Economic change, technological change, environmental change, political change. It seems that we are surrounded by ever-accelerating change. Darwin said that it is those who are most responsive to change that thrive. Not the most intelligent, not the strongest or wiliest, but the most adaptive.
When we adapt well to change, we find opportunity within each change and a sense of peace or even excitement. This is what we call resilience, or the ability to keep moving forward and make the most of any change, and not be paralyzed with fear, or lost sorting through the many possibilities for action.
For most of us, change feels threatening or dangerous. We sense impending doom, or concentrate on what we may lose. If the stock market plunges, the less resilient grieve the lost value of their portfolio and the dreams of what might have been. The resilient see the opportunity to buy in at a low price. Neither view is wholly right or wholly wrong, but the resilient view is more likely to lead to productive action, and neither changes the reality of the stock price, although the two views experience that reality very differently.
In our businesses, our response to changing circumstances largely determines our level of success. When your project begins to go poorly, you can bemoan the fact that you were not given sufficient resources or the right skills on your team, or you can dig in and look for ways to use this to improve the process and the outcome. Which manager do you think is more likely to reach their long-term goals?
If it is so obvious, why don’t we do this? For most of us, this is an unconscious process, and we may not really indulge in complaining or griping about our situation, and we do actually work towards taking action to make things better, but our internal experience may still be stressful and filled with fears about what might happen if we are not successful. When we are honest and open with ourselves, we can easily see how this level of uncertainty drives anxiety and stress, and how letting go of thoughts about potential negative outcomes would allow us to more fully focus on doing the right things right now.
How can you become more resilient right now? Try these three things:
- Acknowledge your anxiety/fear/worry or frustration. Running away or covering up these feelings does not help them dissipate for long, but only allows them to fester in your subconscious mind and drain away your productive energy. Face these feelings, acknowledge them, even allow yourself to really feel them for at least a few minutes. Indulge deeply and quickly. Then move on…
- Take a hard look at the reality of your fears and alternative positive possibilities. Our innate negativity bias over-emphasizes the potential negative impact of any change, and drives us quickly to conclude that disaster is just ahead. While disaster is sometimes possible, it is rarely the only possible outcome, and most often the disaster you are imagining is very unlikely. What does your experience tell you is likely? What possible positive outcomes could there be? How does it help you take positive action to focus on those positive outcomes? What is your motivation level when you imagine a positive impact from your actions rather than just disaster-avoidance?
- Choose a powerfully positive desired outcome to focus on and a risk-mitigation strategy if needed. If indeed you are at risk of a negative outcome, what strategies can you choose to warn you before the worst possible thing actually happens? With that in place, you can now focus on the positive outcome you want to create, and let go of thoughts of any potential negative outcomes. The anxiety and worry sap your creativity, your energy and your productivity. Without the fear driven by uncertainty holding you back, you can successfully achieve your powerful positive outcome.