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Coping with Change

Most of the challenges we face are adaptive ones, meaning that WE have to change, either to flex with changing circumstances or to modify thoughts, plans and behaviors that are no longer working well.

A disorienting dilemma is frequently the catalyst to change. Anne hasn’t been happy in her position but only seeks another one when re-structuring forces her out of a job. A nonprofit organization dependent on a yearly live auction and dinner to raise operating funds cannot have the event as planned due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It arranges instead for an online auction and catered gourmet dinners to be picked up by patrons.

It’s clear that the motivation to make change is much greater when the stakes are high.

While most people have a natural desire to evolve, there’s also comfort in the familiar, even when it’s not ideal. This type of resistance to change sounds like: “We’ve always done things this way,”  “Let’s wait and see,” or “If I make a change, it might be worse.”

To combat what change pioneer Robert Kegan of Harvard refers to as ‘immunity to change’, first identify how things could be better. Gather the facts and develop a rationale for change. One powerful way to build a sense of urgency is to look into the future a year or more and pose the question:  “If I/we don’t take action now, what will the consequences be?”

Changes, even good and necessary ones, can be stressful and require extra mental and physical energy.  Unanticipated changes are even more charged with emotion. Denial, anger and fear are common initial responses.  If the change involves others, acknowledge that it’s not easy, there may be unanticipated bumps in the road, and you’ll address them as they appear. What people dislike most about change is a lack of communication and denial of the fallout.

Change is a constant. Take ownership by knowing when to let go of resistance and focus instead on what can be controlled.  Seek support from others during times of change. Think of yourself as the skipper of a sailboat. When the wind changes, as it frequently does, a skipper adjusts the sails and charts a new course.

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