In many ways, change is good. However, few of us are good with change. Habits might make us more productive, but they can also make us resistant to new ideas and ways of doing things. To remain competitive, you’ve got to become comfortable with change, says Matthew Randall, executive director of the Leadership Development Center at York College of Pennsylvania.
“Highly adaptable leaders are constantly scanning their organizational system of processes and relationships, making fine-tune adjustments as needed,” he says. “Great leaders realize that each pivot provides continued clarity to conduct its business, and is not necessarily an end unto itself.”
Related: 9 Methods For Embracing Uncertainty
To become comfortable with change, you’ll need to explore your resistance to it, and then take steps to move forward anyway.
Understand Your Behaviors
Change is challenging because it includes an element of fear, and that undermines our memory, deceases performance, and disengages us from the present, says Julita Haber, clinical assistant professor of organizational behavior for Fordham University in New York.
“There are times that we look forward to change, such as getting a new job that we wanted,” she says. “But there are times when we anticipate change in a negative way, which triggers a feeling of uncertainty, of not knowing how the change will affect us. The anticipation of potentially negative outcomes is registered as a tension in our brain, causing extra neural effort, kicking off survival mode. Our brains embrace inner fears of failure or abandonment.”
Even when you anticipate that the outcome of change will be positive, there is still a tendency to experience anxiety when you’re asked to replace familiar practices with new ones, adds Amy Wallis, professor of organizational behavior at Wake Forest University School of Business in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
“This can be due to discomfort with the unknown, in that we don’t have a guarantee that the outcome we expect will materialize, or even due to the process of adopting new behaviors, which requires energy and focus,” she says. “Nonetheless, in today’s business environment, those who learn to embrace change tend to be rewarded.”
Start addressing your resistance by asking yourself what it is about the change that feels uncomfortable or threatening, and what feels positive, suggests Wallis.
“Focusing on the positive elements of change can help to offset your anxiety,” she says. “For example, a job reassignment might trigger feelings of loss, but could also provide a new learning opportunity or a way to connect with a new network of coworkers,” she says.
Understand Why Change Is Important
Examining the reason for the change itself is also important, says Wallis. “We often think of change as a deviation from our steady state to a new state that feels unnecessary,” she says. “However, change usually occurs because the steady state is no longer an option.”
For example, a company might decide to merge with a larger organization, leaving some employees feeling as if it is no longer looking out for the employees’ best interests. “More information might reveal that without the merger, the company would likely have gone out of business within a year,” says Wallis. “Rather than thinking of a change as a shift from a steady state, we might instead think of it as a fork in the road, where standing still is not a viable option.”
Leverage Conscious And Unconscious Techniques
Embrace the positive perspective of the outcome on both the conscious and subconscious levels, says Haber. On the conscious level, maintain a positive attitude and confront the change by communicating with others. Embrace your strengths to face your fears, and take steps to become a part of the change.
“On the subconscious level, we can program our minds through a visualization technique to envision how we will look after the change,” says Haber. Verbalize out loud your desired outcomes, and start to behave as if the anticipated change has occurred.
“If you are getting a new boss, envision how you want to be treated by the new manager with as many details as possible,” she says. “Talk to yourself about the image that you want him to think of you. And, start incorporating this new persona in your daily mannerism to emit positive energy and attract positive outcomes.”
A combination of conscious and unconscious programming can minimize the adverse affects of our survival instincts, says Haber.
Practice Small Changes
At a basic level, we can help ourselves to be more comfortable with change through practice, says Wallis. “Consciously shaking up one’s routine periodically, studying a new topic, taking on a work project that is outside of our comfort zone, or simply visiting a new grocery store or restaurant can help us to build confidence in our ability to work our way through change effectively,” she says.
Rewarding yourself for change-oriented behaviors can support the change process. “Through positive reinforcement and encouragement, we can encourage ourselves and others to become advocates for change, creating a virtuous cycle that enhances the likelihood of success,” says Wallis.
Change Invariably Attracts Change
“Change has a vibrational effect,” he writes in his book, Two Minutes From the Abyss: 11 Pillars of Life Management. “With every change you make, you evolve into a new person. The degree of change intensifies as you go through the process of changing. Other people pick up on the energy you exude. Positive energy attracts positive changes and positive people. Just as negative energy does the opposite.”
Change will bring you into the circle of others who are experiencing the same thing. “That is the beauty of change,” he writes. “Those around you who are not willing to change will fall away, and you will find yourself surrounded by those who motivate you to change.”