“Your ability to learn or relate to others is not as important as your ability to adjust to change”Sarah Campbell
We are creatures of habit. We thrive on routine and predictability without being conscious of it. Well, not until someone moves the coffee jar or a guest takes your normal seat in the lounge. Then we notice a twinge of irritability and frustration as we mutter “who has moved the dam coffee” whilst opening and closing all the draws in the kitchen in a fluster. We just are not wired for adjusting to change.
In many ways, our routines free up storage and make us more efficient. By creating scripts for how things are going to happen we can switch onto automatic pilot and focus on other things. It also conserves energy. I mean imagine having to put the same amount of effort into driving as if it were your first time every time. We would be nervous wrecks and fairly restricted in how many new things we could learn or pay attention too in a day.
It is therefore evident that consistency, routine, and predictability are advantageous for our mental health and functioning. The issue is that we are living in a very dynamic and evolving world where change is almost the new norm. Psychologist’s and organisational leaders are therefore starting to think that ones ability to adapt to change is just as important, if not more important, that your IQ or emotional intelligence.
So how do we manage this, knowing that we are structurally wired for the familiar? How do we cope with the irritability and frustration that often accompanies change?
Well first of all we have to examine our underlying beliefs and assumptions. The truth is that most of us don’t have a clue why we do certain things in a particular way. It just seems “right” because once upon a time that is how we learnt to do it and it worked. As a consequence, we tend to judge any new or different way as “wrong”… and wallah… up pops anger. Remember, anger is a sign that something is wrong, unfair or unjust. The emotion is then designed to give us the courage we need to try and fix or correct things.
The problem is that in a space of anger we often loose the ability to listen and learn. Instead, our priority is to try and restore the status quo. This can look quite rigid and that puts a lot of pressure on our mental health and relationships. We can get consumed in blame and judgement as we struggle to tolerate the new process and the people who implemented it. In this context our ability to think logically and problem-solve can become compromised as we get increasingly stressed, upset and frustrated. We then loose the ability to sit back and reflect on why we are so attached to our way and whether changing is as much of an issue as we have made it out to be.
So if we all need to learn to be more adaptable and flexible, where do we start? What are some basic things we can focus on to reduce our stress levels, tolerate difference, and evolve?
Learning to step back and reflect on why you might be feeling peeved at your boss or partner when they changed the plans can be really quite revealing. It gives you the opportunity to consider where your anger and anxiety is coming from. In doing this, you might learn that you just really struggle with change more than what you do the new policy. If this is the case, you can then have a conversation that starts with “I feel quite anxious about all these new procedures” as opposed to “The boss is a moron and doesn’t know what he is doing.” With this insight you can then work on your anxiety as the primary issue by:
- Reminding yourself that you are safe and can cope
- Developing your relaxation strategies
- Developing your problem-solving skills
- Setting clear boundaries and expectations for yourself and others
- Practising self-care
You might also learn that you do things in a particular way because you have tried numerous methods in the past and found a particular process to be most effective. If this is the case, then you might perceive that the “change” is necessary. You can then feel quite empowered to have a conversation and share your experiences with others. By you stepping into a coach or teacher role, you might contribute to growth and better outcomes. In doing this, it is important to remember that others will then have to adapt to change which can take time and support.
Asking yourself “why” you are so attached to things being a certain way can also help you to learn more about yourself and your values. It will likely give you insights into your family dynamics, cultural background and social surroundings. You might find yourself remembering being shown how to do things by your grandparents and being excited to learn something new. When you are doing this, it is also important to remind yourself that there are so many different ways to approach learning. You have one way but not the only way.
Be Curious rather than Judgemental
Try to understand things from different angles will help you adjust to change. As soon as we go into judging things as “right” vs “wrong” or “good” vs. “bad” then we loose motivation to see a different perspective. This makes us more anxious, as implying that something is bad or wrong increases our perception of danger. More often than not, we are not in harms way – things are just different.
See if you can re-frame “change as scary or annoying” to something more helpful like “learning keeps me alive”. It might be that in doing this you start to embrace different ways of doing things. If you choose this option, remember to be realistic. You will get annoyed and anxious. You will find things frustrating. That is completely okay. Go back to either self-reflection or your relaxation strategies. Then you can be most effective in communicating what is happening for you and problem-solving a way through.
Thank you for reading this blog. Feel free to check out some of our other articles.