In a recent blog, we wrote that our brains are hard-wired for routine – we develop neural pathways that help us execute tasks without using a lot of processing power. A change in routine requires our brains to break out of these well-worn ruts - to use processing power to unlearn, and learn anew.
That’s one reason change is hard. What makes it harder, in some cases, is how we respond when we realize that change is necessary. We may have one, or both, of these reactions:
- “This change means I will lose something I value”;
- “This change means I will not get something I really need.”
Fear-based reactions, such as these, shut us down to what’s possible. Fear can also induce some of our most primitive and powerful responses – fight, flight or freeze. Trouble is, these states preclude our executive functions (in the pre-frontal cortex, the seat of rational, analytical thinking), denying us the ability to put things into a more balanced perspective.
When circumstances change, we sometimes go rigid (the fear response) rather than adapt. The costs can be high in the workplace –
- We maintain the status quo in a changing business climate and lose market share
- We refuse to learn a new process, technology, or protocol, and then watch our skills (and perhaps our employability) ebb.
A November 2011 Harvard Business Review article said it well: “Instead of being really good at doing some particular thing, companies must be really good at learning how to do new things.”
The costs can be high in our personal lives as well. We spurn an adult child’s new spouse or partner, losing them both in the process.
If change creates unease for you (as it does for many), it can be useful to:
- Reframe the situation – look at it from other perspectives.
- Ask yourself, “What might I learn from this?”
- Replace negative self-talk (“this’ll never work; I’m doomed!”) with more realistic statements (“this may be tough, but I can learn to adapt”)
Thanks to its neuroplasticity, our brain can be our companion in adaptability. So, keep your grey matter in shape. Practice mindfulness to develop non-judgmental observation. Learn something new – take a course; read a book. Practice curiosity by adding these simple questions to your repertoire – “I wonder why…?” or, “I wonder if…?”
“The wise adapt themselves to circumstances, as water molds itself to the pitcher.”