Change: The Common Fear

What aspect of our lives do we always try to stop?  What is it that we use all kinds of strategies and energy to prevent happening?

The answer is — CHANGE!  (Incidentally, it is not only individuals which are notorious for protecting themselves against challenge or change, it is also organizations.)

As we stride into this millenium, the consistent message from any number of sources is still that it is critical to be able to cope with change in our lives.  Change is all around us.

From Alvin Toffler’s original book “Future Shock” came the message that our world was going to be changing faster than we had ever known it before.  We are told for example, that computer applications (hardware and software) are out-dated even by the time that they come to market.  Telecommunications too are rapidly altering the way that we live and work.

Scientific knowledge and information is showing exponential growth.  It has been estimated for instance, that our total knowledge and information is now doubling every eighteen months.  And as for work, it has been estimated that our school leavers of today will have a minimum of six to ten job changes and this is all by the time they are about 38 years!  They could have three to four career path changes.  It is a world of change!

Change is occurring whether we like it or not.  It is, therefore, important to be prepared for change. 

Clinically speaking, the after-effects of individuals who have not been prepared for change
often include mood states like depression, anxiety or anger as well as physical symptoms such as sleep disturbance, eating disturbance, headaches,
inability to concentrate and a general decrease in self-esteem.

For organizations not prepared for change, they typically go bankrupt or go out of business.

So how do we react to change?

Usually we either:

(a) bury our head in the sand,

(b) fight it, or

(c) accept it.

Let’s look at the first two reactions.

Burying the head or fighting are generally due to the individual feeling threatened, fearful, out of their depth or not in control.

People who try to deny or block change are often:

  • very conservative (who do not think ahead or take risks)
  • like things to stay the same (because then they feel safe)
  • perfectionists (who tend to be rigid and inflexible)
  • negative thinking people who believe the world (or the company) owes them
  • worriers or anxious types (who do not want to move outside their comfort zone)
  • manipulative people (who often have invested or political interests)

Typically, they will not change because their empire, status, power or their self-esteem all revolves around this kind of investment of not moving or stepping out.

Listen to what these people typically say:

            “Why try something new?”

            “Let sleeping dogs lie.”

            “We’ve always done it this way.”

            “We’ve a history of tradition here.”

            “If it was good enough for me, then, it’s good enough for them.”

            “They’re only trying to be trendy.”

            “The company owes me (so I don’t have to do anything)”

            “After all I’ve done for this company, they should look after me”

            “This is just a fad and it will go away soon”

The tragedy is that life goes on without these people and generally they become locked into their own plight, they blame others (or the “system”), they try to justify their stance and they tend to “drop out”.  Research shows that around 20% of people in an organisation fit into this category.

They can become bitter or resentful, life becomes a burden and a struggle, they are unhappy or depressed and their relationships suffer.  The picture becomes desperate and sad.

So, how do we accept change?  How do we promote change?

1. Accept that Change is Inevitable

 Don’t be lulled into believing that you can keep things static, always maintaining the status quo.  Change is all around us.  It will have an impact on you too whether you like it or not.

What is the one thing in life that is permanent?  The answer of course, is change!

2. Be Prepared to be Proactive and Not Reactive

 If change is going to occur, it’s better to be ahead of it rather than behind it.

Think ahead.  Anticipate the trends.  Contemplate what might be.  Try to see things differently.

If you don’t take control of your life someone else will!

3. Positive Thinking is a Plus

As Henry Ford wisely wrote, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right”.  There is a real sense in which you are what you think.

Check your thinking.

It seems to be very natural and automatic and for us to think the worst or think on the down side.  “If only….what if….I wish….I should have….It’s not fair….It’s their fault….Why me?….They’re hopeless….They’re deliberately trying to…” etc etc.

The way you think though is under your control (just like the way you behave is under your control).  So, that means that you can do something about it!

Here is a rule.  Whenever you feel bad, check your thinking.  Chances are that you are thinking “bad” thoughts.  Stands to reason doesn’t it.  Think happy thoughts….feel happy.  Think angry thoughts….feel angry.

If you’re smart, when you feel bad (eg., anxious, down, angry), then turn your thoughts around.  Reverse your thoughts, counteract them.  You’ll start to feel better.  And life becomes easier to handle.

Ask yourself – is the cup half empty or is it half full?  Is your situation a “problem” or is it an “opportunity”?

Remember the story about the man complaining about his shoes until he saw a man with no feet.  Turn your story around, look on the positive side.  Yes, there always is a positive side.

4. Life is a Test

Remember that life is simply a test.  True.  If it was not so, you would have been given a manual or rule book by which to live it!

Keeping this simple little notion inside your head helps you to understand how life works.  So, no matter what life dishes up to you, it is only a test.  Once you have mastered the lesson (whatever that might be), there is no struggle, no grief, no unfinished business.  You pass the test and life goes on with you feeling satisfied.

Hence, when a problem confronts you or change looks you squarely in the eye, ask yourself, “What can I learn from this?  What is life trying to teach me?”  Learn the lesson and proceed on with more personal strength.

5. Set Goals

If you don’t have goals you can become stifled or stagnate or fall in a rut.  As someone once wrote, “People with goals succeed because they know where they are going.”

Your personal goal is like a guiding light.  It ultimately shines on your destination, eg., what ‘career success’ means for you.  As someone once wrote,

Without your personal goal you are likely to:

  • Experience uncertainty about the future.
  • Experience a sense of gloom or depression about the future.
  • Experience a sense of anxiety and possibly low self-esteem.
  • Jump out of the frying pan into the fire.
  • Not allow your unique talents to be used and flourish.
  • Settle for mediocrity rather than excellence.

With a personal goal you will be able to:

  • Allow your priorities to keep you focused and on target.
  • Identify more clearly what will motivate or inspire you.
  • Find direction in the midst of constant change.

“If you don’t know where you are going, how can you expect to get there?”

6. Picture Yourself

 It is important to actually visualise how you would like to be personally (eg, confident, happy, relaxed, successfully coping with change).

Further, visualise what you would like to achieve (eg., your goals) and see them in your mind’s eye.  Picture it.  See yourself making changes and doing things slightly differently.

Feel the emotion and start to live it and picture it in your thoughts.

If you can’t (or won’t) see it, don’t be surprised when it doesn’t happen.

In life, there are two creations; first there is a mental picture, then there is the physical reality.  No picture, no reality.  That’s just the way it is.

7. Be a Risk-Taker

 Try to make them happen and endeavour to bring them about.  What do you have to actually do to help your goals to materialize?

What practical steps do you have to take?  How do you get the ball rolling?  Take risks and start to stick your neck out.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

As the poster in our office reads, “Behold the turtle only makes progress when it sticks its neck out”.

The future is yours if you want to take the risks; change can be an important chance for challenge, growth and opportunity.

8. Be Persistent

Keep going despite setbacks.  Most of us most of the time are fairly quick to give up whenever we strike a hurdle.  It’s natural to do so.

Instead, keep at it.  If you receive any feedback from your efforts, see if there might be some other way you can refine or trim your approach to whatever, but still keep going.

Anyone who has ever achieved has always had setbacks of some kind or other and the mark of a champion is the person who keeps going and keeps persisting.

In summary, it has been said before that there is a beginning, a middle and ….a new beginning.

Take these tips listed above and make of them what you will on your life journey because:

“We cannot change the direction of the wind, but we can adjust our sails” (Jim Rohn).