Change is scary. Change is hard. It requires us to toss aside the familiar and jump headlong into the unknown. And change can be rife with failure as we experiment with new ideas until we hit the right mix to jump-start our engines. – John Maxwell
This quote is so spot on, change is difficult, scary, uncomfortable, disappointing, anxiety provoking, disrupting, displacing, and at the same time it can be exciting, adventuresome, full of possibility, refreshing, expansive, and revitalizing. Change is inevitable. By our very nature as a living organism, we are a system of ever-changing rhythms and responses. Life returns after the most major disasters. Following massive forest fires, almost immediately the landscape begins to repair itself from the devastation, and new seedlings can be observed. The fire is a natural part of the forest’s regeneration system, bringing fundamental change, along with a renewed perspective. The process of evolving, following the organic process of developing and becoming more “advanced,” seems to be not just attainable but an essential part of growing and becoming more adaptable. Even with fire comes the opportunity for new life. Natural systems are in a state of constant change and so are we. We all have the ability to change.
We all have the ability to change, but in order to make positive change, we have to be open, flexible and adaptable, which is often easier said than done. Even when change is positive, it is not uncommon for a person to feel an ending, or sadness associated with it. Change invokes feelings of loss; a yearning for the way it was and/or the way we were. We all can relate to these feelings, such as when the store or restaurant we loved is no longer there. We feel as if something is missing from our landscape, and there is a certain longing for the comfortable status quo of knowing. Other times we meet change with a fierce resistance out of not wanting to let go of familiarity or step out of our comfort zone.
As a leadership and development coach, I often hear from people who have become convinced that they cannot cope with change. I work with many clients, both personally and professionally, who come to me out of frustration because they can’t get started with any of their plans. They know what they want, they have many wonderful ideas for getting what they want for their future, but they struggle with moving towards their goals—with execution. Other times, my clients are overwhelmed by decisions, they are unsure which is the right path to take, and out of fear of choosing the wrong road, they become stuck.
It is totally natural to have these sorts of feelings when faced with forsaking the status quo and moving into the unknown. We can become complacent and may avoid doing anything at all because making a change can make us feel awkward, uncomfortable and ill-at-ease. We are wired to resist what is scary and stressful, and this natural response is intended to protect us and keep us safe. We want to avoid a sense of loss, are stuck asking, “what will I have to give up?” versus, “what will I gain?” We are afraid that we will fail, and out of that fear we avoid the pain of failing by not doing anything at all.
Other times we are often blinded by our fears of success because we don’t feel we deserve it, or the pressure to sustain the success becomes too much, and so we become a hostage of our self-doubt. Resistance to change is often about the unwillingness to let go, move on, and accept what cannot be changed. There are countless ways that fear of change holds us back. If we want to make important changes in our lives, we need to discover our reasons for resisting such change and learn strategies for working with and through them.
A forest can regenerate, and the human version is that our brain has neuroplasticity, the ability to adapt to a changing environment. With focus and practice, the brain can change, it can grow new cells, and existing neurologic pathways can be strengthened. World-renowned psychologist Carol Dweck, who has spent decades researching the area of achievement and success, says we must shift our mindset in trusting ourselves and our abilities. Her studies show that teaching people to adopt a “growth mind-set” encourages a focus on effort rather than on intelligence or talent, making us higher achievers in school and in life. In her book The New Psychology of Success, she writes, “The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives.” People often don’t think expansively about their goals, seeing it outside their purview, and that makes it hard to identify opportunities. Instead, they get stuck, unable to reach beyond the limiting beliefs and assumptions that are holding them back. What’s important is that you understand your resistance and embrace it.
When change comes knocking, look for the opportunities, chances for you to regenerate, and become revitalized. Learn to recognize when you are making assumptions that stop you in your tracks. Change does not have to be your Everest—but it becomes that when we burden such opportunities with expectations that they will bring an easy solution or immediate results. When that fails to happen, it is important to remember we bring every part of ourselves along on these new journeys, and that includes the clutter we haven’t cleared. So, when the change doesn’t yield the solution we had hoped, instead of being left disappointed, full of regret and wanting to give up, or longing for what once was, shift your mindset. Trying something new can provide new insight, and the beginner’s mind allows for easy discovery. Change provides opportunities that you may have never thought possible. It is from the process of change that you can gain your most valuable lessons. Embracing it makes it a whole lot easier.
Next week will be celebrating a major change in the history of our nation. At times, it must have been scary and difficult, but the desire for Independence kept our Founding Fathers focused on the goal. Wishing you a wonderful summer season and July Fourth Celebration.