You know you’re ready when the everyday circumstances of your life become uncomfortable. Like the slippers you used to love are so stretched out that it takes work to keep them on, or the holes in your favorite shirt are now bigger than the remaining material. What used to feel cozy and comfortable and familiar now begins to feel just a bit (or even a lot) suffocating.
That means you may very well be ready for a change
In my case, it crept up on me — that “knowing” that something needed shifting. I didn’t know what, I didn’t know why, and I most certainly didn’t know how. So I took myself on vacation to the Miraval Resort in Tucson, Arizona, to figure it out.
All in for whatever was ahead, I signed up for Quantum Leap. This involved getting strapped into a harness, which was connected to a rope that was held in place by fellow guests. And then climbing up a 25-foot telephone pole. And then – somehow, without a railing or anything to hold on to – standing up on a wooden platform that was about six inches by 24 inches. Oh, and then, jumping off!
In the days and weeks that followed, it felt like someone cleared the windshield without me even knowing it had been foggy. I began to see in clearer focus what was working for me in my business, what wasn’t, and how I might take a few steps forward to make that brighter picture permanent.
That was how I initiated my last big change. But there’s an easier way — one that doesn’t involve getting on a plane, putting your life in strangers’ literal hands and hoping like heck that the rope is strong!
Here’s something you can try — right here, right now — to find out if you’re ready for a change
Start with two pieces of paper and a pen. (Yes, you can do this on your computer, but truly, a new study out of Norway suggests handwriting engages the brain more than typing.)
(I can hear you thinking: “I don’t have time for this.” As I shared in a recent post, do it anyway. We do these kinds of exercises for a reason: It’s about deliberately disrupting our brain’s deeply rooted neural pathways, which would far more prefer that we stick to the status quo than make any actual change. I’m pretty sure you’ll be glad you did.)
On the first piece of paper, write down three to five things you really like about your current situation — they can be concrete like “I love the view outside my office window” or more abstract like “I feel intellectually stimulated daily”.
Now, next to each thing you like, write down a brief description of why you like it using the word “because”, such as:
“I love the view outside my office window because it reminds me that what I’m doing in here positively affects lots of people”, or
“I need to feel intellectually stimulated at least once per day because that gives me a big shot of energy and makes me feel more alive”.
New list: Take the second piece of paper and write down three to five things that you really don’t like about your current situation — such as, “Working at home” or “The way my team is structured”.
Now, you know the drill: Next to each thing you don’t like, write down a brief description of why you don’t like it using the words “I feel”, such as:
“When I work at home everyday, I feel isolated”, or
“Because of the way my team is structured, I feel it challenging to contribute my ideas”.
One more step: Take a look at the things you don’t like one by one — and the reasons you noted. For each, ask yourself two questions:
Can this thing I don’t like be changed? For those items where the answer is yes, spend some time brainstorming on solutions or alternatives — enlist a friend or co-worker if needed …or even better, your coach!
Where the answer is no, consider how significantly the “I feel” part affects you on a scale of one (no appreciable effect) to five (adverse effect)?, i.e.:
Feeling isolated everyday affects my mental health at a 4, or
Feeling unable to contribute my ideas affects my job satisfaction at a 3.
Finally, review your two lists side by side. What do you think: Are you ready for a transition? You might even want to keep the lists around for a few days or weeks, noting if your response to them shifts, deepens or fades. That’s good information, too.
By the way, if your assessment leads you to conclude that change is not necessary right now: Good for you! Having gone through this process should lead you to even greater appreciation and fulfillment of your current circumstances. And one day, when you begin to feel that itch, you’ll know what to do.
Learn more about our coaching options to bring some guidance and structure to the process of assessing and navigating your next change — even (especially) if you’re just starting to consider one.
I recently heard someone describe our brains as lazy — they were explaining the concept of confirmation bias, I think. The (simplified) perspective was that the brain doesn’t do anything beyond what it absolutely has to in order to quickly and effectively arrive at a decision, and therefore “ignores” what isn’t relevant. I understand that interpretation.
I take a different view
I see our brains as the epitome of operational efficiency. If you have ever spent time in a manufacturing or operations environment, you’ll easily relate. In those settings, every move, large or small, is calculated to maximize productivity and optimize cycle time. There is no tolerance for waste — of time, materials or energy.
Our brains are built to do exactly the same, with one overriding objective: To protect us from anything that could possibly be unsafe. Secondarily, our brains are built to seek and find pleasure, and sometimes these two drivers are at odds. (But that’s an entirely different post!)
According to the NeuroLeadership Institute, “Our brains have evolved to really like certainty, which stems from our basic drive to survive. We have evolved to predict and control our circumstances because doing so optimizes our ability to live.” It would follow, then, that any change that brings uncertainty – which is essentially all change – feels like an immediate threat and naturally results in resistance.
Yet – there are some changes that are exciting rather than frightening
Hungarian endocrinologist Hans Selye, known as the father of modern stress research, sorted the stress we experience into two types, one he characterizes as negative (a threat) and the other as positive (an opportunity). Both of these scenarios elicit physiological and emotional responses — and some are common for both scenarios, such as an increased heartbeat.
However, distress (the negative type of stress) also brings about increased blood pressure and faster and shallower breathing. And emotionally, distress stirs up fear, anxiety, nervousness and confusion. On the other hand, eustress (the positive type of stress we interpret as opportunity) results in increased cognitive function and decreased oxidative stress. And emotionally, eustress delivers motivation, focus, excitement and energy.
The million dollar question…
What if we could retrain our brain to interpret any change as an opportunity rather than a threat?
It turns out that we can. According to Deepak Chopra: “Our ability to rewire our brains remains intact from birth to the end of life.” This is a relatively new discovery – and it is outstanding news for us!
But first, another quick brain lesson
We know that the most rapid brain growth occurs early in life. Here’s what it looks like:
At birth, every neuron in the cerebral cortex has an estimated 2,500 synapses; by the age of three, this number has grown to a whopping 15,000 synapses per neuron. That’s 6 times the synapses that existed at birth …in just 3 years!
The average adult, however, has only about 1,000 synapses. That’s 1/15th of what we had as a 3-year old!
Why? Because as we gain new experiences and repeat others, some connections are strengthened while others are eliminated. This process is known as synaptic pruning. This is how our brain adapts to changing environments and becomes more efficient over time. (In an operations world, this is akin to trimming waste and eliminating unnecessary steps.)
Have you ever taught someone to drive? If so, you’ll remember being surprised at all the things you had to explain – things that you do everyday without thinking, as if on auto pilot! That’s an example of strong neural pathways in action.
The really, really good news
We now know that the brain possesses a remarkable capacity to reorganize pathways, form new connections, and change how its circuits are wired. This is the field known as neuroplasticity. Based on discoveries in this relatively nascent field, we CAN learn to train our brain to interpret incoming stress as an opportunity rather than a threat.
And that’s the basis of our landmark program The 3 Essential Practices to Make Change Suck Less(tm). Our work focuses on developing and mastering 3 practices that allow our brain to create new neural synapses in order to interpret change as eustress (opportunity) rather than distress (threat): MRI — Mindset, Resilience and Identity.
Learn more about The 3 Essential Practices to Make Change Suck Less here, and schedule a Complimentary Clarity Call with me now to explore how to engage — as a team or an individual. Imagine the impact that learning to embrace change (rather than resisting it) can have in our workplaces, families and communities.
If you’re anything like me, you’re looking for clues about how to live and lead better everywhere. And if children are part of your life in any way — they provide ample ways to test and grow our skills in both living and leading. Here are the top 6 skills I’ve learned from my nearly quarter-century of parenting.
1. Be open. Their perspectives and opinions are their own – and not always the same as mine. They provide me with a window to reflect upon other ways to think about things I always thought I understood comprehensively.
2. Listen. Really listen. When you listen deeply and intensely you will hear beneath the words and catch a glimpse of the drivers, fears, and motivations. That’s when you find out truly what’s going on.
(By the way, when you really listen, as I have done with many of coaching clients’ teams, you often discover surprising blind spots. Once addressed, these blind spots open the channel for much deeper #engagement and #productivity.)
3. Be flexible. Same parents, same upbringing, and yet such different personalities, interests and needs. This has required me to be agile in how I support, protect and encourage them as individuals, as well as how I maintain the cohesion of our family unit. Yes, they need some of the same things from me …and in addition, they each need something slightly different. (Think mass customization minus the AI!)
4. Be humble. It is unimaginable what they know that I don’t. From world history to biology to calculus to sports and contemporary music. I’d be so incredibly ill-informed if I thought I knew it all. They teach me at least as much as I have ever taught them, even (especially?) when we disagree. Which, not lying …can be really, really hard. The secret sauce for a great outcome for a heated inter-family disagreement: Both parties need to actively tame their ego. When that happens, a solidly researched disagreement can lead to major growth for all. For me, this one’s actually easier to muster at work than at home.
5. Let go and trust. The more I let go of them, the more magical they become; each a free-standing, unique young adult with skills, talents and aspirations that are theirs alone. And yet we three share a deep and fiercely loyal connection to each other. I daresay we are each other’s biggest fans. This really is what’s at the foundation of engaging hearts and minds, isn’t it?
6. Love. They have tested my patience, my boundaries, and my expectations. But they are my children and no matter what, I will always love them. Over the years, they have fed my wellspring of hope, compassion and empathy in equal measure. I have not loved everyone who has ever worked for me — but I have loved many of them. And still do. In the worlds of work and leadership, consider this one a bonus.
Schedule a Complimentary Clarity Call with me today explore what leadership lessons you have already discovered in your personal life that you can repurpose and amplify at work.
Until now. At first, I tiptoed into it, with the purchase of one puzzle I thought for sure my grown-and-flown-and-then-back-again young adult sons would enjoy helping me solve. It was a gorgeous 1,000-piecer of a small town built into the mountains at the ocean’s edge in Italy — one my oldest son visited while studying abroad. And yes, he and his younger brother actually sat for 5 minutes from time to time while wandering out of the kitchen to fit some pieces into the emerging picture.
It was a lot harder than I imagined.
That gorgeous blue sky that met the water at the imperceptible horizon? Something to marvel at in life (and in pics) — but to reconstruct as a puzzle? That was an awful lot of blue in an awful lot of small pieces!
That first puzzle was so tough. And so satisfying. I was immersed, mesmerized, you might even say obsessed. I spent hours at the dining room table over cold winter weekends and late into the night, head bent, fingers sorting pieces first by color and then by shape. It got so that I was literally dreaming about shapes and colors. For real. I was hooked. As soon as that one was finished, three more fell into my shopping cart.
I have since developed some discipline concerning how much time I spend at what is now officially known as the puzzle table. (And since we do occasionally use the table for dining per its initial intention, I even invested in a puzzle table thingy with drawers for sorting that I can move about as needed.)
Lesson #1: Walk away
Like any good project with a ton of details, you can so easily get lost in the minutiae. You say to yourself — just this one more piece, that will be so satisfying. But you just can’t seem to find that piece. And another one catches your eye, and you know just where it goes! And then all of a sudden, it’s 8:20 pm, your stomach is growling and you realize that no one has given a thought to the evening meal.
So now, I give myself a limit before I sit down — it could be the 10-minute break between Zoom calls (see Lesson #2) or however long it takes to eat the peanut butter and banana sandwich for lunch, or the 15 minutes the dinner that someone actually thought of (and did something about) is cooking.
The point is: Get up and walk away. There are simply some situations in life that can’t be solved in one sitting. The quicker you realize that, the less time you waste in utter frustration. Just stand up and leave the scene. It is an amazingly cleansing action. Even when you don’t feel like it, Do it Anyway!
Lesson #2: We can all use a bit of mental floss from time to time
Who among us hasn’t endured hours and hours of video calls over the past year? There’s been so much reported recently about how mentally demanding these interactions can be. For me, the word is INTENSE. I find myself listening and watching harder than I do on audio only or even in person. It’s like something in me is terrified to miss a single syllable or nuance. And it’s exhausting.
During several recent all-day training sessions, I found myself grabbing a cup of tea and sitting down at the puzzle table during my 10-minute breaks. It was like going from a several-hour, multi-sensory experience into a quiet, padded room. The space and quiet and relative mindlessness of pushing around colorful puzzle pieces on a grey felt board was meditative. It was like an invitation to take a deep breath, let go of any mental focus and truly relax the brain. Which seems to me to be a helpful thing to do when trying to solve a complex problem.
Lesson #3: The picture in your head doesn’t always match reality
Somewhere along the line, I learned to work on sections. It’s incredibly satisfying to fit pieces together based on color and shape, even though you don’t yet know where it all goes into the bigger picture (see Lesson #4).
Then there comes the moment where that section starts to resemble a thing. And you start to get a sense — even a knowing — about where it goes. So you continue building, sure you know just where and how it will fit.
But for some reason, it just doesn’t. Fit, that is. It’s like you can see this section as an extension of the picture emerging along the frame — but something’s wrong. You begin to wonder if some pieces were left out of your box. And then you get up and walk away (remember Lesson #1?).
That’s when you loosen your grip on how you thought that section should fit. When you return, you spin the entire section around and discover that what you thought was up is actually down. (Seriously, this has happened to me more than once.)
I find this the toughest of the 4 lessons because it leans heavily on humility; as in, well — maybe I don’t have all the answers after all! Where in your life might you benefit from loosening your grip on how you think things should look? What if you spun things around or consciously let that preconceived notion float off — even for a few minutes? What might appear in its place?
(Check out this post for a super easy, fast and fun exercise to see how your perspective works.)
Lesson #4: Sometimes you have to zoom in and sometimes you have to zoom out (and sometimes you have to do both)
I figured this last puzzle would be a breeze; after all, it’s a mere 500 pieces and a seemingly basic aquarium scene. Two or three sessions in, I started depositing elements of the big turtle into a corner to sort through later. One day, I noticed that the turtle pile had grown larger than the rest of the unused pieces. How could that be? It was just one turtle! That’s when I took a closer look at the picture on the box and discovered seven turtles! All with the same drab green and beige coloring! Whoa. How did I miss that?
In our change work with large organizations, we often talk about the need to zoom in and zoom out, sometimes at the same time. It’s like having one eye on the detail and one eye on the big picture simultaneously. As I discovered at my dining room (er, puzzle) table: The outcome of any real-life scenario is better when neither viewpoint is considered in a vacuum.
Sure, you may be able to tell when you’re off-key, but the reality is that you will never hear yourself as others do.
When a leader works with a mentor, coach or advisor, they are asking:
How do I sound?
Do I make sense?
Am I doing what I need to in order to inspire my organization?
What’s in my way of achieving my goals that I can’t see?
How am I tripping myself (and others) up?
What small thing can I do (or not do) that will have a huge impact?
Many of these things (most?) are impossible to see for oneself, and especially so the more senior one is. Remember the emperor who had no clothes? You may think your team tells you everything you want to know. Having been both the team member and the team leader in my career, I can tell you: That is rarely true.
What you’re not hearing all alone inside your bubble?
They may be major issues, or they may be shadowy corners of your behavior that you wouldn’t even notice, but that are limiting your impact — and that of your team.
Seeking help from an advisor or coach is not a sign of weakness; it is the opposite. I’ve hired several throughout the course of my career, long before it ever occurred to me to become one. I’ve learned big things and small things; things I was easily able to change and things I discovered that I should never change. There are even insights I gleaned well over 20 years ago that have remained with me since, and about which I still pause and consider from time to time.
And you don’t have to take it exclusively from me. In this article, Harvard Business Review credits the bubble that many senior leaders build around themselves (or that’s created for them) for creating a vacuum of experience and perspective that both robs them of on-the-ground insights and paves the way for leadership by ego — a debilitating and avoidable development.
So stop bare-knuckling it on your own. Schedule a Complimentary Clarity Call with me today to identify where to shine the light and spring clean, and what to amplify, so you can level-up your impact — and that of your team.
When you’re not quite meeting expectations and you don’t know why.
When you’ve been passed over for the promotion you thought was in the bag (again).
When your team is showing signs of burnout and / or dysfunction.
Being reactive always brings a higher price
The need for help is obvious. Something is amiss or even off the rails, and the underlying causes are unknown. In many cases, these (surprisingly common) scenarios can drag out until something significant happens — when there is a very real price to pay, be that in terms of lost revenues or decreased income, mental or physical health problems, or unplanned turnover.
The problem with waiting until the need is obvious is that the price paid is always higher the longer you wait it out. At least that’s what Jeff, my trusted, decades-long auto mechanic taught me. And with three cars currently running in tip-top shape at a combined age of 43, I believe him!
The value of getting in shape BEFORE the race
If you have either A) Burned out your immune system through stress and lack of self-care and then fallen ill, or B) Undertaken a focused training program before entering a marathon — then you will attest to the value of preventive care and maintenance.
Which leads me to “When should you hire a coach” Scenario #2:
When you win that new leadership role with expanded influence, impact, and risk.
When your company brings in a new chief executive and you recognize a (potentially once in a career) opportunity for your team to become pivotal to the new strategy.
When a huge win opens an equally huge window of opportunity to influence organizational culture and behavior.
In my personal experience as a leader and an advisor, these happier moments are both less obvious (in terms of the need for help) and also exponentially more powerful.
Take the new elevated role, for example. If you’re 100% new to the organization, you will typically have a brief grace period in which to get yourself grounded and reach your maximum operating performance (the more senior, the more brief). If the new role is in an organization where you already work, that grace period is even shorter. Those first 90 days — measured in weeks — are your once-in-a-role opportunity to:
Establish critical relationships that will help your cause and limit stone-throwing later on,
Identify and tackle quick wins that set up your credibility and that of your team, and
Articulate early insights / learnings, vet your ideas, and sketch out short- and long-term plans with someone who is completely free of any agenda related to your job — save that you are good at it.
Meander these opportunities away at your own risk. As clients have returned and confirmed to me: You will never get those early days back again. After all, you wouldn’t plan to run a marathon in two month’s time without training for it, would you?
Here’s more on how coaching can help — particularly in the areas of growing your career, becoming more skillful at leading and influencing, and learning and practicing new change skills.
Whether you’re currently in a reactionary mode or planning ahead, schedule a Complimentary Clarity Call today so we can identify strengths to lean into and blind spots to obliterate!
How is this abnormal different from all other abnormals?
Remember when we actively did things to upend our sense of normal — like traveling, trying new activities, attending live performances? All of these require us to suspend our “normal” for a time and expand our thinking, awareness, and experience. But even as we embark on such things, we know we will return to whatever our normal is — at our own timing and usually, in some kind of planned way.
This pandemic and the subsequent global economic difficulties are external forces that have removed our normal from us — without our ability to control any of it and without knowledge of how, when, and even if we will eventually be given back our full normal.
If you have lost loved ones, your livelihood, and/or anything else as a result, you are knocked even further off your normal. And you have my deepest empathy and condolences.
Finding your footing, much less staying grounded, amid this uncertainty is extremely difficult for many and just plain out of reach for some. It has also become a constant and exhausting undertaking.
As we gradually, tentatively dip our toes into the water of whatever “new normal” will look like, one thing will most certainly ease the transition: Compassion. Too many of us have learned to brush things off with a shrug and say without thinking much about it: “It’s okay! I’m okay!” “Yes, I celebrated [fill in the blank: Easter / Passover, my birthday, the New Year…] without family, but it was fine; it could have been worse.”
It turns out that during a prolonged trauma, our brain really wants to normalize our experience
It does this to allow us to adapt and survive (they really are incredibly smart, those brains of ours). The problem is that we are wired to adapt and cope in this way for short periods — unplanned bursts of stress that really do spell life or death. Extending the stress response for months (or years) paves the way for all sorts of physical and mental health problems.
So, instead of being so quick to dismiss the trauma that we have all shared (are sharing), I suggest taking some time to give voice to what you are feeling, what you have experienced, how you are changed. This can be done via nearly any medium: writing, drawing, painting, singing, dancing — anything that allows the energy of your emotions to unlock and begin to flow. (Personally, I favor writing and singing, although my kids wish I’d stick to writing!)
And then give yourself a huge bear hug
Or get one from someone near if you are able to.
The time for digging for lessons about how this experience has affected us and our global community is ahead. Now is the time for some self-love. And that’s coming from a devoted lifelong learner.
At On the Same Page, we work with leaders, managers and everyday people to Make Change Suck Less(TM) — at work and at home. Find out how we can help you.
Over the years, I’ve developed a morning ritual that has become essential for me having a great day. I like great days a lot, so this ritual is pretty important to me. As in, I have noticed on more than one occasion that when I skip it entirely, I don’t get a great day. The main elements of my ritual are:
A few select readings to gently settle my busy mind
Meditating for 20 minutes
A few minutes of free-form journaling
This morning after meditating, I didn’t “feel like” journaling. Truth be told, I was feeling kind of irritated and annoyed. So like a good advisor, I said to myself: Tough beans. Do it anyway.
So I did.
I often start with something like “Today I am…” and then just write whatever comes to me as a series of bullets. No pressure to make sense, and rarely a linear storyline. Just checking in, touching base and taking note.
This morning my bullets included words like “unsettled,” “anxious,” “uncertain” and “pressure”. If you know me – these are emotions I’m not visited by all that often, and when I am, they usually dissipate pretty quickly. Truth is, I’d been feeling these things for the better part of a few days. Hence my irritation this morning.
When I was finished, I went on with the machinations of getting set up for my day. And wouldn’t you know – about an hour later, I was back to feeling clear-headed, focused and even motivated; sensations I’d released hope of achieving anytime today.
What the advisor in me knew this morning that I didn’t?
When we identify and give voice to emotions that are troublesome, distracting and even downright irritating – we release them from the jail cell of our mind. Until we provide that opening, they are stuck running around like little chickens with their heads cut off in our brain, making a lot of noise and clouding our vision.
What do you need to give voice to now in order to have a great rest of your day?
Or perhaps you’re a bruised and battered Change Survivor?
If you could choose one, which would it be?
If you’ve read this far, my guess is you’d opt to be a ChangeMaker. Me too. No one likes being told how it’s going to be less than an Aries (yours truly). So why not learn to grab hold of the unexpected change that’s coming at you, and like in martial arts, redirect it to your advantage?
Great news: Even if you don’t think of yourself as a ChangeMaker this minute …you can learn to become one! The best news of all: While you’re on the road to learning to become a ChangeMaker, you will learn to think and behave in concrete ways that will make change suck less both now and well into the future. And not just for you, but for those around you whose lives you influence directly or indirectly everyday (read: family, colleagues, community).
Let’s get one thing straight right now…
I am not promising you a rose garden. The truth is that the path to constructive change is often (usually?) dotted with sadness, frustration and challenge. And unlike the cracks in the sidewalk that we learn to jump over as kids (so as not to break our mothers’ backs – thank you), these difficulties cannot be sidestepped. They are, in fact, part of the process.
The difference is in how we choose to acknowledge and interact with these difficulties. The most common response to unexpected change is to view it within the context of our current perception of boundaries, constraints and realities. Sadly, this habit is both limiting and frustrating.
On the other hand, if we take practical steps to expand our view beyond assumptions we may not even know we are imposing, interesting (often exciting) possibilities emerge.
Try it with me now – it’ll take 3 minutes max, I promise!
First: Follow the steps in order and do not read ahead!
Grab a pen, paper and timer
Take 3 seconds to look around the room and remember everything that’s red
Now, take 15 seconds to list all the items you remember that are red
Next, without looking around the room again, take 15 seconds to write down everything you remember that’s blue
Bet you didn’t remember the blue things nearly as well as the red, right? That’s because you weren’t looking for them. For survival purposes, our brains are trained to see what we’re looking for. So, if we want to expand our thinking about what is truly possible – beyond our limited current perceptions, we need to learn and practice seeing more broadly – beyond the neural pathways that are already well developed.
This conscious and intentional expanding of our mindset is a prerequisite to developing ChangeAgility – the skills and practices that make change suck less.
If you’re a morning smoothie fan like I am, you likely own some kind of blender like a Nutribullet or Ninja. They’re small, but heavy duty and they mean business. You can stuff 16 ounces (400+ ml) of frozen stuff in there and top it off with some kind of liquid (creamy oat milk is my current go to) and blend away.
If you’re like me and watch the smoothifying process somewhat obsessively, you’ll notice an interesting pattern beyond the whirring. While the motor starts out strong with the blades whacking through the frozen stuff with abandon, it looks and feels like hard work. Frankly, you’re not sure it’s ever going to come together. But then, all of a sudden, in one simple, clarifying moment, the banana chunks stuck at the top of the cup finally get sucked in and, whew …it’s smooth sailing from there.
What’s this got to do with neural pathways?
Our brains’ most prominent patterns (kind of like software code that govern our outlook and behavior) are the product of years and years of living, coping and surviving in a world that doesn’t guarantee anyone’s safety, on top of centuries of inherited programing for the survival of our species. This means the primary focus of our brains is to simply remain alive at the end of the day, one day at a time.
According to the NeuroLeadership Institute: “Our brains have evolved to really like certainty, which stems from our basic drive to survive. We have evolved to predict and control our circumstances because doing so optimizes our ability to live.”
(It’s interesting to note that Merriam-Webster provides the following antonyms for the word “survive”: fail, fizzle, give out, peter (out), run out. So we can see how our perilous it would be for humanity if we let the ball drop on the survival idea.)
But don’t we get to do more than simply survive?
If you’re motivated to do anything more than simply survive, like thrive maybe, then you’ll need to adopt a workout regimen of sorts for your brain to develop some new neural pathways. You know it can be done, because I’m sure you know at least a few people who arise each day not just experiencing joy and contentment, but actually expecting to do so. Every day.
That’s not just personality at work. Nor does it have anything to do with wealth, health or privilege. It’s the product of a set of decisions (whether made consciously or not) to focus on living, not just surviving. And in the beginning, it took work.
Getting back to the smoothie…
Once we are fully formed adults, changing our mindset – the way we think, expect and behave – requires intention, commitment and discipline. It requires forming new neural pathways that allow us to go beyond focusing on minute-to-minute survival in order to experience, express and create more.
It’s not a simple thing. In the beginning, it feels a lot like stuffing a bunch of frozen produce (our intentions) into a blender cup, adding some liquid (commitment) and pulsing the hell out of it (discipline). Like with the blender motor, it looks and feels like hard work in the early days – awkward even. But keep the pressure on long enough, and all of a sudden, all the efforting dissolves into ease. And, lo and behold, you have formed a new neural pathway or two, and likely, an expanded mindset and experience.
This conscious and intentional expanding of our mindset is a prerequisite to developing ChangeAgility – the skills and practices that make change suck less.
Check out earlier episodes in our Make Change Suck Less series:
Episode #1: What I Learned About Change From a Very Weird Plant on My Deck
Episode #2: Resist Wisely… It Requires an Incalculable Amount of Energy!
In episode #4, we introduced three sets of questions that have a remarkable ability to change the way we think. That was before COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic.
It turns out that stopping the world as we know it has provided an incredible opportunity for many of us to practice these questions, letting go of what is outside of our control and seizing that which remains.
With my deepest condolences to all who have lost loved ones to this horrific disease, those who struggled and overcame it, and immense gratitude to those who have stepped up in ways none of us could imagine just months ago, I aim to share how this experience has added insights and tools to my personal arsenal for making change suck less. I hope these will help you as well.
Insight #1: Contraction and expansion are both necessary and natural occurrences in our universe
How this is playing out for many of us: At this time of economic instability (to say the least), most of us are working to find every possible opportunity to shave the cost of living. At the same time, I am acutely aware that what we focus on is what we manifest.
So how do we square this focus on minimizing our costs with desires and intentions to amass financial abundance? I believe it is by understanding – and embracing – the rhythms of contraction and expansion in nature …and keeping the larger vision front and center. (Remember the adage “go slow in order to go fast?”)
The truth is that the vast majority of us will survive the contraction and make it to the expansion that awaits on the other side. The question becomes, how can we weather this journey and raise the odds of making it to what is next — while minimizing the pain?
Aside from the obvious can’ts, don’ts and musts that we are all experiencing — where in this contraction can we let down our guard and find the spaces and opportunities to cherish, relish and simply enjoy? Where we can drop the fierce resistance and stalwart strength we have been relying on to carry us through from moment to moment? The small, precious moments in which we can experience the magnificence of expansion in the moment? Where we are simultaneously shrinking and creating / building?
For me, it looks like this.
Refinancing my mortgage to enhance cash flow
Eliminating those pesky little automatic monthly charges we sign up for in the dead of night and promptly forget about
Getting creative – and activating my passion for environmental sustainability – by pulling various stray items in my pantry and figuring out how to make meals out of them (for more on that, you simply MUST check in with @thescrappychefny on IG).
Investing in professional development to learn new skills and upgrade my certification in my chosen field
Enriching my personal life by connecting with family and friends through individual and group Zoom calls
Practicing my active and open listening skills by debating current topics with my “grown and flown and now back home” young adult children whose political views are very different from my own!
Insight #2: Embracing the contraction defangs our fear
There is no more obvious example of contraction and expansion at work than in childbirth – literal or figurative.
Sheila Hay, author of Ecstatic Birth, explains that when we hit a rough patch on the road to our desires, that’s a contractive moment. Our natural tendency is to numb them, to avoid them at all cost. But, she points out, contractions are an important part of labor – with each one, our body opens a little more to lead to birth. The more we resist these contractions, the more painful they are and the more fear we kick up. It can become a downward spiral. Rather, she coaches, surrender to the contraction in favor of what we know is on the other side.
Here’s what that looks like for me:
As I got into retooling my finances, looking for places to cut back, it started to feel like a game. With each item I eliminated or reduced, I got a hit of immediate satisfaction, prompting me to look for more. It’s kind of like weeding. I dare you to limit yourself to only the first five weeds you spot!
Same for the culinary adventures: The more I figured out how to use stuff that had been lying around in the pantry, the more creative and virtuous I felt. As if the universe were giving me a pat on the back.
When we focus our attention on those moments of joy and expansion in the midst of the rest of it, even for a few moments every day, we disempower the struggle and give strength to the beauty and growth instead. It really is about being in the moment …not fighting it.
Check out earlier episodes in our Make Change Suck Less series:
Episode #1: What I Learned About Change From a Very Weird Plant on My Deck
Episode #2: Resist Wisely… It Requires an Incalculable Amount of Energy!
Stay tuned to learn more about our new program: The 3 Essential Practices to Make Change Suck Less: Mindset, Resilience, Identity (MRI). And check out our peer coaching program for new and emerging leaders called YOU LEAD. We’ll be digging into all kinds of ways to make change suck less by activating your voice, your impact.
In episode #3, we acknowledged the creative power of asking “what if” instead of hunkering down in fight or flight every time change appears on the horizon. In this episode, we’ll develop a practice around questioning in order to create space for new possibilities.
It turns out our brains are far more elastic than we traditionally believed. Neuroscience researchers liken our gray matter to a fresh field of mud that gets worn down into a series of grooves, according to our habitual ways of thinking and acting. (Actually, I’ve never heard a neuroscientist say that our brains are like mud – I was visualizing the most recent Kentucky Derby mess when I wrote that!)
The point is: We can change the grooves if we want.
Consider the way train engineers use switches to move a train from one track to another. What if you could switch your thoughts over from the old, auto-pilot, how-am-I-going-to-pay-the-bills groove to a completely new and different circuit – one that’s far more liberating and empowering?
Creating these track “switches” could allow you to bypass the frenzy and / or paralysis of the survival instinct (fight or flight), which if you are seriously facing loss of life is handy, but otherwise is not that constructive. Instead, these “switches” can take you down a different path altogether –one that opens the way to possibilities you might never have imagined before.
Neuroscientists at Synaptic Potential call this our “change readiness neural quotient” – our neural capability to change. And the amazing thing is that like most capabilities, it can indeed be developed (or expanded).
To aid in building this new neural change muscle, I’d like to offer a practice that centers on asking yourself three sets of questions whenever you see change headed your way. These progressive questions are designed to unlock your natural resistance and unleash your personal power to respond and create in ways that serve your highest good.
Question Set #1:
Do I understand why this change is happening (after objectively considering all factors)?
Given more data points than I likely have, might I have arrived at the same (or similar) decision if I were in charge?
Regardless of my emotional response, will this change take place anyway?
At this point, you have ideally answered yes to all. And even if you don’t like what’s heading down the pike, your rational brain can accept the scenario as a foregone conclusion. If so, you are ready to move on.
Question set #2:
With this (rational) context in place, how do I feel in my gut about this change?
In addition to fears, concerns, trepidation… is there even a glimmer of curiosity? Relief? Excitement?
Can I feel a sense of possibility opening up… or even see a sliver of light filtering into the crack?
If you answered yes to the last two questions, you are like the train engineer, ready to literally flip the switch.
Question set #3:
In what ways might this new situation allow me to grow?
What latent skills or interests might I express or develop given this new scenario?
What have I always dreamed of doing (or doing differently) and how might this shift enable me to explore this?
If you’re able to contemplate these last questions, you are firmly in the creative “what might be” space, where etching new grooves is eminently possible.
In retrospect, I realize now that I’ve been following this process for years. And like everyone, I do sometimes get stuck in Question Set #1 (which is all about accepting that which we cannot control). It’s why I have carefully curated a short list of incredibly smart, diverse and provocative advisers I consult with from time to time – my truth tellers. They ask me tough questions and point out ways that I have dug in my heels in order to help me loosen myself from old grooves that were once constructive but no longer serve me well.
As I have become more adept at activating change in my own life, I find that Question Sets #2 and #3 come to me quite naturally. Have you ever cleared a room that was once full of a lot of clutter, only to feel so deeply the energy, spaciousness and clarity you didn’t know you craved?
This practice is a lot like that.
At On the Same Page, we would really like to hear how you actively bring change on board in your own life. Please do share your insights and experiences with us so we can all expand our ability to… well, expand!
Check out our new peer coaching program for new and emerging leaders called YOU LEAD. We’ll be digging into all kinds of ways to make change suck less by activating your voice, your impact.