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The Power of Change

I have been thinking a lot about change recently. Should I cut my hair? Get a dog? Sign up for a spin class? Buy a new car? Maybe. But, I am a person who likes to chart the course, to be prepared for anything, and to have a firm sense of control over my life. Naturally, this can make it difficult for me to trust change.

There are people who are naturally more responsive or adaptable to change than others, but overall as a species we are still “creatures of habit”. Our bodies and our brains are constantly trying to achieve a level of homeostasis that for hundreds of thousands of years has helped us to survive. One of the ways that we have accomplished this is through a kind of behavioral inertia – or the development and wiring of certain successful patterns of behavior. And so, just like Sir Isaac Newton’s laws of physics, we as humans will continue happily in our existing states unless we are changed or challenged by an external force. However, unlike other forms of matter we also have the power of conscious thought, which means that we too can initiate change!   

We experience change as a process. And it goes a little something like this:

When we are faced with unfamiliar territory, transitions, or ‘foreign elements’ it’s natural to experience some kind of resistance. Now, there are a lot of reasons why people resist change. For me, it’s because predictability helps me to feel safe and secure. In reality, this isn’t always the case: predictability is certainly not synonymous with security. Nevertheless, I find that I can get stuck in that place because of fear or uncertainty.

Unfortunately, what often happens is that we feel or meet resistance and then decide the change isn’t worth it. Or, we have such an aversion to chaos that we’d rather stick with ‘what works’ than risk anything else. But that means that we never make it to discovering those transforming ideas or moments that actually mark progress. This turning point helps us to actually integrate changes, develop norms, and adjust to “newness” so that we can achieve a “New Status Quo”.  

What I like most about this model is that the upward arrow at the “New Status Quo” shows that change should actually increase your performance or success beyond what you were capable of in the status quo. This means the changes that we initiate as individuals and organizations should be designed to generate upward motion and progress.

Change is a powerful force that propels us forward, without change there would be no evolution, innovation, or opportunity. In fact, there’s a quote that says, “Nothing is permanent but change”. Whoa. When we think about it that way, we are much more capable of adapting to change than we give ourselves credit for. So, what can we do to better help ourselves and our teams to embrace change?

  • Name the resistance – resistance presents itself in many forms, including confusion, silence, complaints, or even compliance. We need to name the resistance so that we can find the best supports and solutions.
  • Provide support – there should be ample supports and protections in place to help guide people through the process. Change requires transparency, clarity, and reassurance from leadership in order to fulfill others safety and security needs.  
  • Challenge your comfort zone – identify how you personally react and respond to change. What is easy about it? What is the most challenging for you?
  • Focus on opportunities instead of threats – all change comes with opportunities and threats. We tend to put the majority of our focus on possible threats, asking things like, ‘but what if?’. If we can focus on the opportunities that change creates then we can build a more positive connotation around change itself.
  • Trust the process – We can get so focused on the outcome that we completely forget about the process. If we look at the change process model, we can see that there are points where we will experience low morale, low productivity, or low engagement. But, if we can be patient and carry on, then we can come out on the other side better because of it.
  • Be prepared to make more changes – rarely do we find that one change is a ‘fix all’. We need to flex our adaptability muscles so that we are prepared to modify, vary, or completely scrap our changes if necessary. Change tends to foster more change, so be prepared to welcome it!

*Leadership Lesson*

Lead an activity like Secondhand Stories that encourages group members to adapt creatively to unexpected changes in a safe space. Debrief the activity and talk about how they felt and performed.

Sample Discussion Questions:

  • What was the objective of this activity?
  • How did it feel when you had to adapt to a new scenario?
    • How does this compare to how you react to changes in real life?
  • What can you do to use that feeling to approach change with a positive mindset?

*Meet the Author*

Caelan Cooney is another Millennial who wants ‘to make an impact’, a self-proclaimed movie critic, avid explorer, lifelong learner, and Chapman University graduate.