“I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.” – Jimmy Dean
Hugh Prather, the late minister and author, said: “Just when I think I have learned the way to live, life changes.”
Isn’t that the truth?
Most of us struggle with change, at least on some level. Think about the last time things changed at work. Perhaps a well-respected member of the team leaves or an outsider is brought in. People are moved around, or maybe policies have been altered, scrapped, rewritten. These things disrupt our sense of stasis, or normalcy.
Some changes are healthy. Change can be good after all. It can foster growth, stimulate innovation and bring stagnant teams or people out of complacency.
But sometimes change is abused. Owners or managers change things without logic, or at least without giving enough transparency for the reason behind the change. There is no buy in. There is only uncertainty, which can lead to frustration and low morale.
There may be some evidence that we are hardwired to reject change. Author and coach Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D, said:
“Most of our daily activities, including many of our work habits, are controlled by a part of the brain called the basal ganglia. These habitual, repetitive tasks take much less mental energy to perform because they have become “hardwired” and we no longer have to give them much conscious thought. “The way we’ve always done it” is mentally comfortable. It not only feels right – it feels good.”
When we experience change, it stimulates our prefrontal cortex, the place in our brain where insight and impulse control are found. The prefrontal cortex is connected to the amygdala, where our “fight or flight” response is regulated, and when we are overwhelmed with unfamiliar concepts or sudden uncertainty the amygdala goes into action. This is often why we are ushered into a state of stress, depression, fear and even anger. Sometimes logic isn’t enough to get us through this physiological response right away.
So how should we respond to change in the workplace?
Focus on your values
Do you understand why you do what you do? Do you know for certain what you believe? Who you want to be? Where you want to go in life?
What are you passionate about?
Your set of core values are the beliefs you hold deep within your being. These core values will guide your decision-making, the things your focus on, the things you pursue or reject, and will (often subconsciously) be the light of reason during times of uncertainty. Those who haven’t taken the time to explore what they truly believe, or who do not understand their “why”, will struggle the most dealing with change because they don’t have anything to which they can retreat or escape their circumstances.
You have to know who you are and what you believe with a measure of confidence in order to not be swayed by life changes. These values become our anchor in a sea of change in the workplace.
Returning to and focusing on our values (our “why”) will take our mind off of the situation at hand and provide a path back to what is familiar. It engages our basal ganglia and helps in regaining some sense of emotional balance. It will not change the situation, and you will still have to navigate the outcome of whatever circumstances you are facing, but you will no longer be consumed by fear of the unknown.
Focus on what you can control
This goes hand in hand with intentionally returning to your core values. If there is anything that is certain in life, it’s that things will change. When they do, we will want to strive to gain control over the situation. But trying to gain control over things we have no ability to control will only deepen our frustration.
Assess the situation. Look at the facts. Don’t focus on how you feel at the moment. You’re not dismissing your emotions, but rather separating them from the tangible things that you may or may not have control over. Are there choices you need to make? What can you control in the situation? What daily tasks still need to happen?
Let the rest of it go. Stop striving to control the things you have no control over. Focus your energy instead on what you can take ownership of.
Nothing destroys morale worse than someone who sabotages a situation with negativity. It spreads like cancer. Don’t be that person. It will destroy the people around you and it will destroy yourself.
Positivity isn’t some kind of pop science. And I’m not talking about being fake. Choosing to remain positive means that you are willing to assess the situation and find the opportunity in it. Opportunity for yourself and opportunity for the others around you.
Back to your values. How does this circumstance allow you to go deeper in your faith? How will this allow you to evolve as a person, an employee, a leader? How can you lift others up around you?
Change can often be the hidden agent of character development. Accept that change is guaranteed to happen.
No matter how negative the situation, remember that the situation does not control your response. There is always a way to find positivity and to remain optimistic. You know who you are. You know what you believe; about yourself, about your place in the world, about God and faith. Don’t let your circumstance shake these things.
Accept that you don’t have to stay
Remember that you don’t always have to remain in the middle of the situation. Sometimes change is unhealthy. And sometimes you don’t have to stick around. Don’t get stuck in a moment that will undermine your future or your health.
Assess the situation. Consider your “why”. Pray about it fiercely. Talk to others and seek good counsel. But at the end of the day, if the situation you are facing limits your ability to grow, find success and peace of mind, maybe this is your time to move on.
“The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.” – William Arthur Ward