Preventing Burnout as a Leader and Changemaker

Preventing Burnout as a Leader and Changemaker

Do you feel like there are never enough hours in the day? Do you crave guilt-free time with family and friends without that “to-do” list nagging you in the back of your brain? Do you long for some time for you, to just “be”?

I understand. I’ve been where you are. In December 2012, I almost burnt out. I had been working on a one-year contract with a non-profit that promotes women’s and children’s rights around the world. When the opportunity came my way, I was excited as I felt so aligned with their mission and values.

As I flew to several African countries for project start-up, I felt energized and passionate; excited to meet the teams on the ground and learn about their needs and how I might be of support. 6 months in, I started to feel SOoo tired and that there was so much to do and so little time. Do you relate?

I was initially hired to be a Senior Health Advisor on 5 projects in Asia and Africa to reduce infant and maternal mortality. That morphed to 7 projects in 7 countries. I was initially to be a member of a multi-stakeholder working group of four non-profits that had received a large amount of donor funding to hire a research institute to evaluate the combined impact of all of our projects in Asia and Africa. Within a month of starting the position, I was informed that I was the Chair of that working group. The Chairperson position became almost a full-time job on its own.

I was working night and day feeling so committed to what I was doing and wanting to do the best job I could. Near the end of the contract the non-profit invited me to stay on for another 6 months in a reduced role, 2 days a week chairing the multi-stakeholder working group. I was close to signing the new contract and asked to sleep on the decision. I awoke the next morning feeling like a lemon that had been squeezed dry. In that moment I knew that I finally had to listen to my body and take a break. So I turned down the opportunity. The VP and Director I’d been working with were shocked and asked me why. I said “because I want to create more balance in my life”. At the time I had no idea what that meant or what my life would look like but, but I started 2013 with no work on my plate, committed to reconnecting with family and friends and spending a lot of time in nature. I studied mindfulness, started to meditate daily and continued with regular yoga practice. I slept 10, 12, 13 hours a night and after 4 months was still tired. So I went to a naturopath who put me on some homeopathic meds and within a month or so I started to get my energy back and feel more like myself.

About 5 months in, the 7 keys to what I call Creative Living; 7 keys to consciously cultivating improved health, happiness, fulfillment and inner peace in your life, came to me. I then began writing my first book Learning to Dance with Life: A Guide for High Achieving Womenwhich made #1 on Amazon on launch day. It is a guide for women, as well as men, who constantly “give” and “do” out of balance with “receiving” and “being”.

Burnout and adrenal fatigue are reaching epidemic proportions. In May of 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) revised its classification of burnout from a medical condition to an occupational phenomenon. Their definition:

“Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions:

  • feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
  • increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and
  • reduced professional efficacy. ” [1]

The importance of this change in the WHO classification is that it acknowledges that organizations and their leaders have a role to play in reducing workplace stress; rather than burnout being perceived as a personal medical issue, a sign of weakness and something to be hidden and ashamed of.

To learn more about burnout, its symptoms and causes see: https://pamela-thompson.com/how-to-know-if-youre-burning-out-what-to-do-about-it/

Proven Strategies and Powerful Practices

How can we as leaders and changemakers turn this epidemic around?  It starts with us, and our own lives. Here are a few strategies I’ve personally found effective and have shared with coaching and consulting clients around the world.

  • Integrate mindfulness practices into your life daily.  Mindfulness practices help us get out of our heads and into our bodies. They originate from Buddhism. Body scanning is a good place to start. Each morning on awakening scan your body from the top of your head to the tips of your toes. Notice any areas of tension or discomfort. Breathe into those areas and release them. Imagine them flowing out of your body. Mindfulness walking meditations are another practice. I recommend initially doing these 3 times a week for 15 to 20 minutes a day; for example, at a lunch break or immediately after work. Ideally do this outdoors in a park or in nature if possible. Focus on all of your senses. Hear the crunch of leaves underfoot, smell the salty sea air, view the beautiful vistas surrounding you, feel the wind on her cheeks. When thoughts come in to your head, imagine they are clouds. Let them drift by and resume focusing on all of your senses. Notice what you notice during the walking meditations and after.
  • Listen to and Trust in Your Body’s Wisdom. This is one of the 7 keys in my book. What I know to be true is that our bodies always know the truth. Many of us were raised in cultures that value and focus on our rational, logical left brain and staying in our heads. Mindfulness practices help us get back into our bodies, and learn to listen to and trust them. Try something as simple as when you feel tired, go to sleep rather than pushing through that last task before heading to bed. When a decision doesn’t feel right, try going with your gut rather than rationalizing a decision. For more tools that assist you to learn to make decisions using your body’s wisdom check out chapter 4 in Learning to Dance with Life.
  • Tap into and Express Your Creative Side. Is there something you enjoy doing that when you do it you become immersed in it and lose track of time? Could be film editing, painting, writing, gardening, cooking … . Chances are when you have this experience, it is one of your passions, and when you tune into it you are tapping into your creative right brain. Usually you feel energized and positive while engaging in a passion. When you are filled with childlike wonder you also get out of your head and into your body. Regularly taking time to do something you enjoy that is creative helps reduce the stress in your body and takes your mind off work.
  • When you feel stressed Deep breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth consciously making a noise on the out breath. Do this about three times and notice what you notice. This practice stimulates the release of the hormone oxytocin that relaxes us and makes us feel good.
  • Set firm boundaries; i.e. learn to say “no”. In order to do this it is helpful to clarify your core values  (For more info on values see https://pamela-thompson.com/do-you-live-in-alignment-with-your-core-values/) – and ask yourself: Is this activity or this organization in alignment with my top 5 core values?  Another question to ask is: Will this activity bring me joy? Do I have time to add this activity to my plate?
  • Celebrate successes – big and small. Rather than checking a completed project or key activity off your list and quickly moving onto the next, take time to celebrate it with yourself and with other special people in your life. This can be as simple as taking a moment to go inside yourself and acknowledging the work you’ve done and feeling good about what you’ve accomplished. It could be treating yourself to a massage, bubble bath or pedicure or going out for a special dinner with a friend or partner.

I invite you to commit to integrating two or three of the above strategies into your life starting tomorrow. If you would like to learn more about how to stay happy, healthy and grounded while being successful in life and business check out my book Learning to Dance with Life – www.amazon.com/dp/B0145ZGDO2 which is backed up by evidence from neuroscience, eastern psychology and the health-promoting and healing benefits of the arts.

I welcome your experiences and comments below. What strategies have you found successful in reducing work-related stress?


[1] https://www.who.int/mental_health/evidence/burn-out/en/

What Beliefs Guide & Support You as a Leader?

What Beliefs Guide & Support You as a Leader?

Our beliefs influence our perceptions (how we see the world), and our behaviors. Dr. Bruce Lipton’s work, a stem cell biologist and author of The Biology of Belief[1], provides strong evidence that we can change the character of our lives by changing our beliefs. How powerful and empowering is that!

As a leader you have the power to choose what you believe and the ability to influence others in your organization, the groups you belong to, and in your families.

It is important to be aware of our core beliefs and to consistently walk our talk so people feel safe, trust us and are aware of what is expected of them. I will share some of my core beliefs from leading and managing in a variety of organizations and cultures for the past three decades, with the hope that you may connect with them and also gain some clarity on the core beliefs that guide you as a leader.

Core Beliefs:

  • 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[2] 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.

  • We are all the same. We all want to be respected, valued, to feel safe, secure and to belong.

When living and working in Afghanistan eight 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.

  • 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 led an adventurous and full life so far [and hope to continue doing so!]. 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[2] 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.

  • Embracing change is a creative process that opens me up to new possibilities.

These are times of massive change and uncertainty. We have a choice to either embrace or to resist change. When we view change as a threat and believe it is to be feared, this has negative impacts on our bodies, our minds, our relationships, our organizations and on our bottom lines. However, when we believe “embracing change is a creative process that opens us up to new possibilities”, it has positive impacts on our bodies, our minds, our relationships, our organizations and on our bottom lines.  

To learn more about this and proven strategies for embracing change, I invite you to download and read “The Art of Change Framework: A Guide to Embracing Personal and Organizational Change” from the homepage of https://pamela-thompson.com/).

What beliefs guide and support you as a leader?

I welcome your thoughts and comments below.


[1] Lipton, B. H., The Biology of Belief – Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter & Miracles. New York City: Hay House, Inc.

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Butterfly_effect

Why so many Organizational Change Initiatives Fail & the Secret to Helping them Succeed

Why so many Organizational Change Initiatives Fail & the Secret to Helping them Succeed

Did you know that approximately 70% of organizational change initiatives fail? Why is that?

According to my own work on five continents and a cursory review of the literature, the main reason organizational change initiatives fail is because they do not adequately address the people side of change.

What do I mean by the people side of change?

People are at the heart of our organizations. They include everyone from the CEO, Senior Management Team, Middle Managers, Team Leaders and Employees. They also include key stakeholders.

How do you address the people side of change?

CEO and Senior Management Team –The key ingredient here is for CEOs and their Senior Management teams to be clear on why they are initiating a change – be it a culture change, reorganization, leadership change, new strategic plan … AND communicate that “why” clearly down through all layers of an organization. That said it is not enough to communicate the change, it is important for others in the organization to take ownership of the change (more about that later).

Another important aspect is that a CEO and their Senior Management Team understand change and how they typically respond to it. Some key questions to think about are: On a scale from 1 to 10, how do you typically respond to change? One being “It scares me to death” and 10 being “I thrive on it”. My experience has been that most leaders rate themselves from 8 to 10. They tend to thrive on change. However, there may be others on their teams who are 4s or 5s. If so, it is important to be aware of that, open up the conversation, and discuss how those folks may be supported throughout the change process.

When a CEO is open about change, acknowledges that many of us fear change, provides opportunities for their people to learn how to embrace change versus resist it and models this behavior for others, it improves the chances of success of an organizational change initiative.

How do you embrace versus resist change?

Based on more than 25 years of consulting and coaching with individuals and organizations on 5 continents, I’ve designed a 5-step process called “The Art of Change Framework” to support leaders and their organizations to embrace change. It is underpinned by the belief that “embracing change is a creative process that opens us up to new possibilities”. It is also supported by evidence from neuroscience, eastern psychology and organizational development.

This process is best implemented on the “front end” of an organizational change initiative and lays the foundation for that initiative. It works best in an experiential workshop(s) format where leaders and their teams have the opportunity to learn about change together, explore how they respond to change and why, and receive tools to support them as they move into a change process.

The Value Add?  When people learn about change and how they respond to it, that not only supports their engagement, motivation, productivity and positivity in the workplace, it also improves their personal lives.

I’ve included an excerpt from “The Art of Change Framework: A Guide to Personal and Organizational Change” below to illustrate the differential impacts between embracing versus resisting change (full document available at https://pamela-thompson.com/).

What happens in Ourselves, Our Relationships and Our Workplaces when We Resist Change versus Embrace it?

OURSELVES

Resist Embrace
We view change as a threat We view change as an
opportunity to learn and grow and as a creative process that opens us up to new
opportunities
We feel:
Angry
Depleted
Low in energy
Victimized
The increased stress over time
negatively impacts our health; can
lead to chronic illness and
negatively affect our career paths
We feel:
Open
Excited
Energized
Nonjudgmental

Over time we are more relaxed,
more flexible and open to creative
ideas. Our health may be positively impacted as we feel supported by
those around us and that we are
contributing to something greater than ourselves; may positively
impact our career paths
In our interactions with others we:
Are not totally present
Are judgmental
May be argumentative
In our interactions with others we:
Are present
Are mindful

Seek to understand and support
others

OUR RELATIONSHIPS

Resist Embrace
Strained
Reactive
Judgmental

Characterized by
increased conflict
We feel alone,
victimized and that others don’t
understand us
Open
Responsive
Curious

Characterized by increased understanding, creativity and compassion
We feel part of something and
supported

OUR WORKPLACES

Increased conflict
“us” versus “them”
mentality
Reduced morale
Reduced engagement
Little innovation
Increased illness and absenteeism
Negative impact on the bottom line

Increased cooperation,
collaboration and synergy
Increased morale
Increased engagement
Creativity and Innovation
Reduced absenteeism
Positive impact on the bottom line

As leaders of teams, organizations or community groups, it is essential that you understand change and how you respond to it and also understand your team members and how they typically respond to change. By engaging in facilitated experiential workshops on the Art of Change, the understanding among team members will increase and resistance toward a change process, be it a reorganization, new leadership, new project or new strategic plan, will decrease.

Providing Opportunities for people from various layers of the organization to input into the change process such as answering the question: How will the change affect me? And How can we as a team best support and positively contribute to the change initiative? AND the leadership taking those responses into consideration, is important. This includes input from key stakeholders which may be obtained through telephone interviews, focus groups, facilitated workshops … . Providing opportunities for people to input into the change process not only may provide interesting suggestions and perspectives, it will also build ownership for the change. People by nature, want to be respected, valued and feel like they belong; and enabling them to input into a change process supports these basic needs.

My experience has been that when we provide the opportunity for people at various levels to input into a change process, they often contribute ideas and suggestions that senior management is not aware of/cannot see from their organizational vantage point.

In a recent episode of “The Art of Change” radio talk show, my guest, Shelley Gilberg, partner in PricewaterhouseCoopers, and experienced organizational change expert, noted that one reason many change initiatives fail is because “we cut off support too early to sustain change initiatives” – For more details check out: https://www.spreaker.com/user/bbm_global_network/the-art-of-change-show-9. Providing people at various layers of the organization the opportunity to receive training and support and instituting “check points” along the way for people to identify how they feel and why is important. This is also supported by Brene Brown’s interviews with a large sample of leaders from both public and private sector organizations.

In Summary

There is strong evidence that the reason why many organizational change initiatives fail is because they do not adequately address the people side of change. When we provide opportunities for people from various layers of an organization, as well as key stakeholders to input into a change process, when the CEO and Senior Management Team are clear on why they are initiating a new change and communicate that effectively throughout an organization and model positive change behaviors, and when leaders and their teams from various levels in an organization are provided the opportunity in experiential workshops to learn about change and explore how they respond to it, the chances of success of an organizational change initiative increases.

Learning and implementing the 5-step Art of Change Framework helps you as a leader understand how you respond to change and is a tool to support you and your team(s) to embrace it. In these challenging and uncertain times, now more than ever, we need proven processes to support individuals and leaders in communities, governments and organizations to create successful change initiatives and through those efforts make a positive difference in the world.

Be Careful What You ask for …

Be Careful What You ask for …

While vacationing in Mexico a few months ago, I was lazing by the pool and decided to do some journaling. I asked myself the question: What do I really want in my life? Here are some of the answers that came to me:

  • I want a new project
  • I want to have fun
  • I enjoy interviewing
  • I want to make a positive difference in the world
  • I would like someone else to promote me.

Within several weeks of returning home, I received a phone call from someone from an advertising and promotional company out of New York specializing in internet radio broadcasting. They have a global audience that surpasses 50 million listeners. The representative said that his analytics department had found me on the web and they felt that there was a niche that I could fill based on my background and experience. We set up a time for him to give me the details. He said that the niche included women entrepreneurs, leaders, women in business, high achieving women, and those aspiring to be leaders and entrepreneurs.

I was then offered the opportunity to host my own weekly internet radio talk show.  It was to be my show, my own intellectual property that would stream live on Bold Brave Media’s global network and Tunein Radio to start and would be archived on http://boldbravemedia.com/about-us/.

I was excited about the possibilities so I signed a contract and embarked on a new adventure as an internet radio talk show host! It’s been fun the last couple of months learning about radio and being trained by the Head of Production, an amazing guy with 40 years of experience in the business. My home office now is a studio with a huge microphone on a moveable arm, and some BIG headphones!

I’m excited to share that “The Art of Change” radio show launches June 5, 2019 and will be live weekly on Wednesdays from 3 to 4 pm Pacific/6 to 7 pm Eastern. The first show will lay the foundation for future shows and will focus on change, the impacts of resisting versus embracing it, and will walk you through a practical process and strategies to embrace change. In future shows, I will be interviewing inspiring women leaders and changemakers from around the globe and asking them questions about key changes they’ve made in their lives, key challenges faced and their lessons learned. You will have the opportunity to phone in to a 1-800# and ask questions.

The intention for the show is to create an informative, safe and supportive space for women to tune in to weekly and phone in (if they feel comfortable doing so) and get their questions answered about change, leadership, entrepreneurship, creating a social movement … .

I extend an invitation for you to listen to my first show on June 5th starting at 3 pm Pacific/6 pm Eastern and weekly thereafter at the same time. To access the show you can either download the Tuneinradio app on your phone (visit http://ww1.tuneinradio.com/ ) and listen there going to bbmglobalnetwork and then to the name of the show “The Art of Change”. You may also go directly to http://boldbravemedia.com/ at the scheduled time and click on the show on channel 100. If you’re unable to listen live, you may listen later or download the show from the boldbravemedia site under my name.

I’m excited to have you join me on this new adventure and welcome your thoughts and suggestions of topics to cover, questions you’d like answered and potential inspiring women leaders and changemakers to interview. Please share your comments and suggestions below or email me.

It’s Pamela Thompson signing off from “The Art of Change” radio show broadcasting live from bbmglobal network and Tunein radio!

Lessons from a Changemaker: How to Prevent Burnout while Living Your Passion

Lessons from a Changemaker: How to Prevent Burnout while Living Your Passion

As a changemaker, you are passionate about making a positive difference in the world. You may have chosen a career as a helping professional, work for a non-profit or an international development agency. You may be an academic doing research focusing on improving the health of women and children or you may be CEO of a socially-responsible company. Whatever line of work you’re in, you feel “called” to it.

One of the challenges of being a changemaker is that we experience much joy from giving and sometimes may overextend ourselves by sitting on a number of volunteer boards, or by continually pushing through fatigue to finish that one last thing, rather than taking a break and listening to our bodies. Do you relate?

I understand. I’ve almost burnt out several times in my life. When we continually push ourselves without listening to our bodies, we run the risk of experiencing adrenal fatigue or burnout. Dr. James Wilson in his book Adrenal Fatigue The 21st Century Stress Syndrome notes that:

“adrenal fatigue occurs when the amount of stress [physical, psychological, emotional, infectious, environmental or a combination of these] overextends the capacity of the body (mediated by the adrenal [glands]) to compensate and recover from that stress or the combined stresses. Once this capacity to cope and recover is exceeded, some form of adrenal fatigue occurs. “ (p. 11)

While working in Afghanistan with the Ministry of Public Health, supporting them to develop their first strategic plan and building the capacity of internal teams to do planning, I got pneumonia twice within the first 6 months of living there. I recall being at the front of the room facilitating a national multi-stakeholder workshop with my team and feeling an incredible burning in my chest as I wrote on the flipchart. It wasn’t until I arrived home for a short break a week or so later and I felt really low in energy and on my husband’s suggestion I went to the doctor and was diagnosed with pneumonia the first time.

So how can you as a changemaker stay healthy, happy and grounded while making a positive difference in the world?

  • Connect with and learn to listen to and trust in your body’s wisdom. Our bodies are amazing receivers and transmitters of information. They always let us know if something is wrong. Body scanning is an excellent tool when we wish to increase awareness of our body and the messages it sends us. Tara Brach in her book Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life with the Heart of Buddha, walks you through a detailed body scan and explains its power.
  • Spend regular time in nature. Go for a short walk at lunch or walk in the park after work. Go for a hike with a partner, friend or family member. The Japanese have done longitudinal research to show that when we walk among trees it reduces our heart rate, reduces our blood pressure and increases the number of natural killer cells our bodies produce (e.g. strengthens our immune system).
  • Set strong boundaries. If someone asks you to participate in a new community activity (e.g. fundraise for a local charity) or add an extra project to your already “full plate” at work, learn to say “no”. As givers we often say “yes” without thinking about what we already have on our “to-do” lists. I encourage you when asked to do something new, to take several deep breaths, go inside your body and ask yourself the question: Will this bring me joy? Do I really want to do this? Do I have time for this? And if the answer is “no” practice saying “no” without feeling guilty.
  • Get 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night. Sleep heals and replenishes our bodies.
  • Unplug from digital devices for 60 to 90 minutes before going to sleep. Artificial light from screens increases alertness and suppresses the hormone melatonin by up to 22% negatively affecting sleep, performance and mood. [1]

If you’d like to learn more proven strategies for preventing burnout and staying healthy, happy and grounded while living your passion I invite you to check out my #1 best selling book on Amazon Learning to Dance with Life: A Guide for High Achieving Women. FYI, men find it useful as well J.  In the book I share 7 keys to what I call Creative Living. 7 keys to “consciously cultivating improved health, happiness, fulfillment and inner peace in your life.” Each key has powerful strategies and proven practices backed up by research from neuroscience, Eastern psychology and the health-promoting and healing benefits of the arts.

I’d love to hear from you what strategies you’ve found useful to prevent burnout and reduce the stress in your life. I welcome your comments and suggestions below.


[1] http://digitaldetox.org/manifesto/

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