talk “Start with Why”, Simon Sinek explains how “why” is the driver to our thinking and decision-making. It’s because it connects us at a deeper level, to the emotional hook that gives us meaning.

Be curious

You may not be Curious George but your innate sense of curiosity helps you to question why we do things a certain way, which opens up the way to exploring other possibilities. If your workplace is stuck in the  “that’s the way we do things around here” mentality, get inquisitive. While tradition and protocol play a valuable role in conformity – too much can stymie improvements. Your 20-year-old grey woollen cardigan might still be very comfortable, but would a wardrobe update help freshen up your appearance? Being seen as being contemporary and relevant is essential to business growth (and survival).

Get innovative

New ideas are often lurking just below the surface. Tapping into the mental capital of your team by making innovation a safe place to be can lead to great new ideas being shared and discussed. When Atlassian introduced ‘ShipIt’ days, a 24-hour period for all employees to work on any project they liked, they unleashed a torrent of new ideas, some of which translated into significant new products for the company. Feeling excited, inspired and taking ownership of new ideas makes them far more acceptable and easy to implement.

Be inclusive

Not everyone will ‘get’ your brilliant new idea or want to buy into it. Being inclusive is about involving all stakeholders in the game of change. It’s especially important for those with doubts or fears to get heard. They may not like the proposed changes, but if given a voice they will be more accepting of them.

Change your perspective

Our reality is the one we create. No two brains are alike, which means no one else of the 7.3 billion other people on the planet share the share neural architecture as you. Being unique means there will always be more than one perspective. Acknowledging diversity of thought or beliefs and celebrating the differences opens up the conversation that takes in other points of view. Check in with your language. Your self-talk reveals what you really think. With around 89 cognitive biases to choose from, are we ever as open-minded as we like to think we are?

Carol Dweck from Stanford reveals we have either a fixed or a growth mindset. A fixed mindset sees intelligence as being innate, that failure is seen as a bad thing and best avoided. A growth mindset believes that effort and practice is what brings success and that we can always learn from our mistakes to do better next time. Developing change agility – embracing change more easily – is all about choosing an open mindset where failing to initiate change is far worse than trying out different ways of doing. As Edison, the inventor of the light bulb said: “I have not failed, I’ve just found ten thousand ways that didn’t work”.

Create a raving fan base

Change doesn’t happen in isolation and it’s hard for one person alone to bring it about. Talking about change means painting a picture that is BIG and BOLD and helps everyone to understand your vision of change. If others share your vision they will be the ones driving the wheel of momentum to make it happen. Barack Obama in his first U.S. presidential campaign did this very successfully by tapping into the vibe for change that people connected to. This created a tidal wave of support for his message of “Time for Change” and “Yes we can”.

Maintain the continuum 

As initiating change becomes more successful, and everyone enjoys the benefits, it’s important to check in, to review progress, celebrate wins and prepare for continuing change. Like the ocean, change is a continuous swirl of waves and tides. Adapting to change doesn’t have to be hard. Like learning to sail a boat, it can be fun and enormously rewarding – just stay safe, always wear your life jacket and carry a whistle to call for help if need be.

This article was first published by Women’s Agenda.


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