We are hard-wired to perceive change as a threat. Our primitive brain likes to keep us safe and has enabled humans to survive through time. When our amygdala (part of the brain) detects fear, it sends messages to our bodies to go into fight, flight or freeze mode. This explains why some of us become angry as a result of a change being imposed on us, fearful and wanting to run away from a situation rather than face it, or paralyzed and unable to think clearly or to move forward.
So, how can we reduce our fear of change given this biological reality? Norman Doidge in The Brain that Changes Itself provides powerful evidence that our thoughts and perceptions have the power to change the structure of our brains. In other words, if we create new beliefs around change and internalize them, we also create new neural pathways that enable us to respond positively to change rather than view it as a threat. Candace Pert in her landmark book Molecules of Emotion provides strong evidence that our thoughts and emotions affect our bodies.
Given these facts, how can we reduce our fear of change? Here are some proven strategies. We can:
- Understand how we respond to change and why – A simple exercise is to rate yourself on a scale from 1 to 10 related to how you respond to change: “1” being it scares me to death and “10” being I thrive on it. Another way is to spend some time reflecting on the barriers you have towards change and writing them down. A number of barriers to change have been identified in the literature including: becoming paralyzed by fear, procrastinating, blaming others, believing we can’t do something or are not worthy, always focusing on problems rather than solutions, getting stuck in old habits or denying change is happening, and not being willing to put in the effort required to make a change. Ask yourself, What barriers do I have to embracing change in general, and in this particular situation? E.g. changing jobs, leaving an unsatisfying relationship, accepting a new leader in my organization. Notice past patterns in your life.
- Become aware of our beliefs around change – Close your eyes and think about a recent change; one that you didn’t choose but was imposed on you. Examples include: lay-off, separation, relocation. Notice what words come up for you. Write them down. Begin with the stem “Change is”_______ and fill in the blank. Do a brain dump and write down all the words that come up to define what change means to you. Examples are “Change is scary”; “Change is to be avoided at all costs” …
- Try on some new beliefs about change; such as “Change opens me up to new possibilities”, “Embracing change is a creative process”, “Change provides me with an opportunity to learn and grow”. Post one of these positive beliefs where you will see it at least 3 times a day – on your computer, bathroom mirror…and say this belief aloud each time you see it. Do this for 21 to 30 days and observe what you notice.
- Become aware of how we perceive change and replace our negative feelings and emotions with positive and empowering ones. Ariane de Bonvoisin in “The First 30 Days – Your Guide to Making Any Change Easier” identifies six “change demons” and their antidotes. The six change demons are: fear, doubt, blame, guilt, shame and impatience. She explains that the change demons “help us navigate through change by alerting us if we are off course and encouraging us to choose a different emotion to help us get where we want to go.” Being aware of which emotion you are feeling and replacing each one with positive and empowering emotions and antidotes are key to learning from and navigating change and dealing with uncertainty. The six change demons and their antidotes are:
||surrender (to not knowing)
||honesty (taking responsibility for our role in situations)
||honor (your dark or shadow side)
- Introduce small changes into your daily routine. Take a different route to work. Eat something different for breakfast. Walk or cycle to work instead of driving. Do this for a month and observe what you notice. Change is like a muscle. The more change you choose in your life, the more flexible you tend to become.
What change demons are your facing? How do you typically respond to change? What strategies will you begin integrating into your life to reduce your fear of change?
I welcome your comments below. Feel free to share this post with others.
What happens when we don’t embrace change?
We keep repeating the same patterns in our lives and remain unsatisfied and unhappy. For example, the person who regularly changes jobs to get ahead and make more money without really understanding what they’re passionate about and not choosing positions aligned with their passions; OR the man or woman who marries 3 or 4 times, attracting similar partners, working through the same issues again and again, and remaining unhappy because they haven’t taken the time between relationships to find who they are and what they truly want.
We expend a lot of energy resisting change. I recall a time a number of years ago when I was working with an international consulting group managing a large project in a developing country. There were ongoing challenges with the funding for the project and I was asked to make budget cuts that I felt were beginning to affect the technical aspects. In addition, although I’ve lived and worked in a number of unstable countries, every time I was in that country it felt like a “powder keg waiting to blow up”. I voiced my concerns to the company President. After a few months of restless nights with my head saying I should stay with the project and my body saying I should resign, I finally resigned. It felt like a load had been lifted off my shoulders. Initially I thought “what have I done!”, but soon after when I declared I was returning to domestic consulting , I met a woman who was going into retirement who introduced me to one of her clients at lunch. The next morning I received an email from the head of that organization saying she had 4 projects she thought I would be a good fit for, and which ones would I like to work on!
We feel constantly under stress as our bodies stay in flight, flight or freeze mode trying to keep us safe. We may feel afraid, angry, confused and uncertain in life and at work. Professionally this may look like the inability to focus, make decisions and result in reduced productivity and lack of fulfillment in work and life. Over time this constant stress often negatively impacts our health.
The bottom line is if we don’t learn how to embrace change, over time it negatively impacts both our personal and professional lives.
So how and where do we begin?
Understand how you respond to change. A quick exercise is to rate yourself on a scale from 1 to 10 related to how you typically respond to change; 1 being it scares me to death and 10 being I thrive on it. Another activity is to spend some quiet time answering the question: Why do I fear this change so much and notice what comes up. Journalling your answers is also helpful in understanding and dealing with your emotions.
Realize that you’re not alone. All of us are hard-wired to fear change and to want to stay safe. Knowing that can be of some comfort.
Reach out for support. Share with someone or several people you trust how you’re feeling and why. A strong body of research shows that social support, which includes emotional connection with “… a trusted group or valued individual, has been shown to reduce the psychological and physiological consequences of stress, and may enhance immune function. Social networks, whether formal (such as a church or social club) or informal (meeting with friends) provide a sense of belonging, security, and community.”
Spend regular time in nature. The Japanese have done longitudinal studies which show that spending time in forests reduces our blood pressure, reduces our heart rate and increases the number of natural killer cells our body produces (i.e. strengthens our immune system).
Practice mindfulness walking meditations at least 3 times a week for 15 to 30 minutes. A tool from Easter psychology that I have found extremely useful for getting “out of my head” and into my body is Mindfulness Walking Meditation. Mindfulness practices help us stay present and focus on feeling sensations and emotions in our bodies. When we’re faced with change, it’s important to acknowledge and let the feelings flow through us, rather than resisting them.
When practicing mindfulness walking meditation we feel the ground beneath our feet, the breeze against our face, the cool air going from our nostrils down into our lungs. We smell the salty sea air or the aroma of lavender and observe the scenery in front of us. We try to stay out of our minds and experience all our senses. Rather than spending a walk in nature constantly thinking and processing all the things we have to do, or mulling over things that have recently happened, instead we stay present and experience nature and all of its beautiful sights, smells, sounds and sensations.
Commit to learning more about how to embrace change. A good place to start is to take the complimentary Transition Journey Quiz – http://pamela-thompson.com/about/ – to learn more about life transitions, where you are on your transition journey and receive additional tips on how to successfully navigate change.
I’d love to hear you from you, your responses to this post, and your experience with the Transition Journey Quiz. Feel free to comment below and to share this post with others.
I recently visited the Okanagan for a conference and to reconnect with old friends. It felt so good to spend time in the presence of folks I had gotten to know over the 8 years I had lived near Kelowna. You know how you feel when you haven’t seen or spoken to someone in a while and it seems like only yesterday since you’ve chatted? You pick up easily and effortlessly and feel relaxed, accepted and valued in their presence. Having moved from a place I had lived longer than anywhere since I left home at 18, I realize that I had started to put down roots. Do you relate? Moving to a new city within the past year, I so miss the deep connections I have with old friends.
So what is connection and why is it so important?
Brene Brown defines connection as “… the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”
A growing body of research shows that our learning, health and wellbeing are profoundly shaped by our social environments and connections with others.
Matthew Lieberman in his book Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect makes a strong case that the human need to connect with others is as basic as our need for food, shelter and water. Lieberman draws on findings from his own research and others to demonstrate that “being socially connected is our brain’s life long passion; … (and) “he argues that the need to reach out and connect with others is a primary driver behind our behavior.” We are wired to try to understand others and connect with them.
A strong body of research shows that social support, which includes emotional connection with “… a trusted group or valued individual, has been shown to reduce the psychological and physiological consequences of stress, and may enhance immune function. Social networks, whether formal (such as a church or social club) or informal (meeting with friends) provide a sense of belonging, security, and community.”
Rita Pierson, an educator for 40 years, makes the case in a humorous and brilliant TED Talk, that a positive relationship and connection between teacher and student is important for learning to occur. It’s not just about “pouring information into children’s heads”.
Knowing these facts about the value and importance of human connection has amazing implications on the way we facilitate learning in schools, collaboration and productivity in workplaces, and a sense of harmony, security and belonging in communities.
Reflecting on your life so far, can you identify educators, peers, bosses and friends who have strongly influenced your life in positive ways? What characteristics did they possess, and what positive impacts did they have on you, your health and wellbeing, learning, and/or sense of security and belonging?
I welcome your shares and comments below. Feel free to share this post with others.
I believe that humanity is essentially good and that we are all interconnected.
I believe that everything happens for a reason.
The Universe provides me with what I need and Great Spirit is guiding me towards fulfillment.
Nature connects me with my soul.
I believe that life is an adventure to be lived to the fullest and
that I am here to help build peace in the world.
(Learning to Dance with Life: A Guide for High Achieving Women, p. 6 –
What do you believe?
In a previous post (http://creativelivingcommunity.com/leading-in-uncertain-times-the-power-of-perception/), I shared the power of perception and how it affects our ability to lead effectively in uncertain times. In this post, I will share some lessons learned based on my own beliefs and experiences gleaned from leading and managing in a variety of organizations and cultures on 5 continents.
- We are all the same. We all want to be valued, respected, to feel safe, secure and to belong.
When living and working in Afghanistan six years ago, I was sitting in the rose garden of the Ministry of Public Health eating lunch with one of my female Afghan colleagues when there was a powerful explosion. Within seconds of the huge blast, my Muslim colleague was phoning each of her family members to ensure that they were all safe. I think most of us would have done the same. We all value family and care about those close to us. The explosion was from a number of suicide bombers entering the military hospital across the road. The result was the senseless deaths of a number of Afghan patients and their families, and medical students.
I have enjoyed managing and consulting in a number of culturally diverse and uncertain environments, and believe my effectiveness has been largely due to the belief that we are all the same. When you view everyone through the lens of that belief, you are able to connect with them, and work effectively whether or not you speak their language or have the same cultural background or religion. In Afghanistan using participatory processes, I was able to collaboratively develop/co-create the first strategic plan with the Ministry of Public Health, and have it pass through all the policy layers and be signed off by the Minister within 9 months.
I invite you to experiment tomorrow and try throughout your day to view everyone you see through the lens and belief that “we are all the same”, whether it be a homeless person, a colleague you have a tense relationship with, or a family member you have difficulties relating to. Try this and notice what you notice.
- We are all interconnected.
You may have heard that when a butterfly flaps its wings in the Amazon, two years later it can result in a tornado in Kansas. The butterfly effect has demonstrated that a small change in one area can result in powerful future outcomes in another. If you as a leader believe in an organizational culture that focuses on people, understanding and collaboration, you have the power to shape and change the organization based on how you treat and respond to people and challenging situations daily. How you communicate with others has an impact throughout the organization and beyond. We all have heard about the disheartened employee who has gone home and kicked his dog or beaten his wife.
I invite you to “try out” this belief and have it in the forefront of your mind when you interact and communicate with others on a daily basis in your workplace, community, and family. Notice how this affects your interactions, the organizational morale and environment.
- Nature connects me with my soul.
Did you know that when you walk in forests, it reduces your blood pressure, reduces your heart rate and increases the number of natural killer cells your body produces (i.e. strengthens your immune system)? Based on longitudinal research, the Japanese have institutionalized forest bathing or forest therapy. In their highly competitive culture, they encourage and support people to regularly visit centers in forests throughout Japan to forest bathe, and they continue to collect powerful longitudinal data on its valuable effects.
I encourage you to spend time in nature for 30 minutes or more at least 3 times a week. When I spend time in nature I feel relaxed, energized, happy and free. My stress is reduced (if I’m having a particularly stressful day). If as leaders we are committed to spending regular time in nature, do you think it would positively impact our effectiveness?
- Life is an adventure to be lived to the fullest.
Based on this belief, I’ve lead an adventurous and full life so far [and hope to continue doing so J ]. I’ve lived and worked in the mountains of northern Colombia with peasant farmers in the late 80s when Pablo Escobar was “running around” and the Medellin Cartel was in full swing. I’ve lived and worked in Kabul, Afghanistan for 13 months from October 2010 to November 2011 (a volatile and uncertain time), and managed large multi-stakeholder projects in Pakistan and Nigeria where corruption is rampant and violence can erupt at any time. When I don’t have adventure in my life I get restless and feel unfulfilled, and I either seek out adventure or it serendipitously comes my way. Similarly, if contribution and making a positive difference in the world is one of your core values and you work in an organization that is “all about the money”, over time you will likely feel unhappy and unfulfilled. This will affect your personal and your work life.
I encourage you to identify your core beliefs and what is most important to you, and then begin living them everyday.
I welcome your comments and experiences below. What lessons have you learned from leading in uncertain times? Which lessons above do you resonate with? Appreciate you sharing the post with others.
 For more about core values and why they are important: http://creativelivingcommunity.com/do-you-live-in-alignment-with-your-core-values/
The passing of someone close to us reminds us of our own mortality and provides the opportunity to reflect on our lives and how we want to be remembered. Are you living the life you love? Are you using your gifts and talents to make the world a better place? Do you typically awaken with a smile on your face and a song in your heart? Are there some changes you would like to make to live a life more aligned with your core values? 
These are some questions that came up for me on the recent passing of my dear father, George Edsol Robert Thompson, affectionately known as Bob. Despite losing both parents by the time he was 21 and his only brother at 29, he was a compassionate man who touched the lives of many, and achieved most if not all the goals he set. A devoted husband and father, he and my Mom raised 3 daughters who all get along well and love each other.
As a tribute to my Dad I would like to share the open letter I spoke from my heart at his recent “celebration of life”.
Thank you for:
- Believing in me and making me believe that I can “be” or “do” anything I choose to “be” or “do”.
- Instilling in me the value of education and a thirst for learning.
- Encouraging and exposing me to try a wide variety of sports. I remember and so appreciate all those rides from the cottage to Iroquois and back for swimming lessons, and the basketball games and track and field events you faithfully attended.
- Modelling for me with Mom what a loving family looks, acts and feels like, and for instilling in me strong family values.
- Exposing me to nature. I have such fond memories of those camping trips to the west and east coast, and in particular the six-week adventure we took with a tent trailer when I was 13 and my sisters were 3 and 5. Who does that? YOU did Dad with Mom’s amazing support. Thank you Dad for …
- Inspiring me to be the best I can be.
You will be dearly missed and never forgotten, not only by me, my sisters, and our families, but by the many lives you touched throughout your teaching career and life.
I love you.
My Dad lived an extremely full, and fulfilling life. He accomplished pretty well everything he wanted to do. How many of us can say that?
What legacy do you want to leave? How do you want to be remembered? I welcome your thoughts and comments below.
 For more info on core values see http://creativelivingcommunity.com/do-you-live-in-alignment-with-your-core-values/
As women, many of us have been socialized to always give to others first, and to put ourselves at the bottom of the list. We may have come to believe that we are selfish if and when we do something for ourselves, such as having a massage, going for a walk on our own, or taking time to journal each morning. Guilt and negative feelings often result from this. We may find it challenging to accept compliments and often deflect or make light of them.
If you are the one others typically come to for support, you may view asking for support as a weakness. You may worry that this will change how people see and value you. After all you are a strong, capable women who has all the answers. Don’t you?
When you constantly give and do for others without taking time for yourself what are the costs? Giving, in and of itself, is a good thing. We feel positive to be helping and supporting others; however if we are out of balance in our giving, over time we may become resentful and SOoo tired because we are giving to everyone else, and not taking time for and nourishing ourselves.
What if we as women recognized the importance of reaching out for and accepting support? What if every time someone gave us a compliment we were able to stay in our bodies, acknowledge and mindfully receive the positive message we were being given? What would that look and feel like?
What if we integrated regular self-care and nurturing into our lives such as regular walks in nature, yoga, journaling, regularly connecting with girl friends, and felt like we deserved this, and that it was essential to our overall health and well being. The reality is, doing so makes us much more responsive, less reactive, more fun to be around, and more present with those we care about.
Did you know that to change a health behavior, we not only need knowledge, skills and motivation; we also need social support. That is, support from others to change a behavior and integrate it into our lives so it becomes a healthy habit. There is a lot of research to show that the more social support people have, the more preventive health actions they take.
When people give support we feel good inside. And when we receive support our bodies produce oxytocin, the bonding hormone. Research shows that oxytocin has a number of positive physical and psychological benefits from enhancing trust, self-esteem, optimism and feelings of mastery to reducing blood pressure, gut inflammation and stress.
I recently facilitated a workshop where I shared a model and positive actions women can take to embrace and learn from life transitions, and reduce the stress associated with major life changes. The need to share was huge, and just knowing that others were facing or had faced similar issues and challenges created openness, understanding and support within the group.
So how can you feel more comfortable asking for and accepting support from others? From my own journey and work with others, I find it easiest to take baby steps. Initially reach out and ask for support for something small. It could be asking a friend or colleague for a drive to an event during a particularly busy week, or asking your partner to do the dishes when you’ve prepared the dinner.
So the next time you’re feeling tired and would like some help, think of who you may reach out to and ask them for support. Notice how it feels. Often when we ask others for support, they feel honored that we did (as long as we don’t do this on a frequent and ongoing basis J).
I invite you to try reaching out and asking for support and notice how you feel and how others respond. I welcome your comments and shares below. Feel free to share this with others who you think might benefit.
“Social support means having friends and other people, including family, to turn to in times of need or crisis to give you a broader focus and positive self-image. Social support enhances quality of life and provides a buffer against adverse life events.” –https://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/social-support