“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, but the most adaptable.”
~Leon Megginson summarizing Charles Darwin’s book On the Origin of Species.
Your boss, whom you adore, leaves the company and is replaced by someone you don’t know.
Your wife tells you she’s leaving.
You lose your job.
Big changes that shake up our world are a regular, recurring part of life. So why is it so damn hard to respond quickly and move through the change?
Why do we get stuck, worrying and wondering about what the change means and what we should do? Why do we have to pass through denial, anger, bargaining, and depression, before we arrive at acceptance?
There are two problems:
The first is that our brains are wired for fear and worry. We give risk 10x the weight when making decisions than we give to rewards. From an evolutionary perspective it makes sense. The cavemen who took stupid risks didn’t survive long enough to pass on their genes. Over countless generations, humans have been rewarded for worrying.
One of the first things that young children talk about with other toddlers are monsters and other scary things. Our brains are obsessed with identifying and avoiding danger.
This means that when something changes and there is now an unknown future ahead of us, we focus on what can go wrong and how to avoid the danger.
The solution to this problem and the way to overcome fear is to improve your courage. What’s that you say? You didn’t know that was possible? Sure it is. Courage is a muscle. The more you practice it, by doing shit that scares you, the stronger it gets.
(Check out this video on overcoming fear: What’s Your Alcatraz?)
The second problem is that we were never taught an effective method for adapting to change. We just saw how our parents, our friends, and others around us reacted to change. We’ve come to model their reactive behavior.
The solution to this second problem is as follows. Learn strategies you can use to be awesome at adapting to change, and not lame like most folks. Here are some best practices you can use to flick change off your shoulder like the mosquito it is rather than letting it paralyze you.
1. Clearly define the change.
Often, when change happens, we are so surprised and caught off guard that we make a bigger deal out of it than it really is (remember our brains are designed to do this). Sometimes, we won’t even be clear about what exactly changed and or why. For example, if the boss that you love just quit his job to work for a rival company, that doesn’t mean that your job is in danger or that your employer is going down hill. All it means is that your boss made the decision to leave. If you care to understand why he left, call him and find out. But don’t worry and wonder about what it means for you. Get clarity on what changed and why.
2. How does this change affect you and your goals?
Once you understand what changed and why, it’s important to understand how it affects you. Usually when something big changes around us, we assume that it has major consequences for us, when more often than not, it doesn’t. So, ask yourself, how does this change affect my goals? For example, I ruptured the disks in my lower back responding to a car accident a few years ago. At the time, I was lifting heavy weights, running, and wrestling to stay in shape. My back injury (the change) forced me to examine my fitness goals and to find another way to stay strong and in shape. I have been doing yoga for over a year now, and I have been able to stay strong and flexible.
3. Where is the opportunity?
It may sound cliche, but there is opportunity in every change. A client of mine works at a company that was recently acquired by a rival company. While most of his colleagues were worrying about what the merger meant to their careers, my client had identified two opportunities that happened as a result of the merger and took action. Don’t let change paralyze you, look for the opportunity.
4. What can you control?
Most of the stress of experiencing change comes from us worrying about all the shit we can’t control. When I’m coaching clients through change, we very quickly hone in on what they can control. Then we create next steps there. Regardless of what change is happening in your life, if you can focus on being healthy, you are going to weather the change better than your peers. So, when a client has a big change, we make sure they have a plan around nutrition, sleep, and exercise, as well as some activities that fill them back up emotionally.
Change is going to happen…again and again and again…for the rest of your life. You might as well get good at dealing with it.
Something big in your life is going to change soon, or maybe it already has. The quicker you can get clear on how the change affects you, and what you can control, the quicker you will move through it, take advantage of the opportunity, and adapt your life for the better.
What kinds of change paralyze you the most? How do you handle those big changes in your life?
“There is nothing permanent except change.” Heraclitus of Ephesus