Change & The Changemaker: The Importance of Understanding Change

Change & The Changemaker: The Importance of Understanding Change

I so relate to this definition from Ashoka (https://www.ashoka.org/) that “a changemaker is someone who is taking creative action to solve a social problem.” They go on to say:

Not every changemaker needs to launch their own start-up or be the president of an organization; changemakers can find opportunities to make a difference in any number of roles. They may have no ties to an organization; they may take action as an individual or as part of a group; they may organize as a part of broader community or they may work within a formal organization. “[1]

Are you a changemaker? If so, it is critically important that you understand change and how you respond to it. Here are a couple of questions I encourage you to think about and write down your responses to:

  1. When you think about change what words or emotions come up for you?
  2. Rate yourself on a scale from one to ten related to how you typically respond to change; “one” being “scares me to death” and “ten” being “I thrive on it’.

Many of us who declare ourselves as changemakers, including those of us who are leaders of teams and organizations, respond to question #1 positively. For example, when I think of change, words such as: “excitement”, “adventure”, “opportunity”, “creativity” come up. Based on my experience with other changemakers and leaders they respond similarly. In terms of question #2 many changemakers and leaders typically rate themselves as a “nine” or a “ten”. That said, when they ask the same questions to members of their teams or groups, responses to question #1 may be “fear”, “uncertainty”, “anger”, “overwhelm”. And for #2 their responses may be closer to “five” or “six” on the rating scale.

It is important to acknowledge that how you respond to change when YOU initiate it is quite different than when it is imposed on you. If change is imposed on you, your reactions and how you rate yourself on the scale from “one” to “ten” typically change toward the negative.

So how do you as a changemaker and/or leader, effectively navigate change and support others around you to embrace, rather than resist change? Learning some facts about change and openly exploring how you and your team respond to change is a good starting point.

Some Facts about Change

  1. Our bodies are hard-wired to react to change, to protect us and keep us safe

Our amygdala (part of the brain) is constantly scanning our environment for potential threats including things that are different. When it notices something it perceives to be a threat, it sends messages to our bodies that put us into fight, flight or freeze.  When we are angry, feel like running away, or our minds freeze, we are NOT in a good position to make any decisions, or to positively influence others.

2. Our past experiences with change affect how we respond to it. For example, if when you were a child a relative you were close to died and no one let you see the person at the wake and didn’t discuss the person’s death with you, as an adult you may fear death and not feel comfortable speaking about it. Similarly, if when you were a child and when changes happened, you typically learned to “get on with things” and to not express your feelings about leaving a particular school, relationship, home … , then this will likely affect how you respond to endings as an adult.

3. We store beliefs and emotions in our bodies. Dr. Bruce Lipton, a stem cell biologist by training, in his book The Biology of Belief, documents research conducted by himself and others that all the cells in our bodies are affected by our thoughts. Dr. Candace Pert, an internationally renowned researcher and biochemist in her landmark book Molecules of Emotion, shares evidence of the biochemical links between the mind and body. That being the case, if we have had negative past experiences with change, that will negatively impact how we respond to change in our personal and our professional lives moving forward.

4. The good news is that we can change the physiological structure of our brains (create new neural pathways) with our thoughts. [2] The implications of this body of work to us as leaders and changemakers, is that we can learn, model and teach others how to embrace rather than resist change.

Why am I so passionate about this?

If we don’t learn to embrace change we:

  • keep repeating the same patterns in our lives and remain unhappy & unfulfilled
  • Feel constantly under stress leading to chronic health issues and negative impacts on our relationships & our businesses
  • Expend a lot of energy resisting change

The bottom line is if we don’t learn to embrace change, over time it negatively impacts both our personal and our professional lives.

How can we reduce our fear of change?

We can:

  • Better understand how and why we respond to change
  • Learn a proven model and tools to help us reduce resistance, and embrace and successfully navigate any change

The more you understand change and the more self-aware you are about how and why you respond to it, the more easily you can embrace and move through it.

What has been your experience with change? How have you effectively dealt with change in the past? I welcome your comments below. Feel free to share this with people who you think might find it of interest.


[1]

https://www.evansville.edu/changemaker/downloads/more-than-simply-doing-good-defining-changemaker.pdf

[2] Doidge, Norman, The Brain that Changes Itself. London: Penguin Books, 2007

Why It’s Important to Embrace Change & How to Begin

Why It’s Important to Embrace Change & How to Begin

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.”[1]

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 – https://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.

[1] https://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/social-support

How To View Change Through a New Lens

How To View Change Through a New Lens

What if we all viewed change as a creative process that opened us up to new possibilities? Do you think our relationships, workplaces, communities and the world would be different?

Let’s explore this perspective a bit further. Imagine if you were laid off. Instead of feeling angry, anxious and unsure of what to do next, what if you viewed the change as an opportunity to do something new, perhaps launch a new business you’d been thinking about for a few a few years, but had been afraid to start?

What if after a partner left you, you took the time to reflect on the relationship; what worked well and what didn’t? And, you took the time to write down all the lessons learned from the relationship as well as the qualities you wanted in a significant other and in a relationship? For example: someone who makes me laugh, who is a great communicator, someone who is physically active, and who loves being in nature? I did this a number of years ago and within 5 months of doing so my life partner and soul mate showed up who had all of the qualities I had written on my list!

Imagine if you were working in an organization that had a change in leadership, and instead of feeling uncertain and fearful, you viewed the change as an opportunity to learn and grow.

I invite you to “try on” this new perspective of viewing change over the next week and notice what you observe. It could be something as small as changing the way you usually respond to a person or situation. I welcome your comments and experiences below. Feel free to share this post with others who you think might benefit.