Yesterday, I had a mechanic check my car. When he’d finished he gave me a list of all the problems that he found – engine mountings, bearings, shocks, and by the time he got to bushes my heart rate was doing double time and my mind was screaming holy cow, this car’s ready for the scrap heap, and how am I going to replace it, and what if I have an accident! At which point the mechanic explained that each of these repairs were in fact minor, not life threatening, and not particularly expensive. Phew! Heart rate back to normal.
Now why would I, well versed in stress and its management instinctively slip into stress mode, albeit briefly, when the mechanic delivered the diagnosis I’d asked him to? Because it was an area outside my expertise.
Being catapulted suddenly into unfamiliar territory and terminology, instinctively made me assume the worst.
My brain was doing what it was designed to do – resisting change and the unfamiliar, in order to protect me from dramatic upheavals, and shield me from potential pain, and discomfort. The irony wasn’t lost on me. Had I been a mechanic instead of a stress management coach, my reaction would have been quite different!
While we don’t have to deal with marauding dinosaurs on a daily basis anymore, our modern environment is demanding from us an ever increasing ability to embrace change, in many areas of our lives. The ripple effects of the current global economy is the most obvious challenge—both for organizations and individuals.
And most of us are poorly prepared for dealing with these changes.
Sure, we know a great deal about what’s going on in the external world, but we know very little about what’s going on in our internal world.
What’s that got to do with it and why does it matter?
Well, we tend to think that change induced stress is solely caused by external events, situations and people; things that happen to us. But it’s not. Stress is caused by an interaction between a potentially stressful situation and our perceived ability to cope with it. It is our own internal beliefs, attitudes, interpretations, perceptions and reactions, in combination with the external events that dictate whether we suffer the negative impact of stress—or not.
There is a growing recognition that in these times of rapid and often dramatic change, having a high level of personal resilience is the most valuable insurance policy against stress.
And resilience and emotional intelligence go hand in hand, as Daniel Goleman explains:
Personal competence: (how we manage ourselves)
• Self-awareness – knowing yourself and your own resources, instincts and actions
• Self-regulation – managing your own state, impulses and reactions
• Motivation – emotions and drivers that help towards achieving goals
Social competence: (how we handle relationships and interactions with others)
• Empathy – awareness of others’ feelings, needs and concerns
• Social skills – ability to interact with others and get the desirable response
So resilience is basically our ability to bounce back psychologically and emotionally, (and even thrive) in the face of pressures – or what we have traditionally viewed as threats to our basic human need for safety and security. This is quite a trick.
The boundaries of our traditional safety zones are shifting, so we have to increase our risk immunity.
Most of us on a conscious level can understand the need for this. So you psyche yourself up with a suitably positive sales pitch. BUT at the same time your subconscious mind is doing what it’s programmed to do – backpedaling as fast as it can screaming holy crap—do you have any idea what the implications of this are?
So it’s necessary to build your brain’s risk immunity to encompass the necessary changes.
And in order to do this let’s take a look at five elements of change that commonly cause resistance:
• Fear of the unknown, particularly when it’s a sudden surprise. This type of resistance occurs mainly when change (especially what is instinctively perceived as negative change, because it’s unfamiliar) is imposed on people without giving them adequate warning; without helping them to understand the implications of these changes.
• Mistrust. If people have built up respect for and trust in the bearer of the news, they will be more likely to accept these changes. But if this isn’t the case, mistrust will surely manifest itself in resistance.
• Loss of control. Resistance often occurs, for obvious reasons when companies announce proposed restructuring or downsizing for instance. The entire life of an employee and those of his dependents hang in the balance.
• Bad timing. Implementing too many changes too rapidly is a common cause of resistance. When the ground beneath your feet keeps moving, it is very disorienting. So, changes need to be implemented at the right time, with tact, diplomacy and empathy. Yes, necessary decisions have to be made, but keep in mind that the ripple effect on people’s lives could be profound.
• An individual’s predisposition toward change. People have vastly different change tolerance levels. Some people thrive on it. Others are terrified of it—and are therefore more likely to resist.
If you have a Fixed Mindset (low risk tolerance) you lack the resilience and self trust that allows you to be comfortable with change.
If you have a Growth Mindset (high risk tolerance) you are better equipped to handle change productively.
So how do you turn a fixed mindset into a growth mindset?
Learn to surf the waves of change!
1. Develop self awareness. This grants you the ability to keep your balance when the ground shifts beneath your feet.
2. Develop Emotional Intelligence. This enables you when faced with a crisis or a challenge, to step back, detach from your emotions, and evaluate the options objectively.
3. Adjust expectations. This allows you to accept and expect the changes and challenges that are increasingly becoming an integral part of life. Now you’re prepared for them and can take appropriate action.
4. Replace fear with curiosity. This enables you to see the opportunities in adversity—so you are not afraid to take calculated risks.
5. Stay mentally, emotionally and physically fit. Then you can cope with the tough stuff and bounce back more easily.
Just like surfing (or any other skill requiring balance) this takes practice. The more your self-knowledge and self-trust grows, the greater your ability to handle change productively. And if you need help, go here.