by Kate Rowley, MBA
It’s against human nature to like change. Our brains are literally wired to reject it, to prefer the familiar. Cognitive science, neurology, and evolutionary psychology all support this. We are habitual creatures and change means the unfamiliar, the unmapped, the dangerous, which is reinforced by our personal experiences.
But there is great danger in remaining stagnant; history and economics have proven this time and time again. We know the world does not remain the same and the only constant is the impermanence of situations. Rather than rejecting change or ignoring it, we would stand to benefit from leaning into change. While I might have a natural inclination to enjoy change, I’ve made a conscious effort to embrace it both in my personal and professional life. It’s especially necessary when working internationally, where drastic changes are a daily occurrence. While it may take some brain training (easier said than done), learning to thrive on change can impact your personal and professional life in innumerable ways. With concrete behavior modification steps, like ones I’ve used, change can be altered from something to fear to something to celebrated.
When was the last time you tried something new? One of the biggest cited reasons of regret is inaction. The older we get, the more we choose the familiar because our tolerance for the unknown decreases and our fear of risk increases. While risk aversion has its benefits, wisdom applied from past experiences can and should be taken into account when making decisions. Impulsivity to choose the safe (i.e. known) route is tempting, but it could be argued this phenomenon is limiting opportunities and should be tempered. If we can learn to embrace expected changes and associate change with positive reinforcement, less fear will be associated with unexpected changes, allowing for better coping mechanisms and a greater sea of opportunities.
Openness to different experiences and ideas has motivational and inspirational effects. Engaging in new activities and challenging existing thought patterns can trigger creative advancements and promote both personal and emotional growth. Actively choosing to be open to new experiences can create room for change to cultivate. By embracing the unknown and the madness of the unfamiliar with a positive attitude, change becomes less of something to fear and more of something to experience.
Reframe Your Thoughts
One of the strongest ways to alter behavior is to reframe though patterns. Reframing is simply altering your perception of a situation. Part of thriving and not just surviving change is to seek change out. Practicing embracing change with expected or manageable changes can help prepare you for unexpected changes. One of the strongest ways to incorporate thriving on change into your life is to train your mind to automatically opt for change over the known or familiar. If you seek the positive and optimistic viewpoint in a novel or unexpected situations, it allows for openness to learning and adaptation, instead of resisting and ignoring change.
Another thought reframing process is challenging yourself to seek answers to “impossible” problems. Great thinkers and discoverers all disrupt the normal thought patterns to innovate and create solutions. A healthy amount of skepticism for existing thought patterns combined with curiosity produces great leaps. Train yourself to believe there are always multiple solutions to a problem or situation. Feelings of fear and helplessness associated with unexpected changes are reduced when a person realizes the power and control they possess over both their thoughts and actions. This realization means even in situations where you perceive a total and complete lack of control, the empowering reality is you possess control over yourself, and you can impact change.
Change is inevitable, natural, and necessary. Despite this, change still elicits feelings of discomfort, often because of lack of perceived control, the number of unknowns, and the fear of poor outcomes. Without confronting these emotions, processing the true value of options is impossible. Living through the discomfort of these feelings allows for growth.
Change can be messy and failure is a possibility, but those are the same outcomes that are possible by remaining stagnant. Realizing even with failure, lessons can be learned can spur openness, boldness, and creativity. Growth and learning come after adversity. They are the rewards for the willingness to be curious.
Fake it until you make it. Studies have shown posturing (mimicking or acting) a behavior you desire to possess creates a placebo effect. This self-fulfilling prophecy of mirroring desired behaviors not only portrays to others you possess the desired behavior, but also will eventually lead to actual possession of the behavior. This phenomenon can be employed when developing a love of change. Identify someone who thrives on change. This can be someone you know personally or professionally, or even a well known public figure whom you admire for their love of change. What behaviors do they display? What are their thought patterns? How do they cope? These behaviors and patterns can all be mimicked until they become second nature. Individuals who thrive on change generally adapt easily, display openness and willingness to try new things, rebounds better after failure, persists in the face of obstacles, and value creative thinking.
Pull From Other Experiences
If you feel change is difficult, try this reframing exercise. Every experience you have had in your life can contribute to future experiences. Your knowledge and experiences can be directly or indirectly applied to new changes. Nothing is completely foreign, even if it looks so on the surface. Your critical thinking, social skills, personal and professional life experiences all contribute to what you bring to a changing world. Look at a potential change from all viewpoints and assess what is similar, even if it is a stretch, rather than what is different. Leverage these similarities to propel yourself to a successful change.
One of the most powerful self discoveries is distinguishing what does and does not (or what should and should not) matter to you. Knowing what truly matters to you – like your health, your cherished relationships, your ethical boundaries – these are powerful aspects of life. If these can be balanced and/or maintained, the other unnerving or uncomfortable parts of life (like fear of change) can be considered background noise. This realization minimizes or takes the sting of fear from change away. When all else fails, just remember: experiences and relationships matter; ego and possessions don’t.
Putting your performance in perspective also helps. Recall a moment you felt you failed. At the time of the “failure”, it was probably much more painful and felt more monumental than it is in present day with the knowledge of how it impacted your life on a large scale. In fact, the so-called “failure” may now be considered an advantage that spurred you on or placed you on your current path. It is also important to remember there is always one person who should be on your side: you. Forgive yourself for your failures and allow yourself the space to fail knowing it will lead to growth. Thrive on the chance to have change.
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- A “placebo effect” refers to a phenomenon in which a pill or procedure gives the illusion of treatment, but actually provides no physiological effects. However, said pill or procedure creates an improved condition in the patient.
- A self-fulfilling prophecy refers to a phenomenon in which a prediction directly or indirectly causes the prophecy to become true. Psychological research has shown this phenomenon exists in both negative and positive predictions; a positive correlation exists between an individual’s beliefs and their behavior.
- Zeelenberg, M., Bos, K. V., Dijk, E. V., & Pieters, R. (2002). The inaction effect in the psychology of regret. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82(3), 314-327. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11902619
- Paulsen, D. J., Platt, M. L., Huettel, S. A., & Brannon, E. M. (2012). From Risk-Seeking to Risk-Averse: The Development of Economic Risk Preference from Childhood to Adulthood. Frontiers in Psychology Front. Psychology, 3, 313. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3436335/
- Chartrand, T. L., & Bargh, J. A. (1999). The chameleon effect: The perception-behavior link and social interaction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 76(6), 893-910.