Embrace continuous change – 5 tips
It is a familiar story by now. Over a year ago, the whole of the working world had to adjust headlong to the new reality called corona. From one day to the next, we (almost) all worked at home and communicated solely via our laptops and smartphones. Of course, this brought its own challenges, but the prevailing feeling was that the sudden transition to mass working from home went surprisingly well.
This was particularly surprising because countless organizations had been struggling for years to make the transformation that had now been rushed through. The circumstances may have been unprecedented, but the adjustments that had to be made in order to continue working had been under discussion for years: long before the crisis, organizations had been told time and time again that they had to join the digital transformation now. And in the meantime, experts have been arguing ad nauseam for the new way of working, where employees are no longer tied to the physical office.
The reason why it was suddenly possible is simple: organizations had no choice. More interesting is the question of why it did not happen all those years before. It may be tempting to condemn organizations: ‘You see, they could have done it much earlier’. But in the end, it is the people who make the organization – and if we are honest, isn’t it all too human to put off change?
Who the shoe fits
So instead of pointing the finger at others, let us look at ourselves: what does this story say about us and what can we learn from it? So that next time we might not need a pandemic before we act.
Let us first translate this to the individual level. The examples are as numerous as they are recognizable: Actually, you are ready for something new, but you are staying with your current employer. You could lose some weight, but not right now. You and your partner have both known for a long time that your relationship is nothing, but neither of you says it out loud.
We could go on like this for a while, but I think the idea is clear: just like organizations, we often know perfectly well that it is time for change, but we don’t do anything with this knowledge – knowing that change is necessary is not enough to act.
Fear of the unknown
This is exactly where it hurts: in change, we focus too much on knowing and too little on feeling. The knowledge that it is time for something new is simply no match for the feelings of fear that change evokes.
For however much we may be done with what we have now, at least we know what we have now. What will replace it remains to be seen. Holding on to what you have always feels safer than jumping into the deep end.
However, as the corona crisis in the Netherlands has shown, fear is a bad advisor: once you jump in the deep end, you are often pleasantly surprised. Yet we remain afraid of the unknown. Once upon a time – when we still lived in caves – this was an excellent survival mechanism. Today, however, our world is changing so rapidly that our fear of change gets in the way.
Our fear makes us cling desperately to what we have. We tell ourselves that change is too hard. But if the world around us is constantly changing, what is more work? Holding on with all our might, or simply letting go and allowing ourselves to be carried along by the change
But what about all those business transformations? Study after study shows that they fail. True, but transformation is also by far the most challenging form of change.
And why do all those companies have to take on this enormous challenge? Precisely because they are afraid of change, and because they have put off the change for too long so that eventually everything must change at once.
What if you are no longer afraid of change and allow yourself to be constantly carried along by the change in the world around you? Then you would not have to make a barely achievable catch-up every few years, and there would be no need for a ‘burning platform’ to make it happen. Then you change a little bit at a time. The only thing that makes this constant change difficult is the fear of change itself.
But this is still only theory. Maybe you even knew all this already. However, as we have seen, knowing is often not enough – the question is how to put it into practice. In other words, how do you get rid of that fear? The answer is simple: by practicing. However, this is not easy. It requires confronting all those fears that tell you to stay the way you are.
To help with that, here are five concrete tips. Not to convince you further that constant change is really the only right choice, but to help you cope with the emotions that inevitably come with the transformation from someone who wants to hold on to what is, to someone who embraces change.
1: Recognize that it is time for change
Firstly, it is important to recognize when you are ready for change. If you find change scary, you will usually not admit it, not even to yourself. Deep inside you know that the time has come, but you hide that realization as best you can. We are pretty good at this – but by learning to recognize the strategies you use to do this; you can still prevent yourself from continuing to be fooled.
These strategies can be divided into three biological defense mechanisms: fight, flight and freeze. Each has its own preference. If it is ‘fight’, you will counterattack. You judge in advance that the change will not work anyway or is not necessary. If it is a flight, you try to stay away from the discomfort of the change. You often take on the role of the victim. If it is freeze, then the fear paralyses you. You no longer know what to do and you block.
Discover which strategy you prefer, learn to recognize it, and you will know when it is time to change – precisely because you have resistance to it.
2: Break the deadlock
However, understanding your personal defense mechanism is important for more than one reason. Because once you are convinced of the need for change, that change still has to be made – and for that you first have to break through the resistance that your specific mechanism creates. Every defense mechanism has its antidote, and change becomes a lot easier if you know which one to use.
Each mechanism requires an opposite reaction. If you are someone who goes on the counterattack, then it is good to step out of the situation. Train yourself to be more patient and look at things from a distance. If you are someone who flees, stand still and confront your feelings. If you are someone who freezes, try to make the situation manageable so that you have an anchor point to get moving.
This is not always easy and again requires practice. You will have to find out what works best for you personally. What is important in all cases is to create the safety for yourself to get out of that first reflex. Make contact with yourself, breathe calmly, give that initial emotion some space and determine what you need to break through the impasse.
3: Stay close to yourself
Even after you have started moving, you will initially have to deal with the necessary restlessness. By embarking on a change, you are leaving behind your security and stepping into the unknown. It is all too easy to lose yourself there. You will quickly be tempted to revert to what you know – to one of your old patterns or defense mechanisms.
There is no simple trick to prevent this. It requires constant vigilance be aware of the struggle going on inside you and try to sense when you are in denial, when you are getting angry or when you want to give in. In order to recognize this in time, you must stay close to yourself: allow yourself a moment of pause on a regular basis to feel how you are in the change and – if necessary – to get back in touch with yourself.
4: Step by step
Eventually, you reach a point of acceptance: you reconcile yourself with the uncertainty and accept that the change will take place. That is not the end of the story – something new still needs to replace the old – but it is a long way down the road.
From here on, it is mainly a question of continuing to work on the change step by step. Keep guarding against relapse, but above all celebrate the small successes that bring you closer to the finish line each time. In this way, you cut the road ahead into manageable stages and motivate yourself to take that next step again and again.
5: Do not do it alone
The final tip is as simple as it is important: do not go it alone. Change is a very personal process – everyone has their own unique development to go through – but at the same time, we all face the same universal challenges. However, we tend to think that we are the only ones – that no one recognizes what we are going through.
The only way to get rid of this persistent misunderstanding is to talk to others about the process you are all going through. Share your emotions, insecurities and fears – you will see that you are not as alone as you thought. Share your victories too – this is how you motivate and inspire each other. Be challenged and keep each other on track – then you are not completely dependent on your own vigilance. After all, you will get further together than alone, and the journey will be more fun too.
Even with these tips and the support of others, the change process can still be quite difficult. Do you feel like you can’t manage, or do you flinch at the thought of starting at all? Then don’t hesitate to contact us. We have helped countless people and organizations achieve transformations they never thought possible before. We have all the knowledge and experience to help you get started – so that you can do it all by yourself.
So that you no longer see the ever-changing world as something you have to fight against but realise that you are part of that world yourself. That you only have to be part of it. Then change is no longer something to be feared, but something to be embraced – perhaps you will