How can you motivate yourself to change when the odds seem stacked against you?
“Uncharted waters”, “unprecedented times” and “unknown territory” are all phrases that have been used to describe the current situation we find ourselves in.
Clichés aside, these words don’t come close to describing the anxiety and uncertainty many of us feel as we try to carve out a future that is vastly different from the one we imagined just a few months ago. The pandemic has turned our expectations on their heads and our ability to embrace the new reality will determine our success, happiness and ultimate wellbeing.
Change – especially change that we haven’t chosen – can seem scary and overwhelming. However, if we can learn to embrace change and even thrive in the midst of it, the possibilities become almost endless.
Richard Cullinan, a leading author and educator specialising in emotional intelligence, who is also the creator of our new emotional intelligence courses, says: “Make no error, change is most often difficult, it takes time to implement and it is often costly. Also, people inevitably respond emotionally to change. At first we deny the change is required, then we object to it, then we adapt to it, and finally, we commit to the change. Then, also inevitably, we are faced with a new change and the cycle repeats itself.”
Before you throw your hands up in defeat, he adds that it is possible to develop the positive mindset that allows us to respond to change in a more agile and accepting way, reaping the benefits and opportunities that change brings with it.
Why are so many of us resistant to change?
It is human nature for us to want things to stay the same because we get comfortable with our routines, relationships and beliefs. We are all familiar with the concept of the “comfort zone” – that well-trodden space where our behaviour and activities fit a habitual pattern that minimises risk and stress. Leaving the comfort zone means increased risk and anxiety, which is why many of us fall into the trap of resisting change.
In fact, Richard says that the more things change the more we want them to remain the same: “Resisting change is a bit like practicing non-acceptance. When we do not accept the changes going on within ourselves, with our family, friends, colleagues and circumstances there is a friction that develops within us and between us. We tend to lash out at things we don’t accept and can criticise others and complain about our circumstances to the point that this resistance disturbs our internal and external harmony.”
The benefits of practicing acceptance are multi-fold. Not only does it increase our self-awareness and ability to live in the present, it also makes it easier to understand other people and accept them for who they are. Richard adds: “This present mind awareness, tolerance and going with the flow of life releases positive energy inside us and makes it far easier to adapt to and even initiate change which enriches and encourages us to move forward in a world beset with change.”
Can we overcome the fear and anxiety that change brings with it?
We have already established that even the thought of things changing can make us feel fearful and anxious. Low level anxiety is often brought on by worry, which in the current climate could be caused by changes to our finances, our home lives or job security .
Negative thoughts like, “Will I have enough money to pay my rent in three months’ time?”, “Will I be good enough?”, “Will I make it on time?”, are all worries that occasionally enter into our consciousness in some form or another. The concern is when this type of worry becomes a habit and causes one to be anxious most of the time. Chronic worriers think that they are solving their problems by worrying but are actually creating a psychological environment which stops them from thinking creatively and critically to solve problems in an agile way.
According to Richard, one of the best ways to counteract the negative impact of worrying is to catch the worry before it escalates into full blown anxiety and challenge it with an alternative plausible viewpoint. “After interrogating the worry objectively and providing this alternative viewpoint we are able to step back from it, think clearly and make a decision which allows us to move forward in an intelligent and constructive way,” he explains.
For example, if you are feeling anxious about an upcoming meeting with your boss because you are worried that the outcome will be negative, try to imagine a positive outcome instead. Instead of dwelling on things that you have failed at or are unable to do, write a list of things that you have accomplished or excel at.
What are the benefits of embracing change?
When we practice acceptance and employ the right tactics to quieten down our worrying thoughts, we can lessen our feelings of anxiety and actually start to enjoy the journey and opportunities that change presents to us.
If we look at the rapid changes we have experienced because of the Covid-19 pandemic, we can realise that we are far more adaptable than we thought we were. In many countries, more than 50% of the workforce is now working remotely. Parents have had to learn to become tutors to their kids who are now taking their classes online. We have had to reduce our social interaction with friends and family and adopt social distancing to protect ourselves and others from the virus. We now wear masks on public transport and carry hand sanitiser wherever we go.
“The people that quickly accepted this ‘new normal’ were able to adjust to the changes and indeed some people and many businesses have pivoted and recreated themselves to survive. The more innovative and creative people have been with the change, the more they have thrived,” says Richard.
Like most things in life, the way we respond to things depends on our willingness to adjust and change. The benefits of being able to do so are immeasurable and, importantly, the transition from resistance to acceptance opens the door to increased happiness, purpose and fulfillment in our lives.