We are changing, we have to change, and we can no more help it than leaves can help going yellow and coming loose in autumn.
“I hate all this change. Why can’t things just stay the same?” Dirk shouted angrily at the TV news anchor. He threw a pillow at the TV screen and clicked it off with a snort.
Suddenly a hissing noise arose from the corner of the room, and green, shimmering mist filled the air. Dirk stood in shock as a one-foot tall, wrinkled old man emerged from the glowing cloud. The tiny, grizzled fellow had a long flowing white beard and was dressed from head to toe in green. His eyes twinkled with mischief as he flashed a gap-toothed grin. “Hi, I'm Mike. I can take you to a place where people don’t have to deal with change and things stay the same all the time.”
Before Dirk could say a word, the little elf drew a handful of sparking green dust from his vest pocket. With an impish smirk and a big wink, he threw the powder at Dirk. With the hissing sound filling his ears, Dirk was engulfed in the green, twinkling fog. Still unable to see through the emerald haze, he heard Mike say, “Here we are. Here’s a place where things stay the same and people don’t have to deal with change.” The elf blew away the mist. They were standing on the lush green grass of a well-trimmed graveyard. Neat, polished gravestones stretched far out to the horizon.
“Life is change,” the aged elf said with a chuckle as he leapt to the top of a gravestone. “It’s one of nature’s mighty laws. Eons ago, I had this conversation with my old buddy, Heraclitus, and told him that change is the only thing permanent. Of course, he took credit for saying that,” the elf playfully grimaced. “It’s a timeless principle. People who aren’t changing and growing aren’t living. Growth is one of nature’s vital signs. It shows you’re alive. Once you stop changing and growing, you’d better check your pulse.”
Jim Klemmer wrote the above story for his book, Growing the Distance: Timeless Principles for Personal, Career, and Family Success.
Life is change. People who aren’t changing and growing aren’t living.
The following three quotes illustrate some necessary truths about change:
There are two kinds of people - those who are changing and those who are setting themselves up to be victims of change.
- Jim Klemmer
The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.
- Alvin Toffler
If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.
- General Eric Shinseki
We live in a world in search of constant improvement and ongoing transition. I have always enjoyed the wisdom of Henry Ford, who wrote, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Add the wisdom and words of Will Rogers: “Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.”
Whether changes are good or bad, positive or negative, make us happy or unhappy, depends on your individual thinking. It’s really up to us. No one is promised a life free from pain or disappointment. Nor are we promised a life of safety or total control. We may not choose what life throws at us but we do choose how we respond. Life gives us the power to create our own reality.
Change is a way of life today. Perhaps you have been part of an organizational change, like a reorganization, merger or downsizing, or you are facing a personal transition, such as retirement, a return to work, a change of career, or a change of lifestyle. The changes can be unexpected, sudden and unsettling; or they can be welcomed and planned. Moreover, change today happens quickly. No longer are there short periods of change, followed by long plateaus of stability. Most of our lives today are a continual, never-ending series of changes, so we must learn to live and adapt to a world of constantly changing demands.
Snoopy sat sadly at the entrance to his dog house. He lamented, “Yesterday I was a dog. Today, I’m a dog. Tomorrow I’ll probably still be a dog. Sigh. There’s so little hope for advancement.” Perhaps you feel like Snoopy: hopeless with very little expectation of any advancement or success in your life. And if, like Snoopy, we continue lamenting our demise without doing something different, the future will be a repeat of the present. It’s not always changes you didn’t ask for that we encounter. Are there personal changes you need to make to have a fulfilling life? Remember the words of Robin Sharma, “Don’t live the same year 75 times and call it a life.”
Our personal beliefs are important to our success in managing change. What we focus on has the tendency to direct our thoughts and actions. If we have limiting beliefs or pessimistic thoughts, we may feel helpless and even hopeless. Examples of limiting beliefs could be: I can’t do this, I can’t change, or I don’t think I can learn this. There are few things we can’t do. What if we were to replace the can’t with won’t or don’t; that gives us a whole different perspective. The opposite of limiting beliefs involves being more positive in our thoughts. Examples might be: I can change, I am capable of learning new ways, and change is normal.
Life gives us the power to create our own reality.
Daniel Gilbert writes, “Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they are finished. The person you are right now is as transient, as fleeting, and as temporary as all the people you’ve ever been. The one constant in life is change.”
Donald Michael adds, “During confusing times, when we feel a threat to our competence, there are two directions we can take. The comfortable way is to hang onto the belief that we know what we believe and what lies ahead in our future. The other, which is much more difficult, is to open up, explore the world and ourselves, to take chances as learners.”
Since we live in a changing universe, why do so many people oppose change?
Rick Godwin writes, “One reason people resist change is because they focus on what they have to give up, instead of what they might have to gain.”
I went to my bank at a local mall last week to make a deposit. When I arrived, there was a notice that the bank was under renovations for a 5 day change/turnover, from being a traditional bank to a newer banking centre. There would be more instant tellers but no longer would personal banking tellers or cash transactions be available. I met an elderly customer of the bank, just standing there with a look of being lost, what’s often referred to as ‘as a deer in the headlights.’ He commented, “First it was super mailboxes, now banking centres. I have been banking here for over 40 years. Life is not fair. I don’t deserve this.” Wouldn’t it be nice if something made sense for a change. I recently saw a T-shirt, “You don’t always get what you deserve, you get what you get.” It kind of reminded me of a Jack Benny quote, “I don’t deserve this award, but I have arthritis and I don’t deserve that either.”
I have to admit that in the past I’ve often been one of those people who initially would deny and resist a number of changes that in retrospect actually turned out to be positive in my life. After all, I was in my comfort zone and operating quite nicely on auto-pilot. Why put myself in a position where I might feel powerless as if my life was out of control and I might feel awkward, embarrassed or afraid I would look foolish. I would question why there was no age exemption from these changes. Was there no reward for customer loyalty? I’ve lived a life of strong character and personal integrity. Is there no exemption for being a good person?
What I had to come to grips with was that these changes were never a personal attack. They were not personal at all. This was progress, not a lot of it that I was willing to go along with. It would be interesting, if I could get out of my skin, and go back in time to observe myself as I resisted those changes.
What is it about us human beings that makes us so willing to stay in an unhealthy situation just because it is familiar to us? Why would we rather remain in a dead-end job, continue in a destructive relationship or stay stuck in a lifestyle we dislike simply because we are in a comfort zone of familiarity? Familiarity is one of the main reasons people have difficulty adapting to change. Remember, the brain is designed to learn something, then to make it automatic to conserve energy. Then we are often on auto pilot and entrenched in our comfort zone. What’s happening right now to most of us is not because we’re bad or incompetent. It’s because the world is transforming at breakneck speed and each of us must adapt to those changes as quickly as possible. No one’s exempt. Age doesn’t get you off the hook. Not does it matter how hard you’ve worked until now. It’s irrelevant what your personal expectations of life have been.
The brain is designed to learn something, then to make it automatic to conserve energy.
Our lives are changing at a faster rate than at any other time in human history. We are all trying to understand and respond to the changes occurring in both our work lives and our personal lives. Most of us try to deal with these changes in a positive manner, but sometimes we feel overwhelmed and confused.
Have you ever wondered who ‘they’ are? Apparently, ‘they’ say that there are three things in life are certain: death, taxes, and change.
When you were born, here are two certain things you discovered:
To get from A to B, you had to take that first step. And that’s how life continues to work. If you’re going to make a change in your life, you have to stop all that indecision and teetering and take that first step.
Readers of Bits & Pieces were asked to respond to this intriguing question, “What do you know for sure?” Here’s a couple of the responses sent in:
Vacation days move at twice the speed of work days.
If two people are in a kitchen, they will head for the same spot.
Chocolate cake tastes better after everyone else has gone to bed.
You never know when you are making a memory.
I’m not sure how absolutely certain those things are but they certainly are interesting.
Nora Ephron writes, “What I love about cooking is that after a hard day, there is something comforting about the fact that if you melt butter and add flour, and then hot stock, IT WILL GET THICK! It’s a sure thing in a world where nothing is sure."
Take a couple of minutes and ask yourself the same question, “What do you know for sure?”
We all live with varying degrees of uncertainty whether we like it or not. It’s those unpleasant surprises that we find hard to deal with: a lay-off when we can least afford a loss in income, or an illness when we’re too busy to be sick. None of these things are ever planned and they can range from mildly annoying to totally debilitating. So, maybe it’s better if we don’t bank on absolutes quite so much and more willingly accept that uncertainty is a way of life that can’t be altered by being more upset about it. Always remember this Chinese proverb: “To be uncertain is to be uncomfortable, but to be certain is ridiculous.”
My favorite book on this subject is, AdaptAbility: How to Survive Change You Didn’t Ask For by M.J. Ryan. With her permission, I will be referring to this book a few times in this blog.
She writes, “There is really only one sure thing in life: things will change. How and when none of us know. But that everything will is absolutely guaranteed. The Buddha call this awareness the First Noble Truth - the fact that everything in life is impermanent. Fighting against that truth only causes us suffering, because it’s fighting against reality.” Organizational consultant Peter Vail calls this “Permanent White Water,” referring to times of ongoing uncertainty and turbulence.
Learning how to change requires mental toughness and a willingness to try new things. We all need to develop and refine our ability to adapt, evolve and grow.
To be uncertain is to be uncomfortable, but to be certain is ridiculous.
I came across this story in my research. There is a region in Puerto Rico where people with limited means live in houses made of wood. Periodically, a hurricane invades, creating waves that destroy the houses. As the waters recede, the dismantled wooden houses are carried out to sea. The people wait for the stormy waters to subside and for the wood to float back to shore. The people then begin rebuilding their community. Homes are redesigned in different styles and configurations using the same wood. These Puerto Rican people display the enviable ability to use their talents and creativity to capitalize on a natural catastrophe.
Ryan continues, “We may be more resilient than we think. We are all survivors of our own lives. You’ve dealt with changes you never anticipated or wanted and despite your best efforts there are no guarantees you won’t have to keep on doing it. We are all stronger than we give ourselves credit for. Change always gives us opportunities to grow, even if it’s hard to see while we are going through it. That’s why it’s important after the fact to take a step back and see how we’ve developed as a result of what we’ve gone through. That way our newfound resources are more available to us in the future.” It’s kind of like establishing a personal best practices inventory.
Naomi Judd writes, “I can personally tell you that it takes courage to make life-altering changes. Some people would rather stay in a bad or negative situation because they haven’t evolved enough to find the courage to change. They choose to remain in an unhealthy way - even though it makes them miserable - because it is familiar.
She continues, “Maturity involves getting up the courage to make change. As John Wayne put it, 'Courage is being afraid but saddling up anyway.' Being scared is what comes before courage. If you’re scared right now, take comfort in the assurance that it’s truly all part of the growing process.”
This is a Change Model I have been teaching for well over 30 years. The first phase to a significant or unexpected change is often denial or shock: a general refusal to accept the change. In the second phase, resistance, things often seem to get worse. It is common here to spend time complaining. You may even doubt your ability to survive the change. In phase three, individuals emerge from their negativity, and shift into a more positive mindset. People begin to Explore and realize, they are going to make it through OK. The timing is different for each person, The last phase, Commitment is where people discover new ways of doing things, and adapt to the new situation. When people have successfully committed themselves to a new way of doing things, there is a combination of personal growth and adaptation.
M.J. Ryan adds, “Resisting change wears down our bodies, taxes our minds, and deflates our spirits. We keep doing things that have always worked before with diminishing results. We expend precious energy looking around for someone to blame-ourselves, another person, or the world. We worry obsessively. We get stuck in the past, lost in bitterness or anger. Or we fall into denial. We don’t want to leave the cozy comfort of the known and the familiar for the scary wilderness of that which we’ve never experienced. And so we rail against it and stay stuck."
Resistance is not something to avoid. It is something to recognize as a predictable marker for making change.
We are all stronger than we give ourselves credit for.
When situations are changing, the most important area you need to manage is yourself. You may have only limited control over a change in your organization, family, or life, but you always have some control over yourself. You control how you respond, what you do, and what you think and feel. Many times during a major transition you will find yourself holding on to an old set of expectations of feeling upset about saying good bye to the familiar. Let yourself feel the loss. Then let go and move on.
New ways should be viewed as neither right nor wrong, neither better or worse, than the previous ones. They are simply new and and need to be learned, practiced, and judged on their merits. Often you will not know enough about how a decision was made, or why something is done the way it is, or how it will feel when you are accustomed to it, to be able to evaluate the change fairly.
Two of the most common regrets in life are (1) too much time spent on worrying and (2) Not daring to take risks.
Ryan continues with an anecdote about the importance of ‘Worrying Well’: “There’s a cartoon I’ve had over my desk for years. It shows a woman up at a flipchart with a pointer. The chart has two columns, one huge and one tiny. She’s pointing to the big one, saying, “This is everything you’ve ever worried about. The smaller column represents everything you’ve ever worried about that actually happened. I keep it to remind myself of my tendency to catastrophize, to scare myself with all the possible what-ifs my mind loves to obsess over. Like Mark Twain, I’ve lived through some terrible things, some of which actually happened. Still I would prefer not to exist in a state of constant panic over changes that may or may not come my way.” Worrying does not take away tomorrow’s troubles. It takes away today’s peace.
My mom was a chronic worrier. My sister and I would always be amused when she would come into our living room, recite the following poem, and leave the room with no other comment. I always thought she had written this poem until I found in my research that Hughes Mearns penned it:
As I was walking up the stair
I met a man who wasn’t there.
He wasn’t there again today.
I wish, I wish he’d stay away.
Worry can be a very beneficial force if it leads us to take positive action. But what is the benefit of having constant worries controlling your life when they will never come to pass.
For over 30 years, Thomas Crum has been a teacher of Aikido, a graceful martial art which uses energy rather than force to solve conflicts. He reflects on change by using the image of “dancing on a shifting carpet.” He says, “Instead of seeing the rug being pulled out from under us, we can learn to dance on a shifting carpet.” He adds, “Being willing to change allows you to move from a point of view to a viewing point - a higher, more expansive place, from which you can see both sides.”
Aikido masters say that to be successful in life, three kinds of mastery are required: mastery with self, which means understanding our feelings and thoughts and how to regulate and direct them; mastery with others, which means being able to create shared understanding and shared action; and mastery with change, which means having the capacity to adapt easily without losing our center - our values, talents and sense of purpose.
Let’s look at one other reason people resist change: fear of the unknown, and fear of loss. Fear is the true challenge of change. Fear is the greatest inhibitor of the human spirit. It prevents us from taking risks. Fear triggers the fight, flight or freeze response. While it is normal to feel a certain amount of fear and apprehension when making changes, it would be wrong to allow this fear to immobilize us, causing us to remain in the status quo. Recognize that resistance to change comes from the fear of loss. Whenever the need to change troubles you, ask yourself what you’re afraid of losing. Is it control? Freedom? Comfort? Income? Identify the root of your resistance and take steps to overcome it. We will discuss this in more detail in next month’s blog.
During the course of your lifetime, you will be called upon to reinvent yourself.
Every new level of your life will demand a different version of you. When one chapter of our lives has come to a close, a new one is about to begin. The uncomfortable gap in between is the transition. It doesn’t usually feel good, but recognizing what’s going on can help alleviate a bit of the discomfort. Marilyn Ferguson adds, “It’s not so much than we’re afraid of change or so in love with the old ways, but it’s that place in between that we fear. It’s like being between trapezes. It’s Linus when his blanket is in the dryer. There’s nothing to hold onto.”
Ellen Goodman contributes, “There’s a trick to the graceful exit. It begins with the vision to recognize when a job, a life stage, or a relationship is over and to let it go. It means living what’s over without denying its validity or its past importance in our lives. It involves a sense of future, a belief that every exit line is an entry, that we are moving on, rather than out. It’s hard to recognize that life isn’t a holding action but a process. It’s hard to learn that we don’t leave the best parts of ourselves behind, back in the dugout or in the office. We own what we learned back there. The experiences and the growth are grafted into our lives. And when we exit, we can take ourselves along quite gracefully.”
There will be many chapters in your life; don’t get lost in the one you’re in now. If you don’t like the chapter you are in, write a new one. You are the author of your own life.
Worrying does not take away tomorrow’s troubles. It takes away today’s peace.
Expecting things to change without putting in any effort is like waiting for a ship at the airport.
The cycle of transition never ends. As long as you live, you continually experience a rhythm of change and face new challenges and crises.
Accept the discomfort caused by uncertainty as a natural by-product of change.
Sometimes the place you are used to is not the place you belong.
Expect some apathy or ambivalence as the initial motivation lessens, even in personal changes you have initiated.
Identify the drawbacks of not changing. What will result if you fail to make this change?
Identify the gain associated with changing. Don’t allow your fear to obscure any real advantages of moving from your present state to a new one.
A bend in the road is not the end of the road unless you fail to make the turn.
It’s okay if you don’t know everything. Allow yourself to be a beginner. No one starts off being excellent.
You will never always be motivated, so you must learn to be disciplined,
Life offers you so many doors. It’s up to you which ones to open and which ones to close.
The fact that you aren’t where you want to be should be enough motivation.
Ten years from now, make sure you can say that you chose your life, you didn’t settle for it. The time will pass anyway. You can spend it creating the life you want or spend it living the life you don’t want. The choice is yours.
If nothing ever changed, there’d be no butterflies.
Previous month: Habits are the Foundation of Success
Next month: Where there is change, there is loss; where there is loss, there is grief.
How have you changed lately? Over the last month? The last year?
Do something this month you’ve never done before, whether it’s trying a new restaurant or taking a different route to work.
Remember a time that you took a risk and succeeded in it! What did you learn you could apply in future endeavors?
What are some changes you anticipate experiencing in the near future?
Think about a change you are facing. List the things that are in your control. Think of some actions you could take.