Posts Tagged ‘Catalyzing Change’

Catalyzing Change and the Brain

Article contributed by guest author Sandra Marin

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Since the beginning of time, people have liked routine. We like the known. It makes us feel in control. Safe and comfortable. Boy does this ever resonant now during these Covid times. So, it is no surprise that many of us resist change. Even if we are not 100% satisfied with status quo, we will hold onto it. Better the devil we know than the devil we don’t. But maybe not….

Our resistance to change is not because we are stubborn or want to be difficult (at least not you or me). It is a reflection of our brains. The brain loves to make sense of the world and helps us control our lives. This is an excellent thing. It keeps us safe.  And, like so many things, if overdone, can be harmful. The inability to change or grow can result in stagnation. No progress. Not good for an individual, a society or a country. 

February’s “coffee chat” topic, hosted by The Institute for Social and Emotional Intelligence was Catalyzing Change. This is one of the 26 competencies that make up their social and emotional intelligence model. 

During our chat we talked about many things and what I want to focus on today is the benefit of becoming more of a change catalyzer and less of a change resistor. In particular focusing on one critical benefit that may not be the first one that comes to mind: the positive impact of change on brain health. Yup, change can help our brains remain agile throughout our lives. 

Neuroscience: 1 second intro

Our brains grow and change naturally. Often quite dramatically until around our mid to late 20’s. Historical thinking about the brain was that once we became adults our brains were “hard -wired” and stopped changing. The die was cast. Or so we thought. Recent neuroscience research shows that our brains are much more flexible than we first thought, hence the term neuroplasticity.

Neuroplasticity is the term that describes the brain’s ability to create new neural pathways and ignore or lose those that are no longer used. We can change our habits, biases and behaviours. Not easy, but possible.

The main benefit of becoming a change catalyzer is that change can help keep our brains agile throughout our life. We can lead richer, happier and healthier lives. In fact, according to neuroscientist and author David Eagleman the single most important thing we can do for our brains is to cognitively challenge them. And that means embracing change. 

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Embracing Change: So what can you do to become more of a change catalyzer and improve the health of your brain? Start small to build your comfort level with change.

For example:

  • Take different routes to and from frequent destinations.
  • Try new restaurants and new types of cuisine.
  • Switch hands for common tasks such as brushing your teeth.
  • Expand your horizons in general. This can be listening to music, reading books, watching movies from styles and genres that you normally wouldn’t.

Of course the small things are not enough. Move on to more challenging activities and behaviours. Such as:

  •  Learn a new language or instrument. 
  • Embrace mistakes. We learn through trial and error. Think less about failing and more about exposing yourself to new activities and experiences. 
  • Practice, and more practice. Simply doing something once is not enough to create a new pathway in the brain. Try, try, and try again. If not perfect, practice does make better. 
  • Be open to new ideas and practices.  Maybe you have heard someone (not you of course) say “ if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” or “ we’ve always done it this way.” Resist the urge to stop there.  Go further and ask “ so what if it did change?What then?” 
  • Focus. Be present. Breathe. Deeply. Forget multi-tasking. Our brains are not wired for that. In fact the more we take on, the more our bodies are flooded with the stress hormone cortisol. Take up yoga, meditation or simply go for a walk in nature. 
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“All change is hard at first, messy in the middle, and gorgeous at the end.” Robin Sharma

I hope I have whetted your appetite for more on neuroscience, change and emotional intelligence. Please feel free to share your comments, questions, tips.

Resources 

There are many excellent resources on neuroscience. Here are three that relate to this article. 

 “The Nun Study”. This study showed that multilingualism and linguistic ability may reduce the risk of developing dementia. Science Daily September 12, 2019 University of Waterloo.

 “The Four Underling Principles of Changing your Brain “Tara Swart, neuroscientist and author, Forbes March 27, 2018.

 “Livewired” by David Eagleman 2020

Are you flexible?

“No matter what twists and turns your life offers you, your ability to be adaptable and flexible will help you to stay open to all of the hidden gifts that difficulty may offer. ” –Mandy Ingber

Article contributed by Amy Sargent

The routine of habits

We are creatures of habit. Consider, for example, how you prepare your morning coffee each day. I’m guessing you go through the same exact steps, day by day, whether it’s stopping by your favorite local coffee shop and ordering that same drink you love, or whether you make your own, carefully measuring coffee grounds into your coffeemaker and adding the same amount of sweetener and creamer to your steaming mug.  Or, reflect on the route you take to work. Do you tend to turn down the same streets each day or change things up?

Oxford dictionary defines a habit as a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up. Habits often imply a refusal to flex. On the contrary, flexibility, or personal agility, is our ability to anticipate and respond rapidly and willingly to changing conditions.

Does your day-to-day life consist more of habits or agility?

“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligence, but those most responsive to change.” — Charles Darwin

Habits in and of themselves are not a negative thing. They are our way of getting necessary tasks done with a minimal need for brain engagement. You most likely could write down the steps you take from when you wake up to when you taste that first sip of piping hot coffee without much effort.  And your route to work — you could draw the map in your sleep. Getting dressed for work, brushing your teeth, filling the car with fuel when the tank is low — all tasks that need to be done yet don’t take a lot of effort to figure out how to do them. You’ve been doing these for years. Forming a habit around these seemingly mundane tasks allow you to accomplish with minimal thinking.

A study was done at Massachusetts Institute of Technology to determine how much of our behavior is fueled by habits.  The researchers outfitted students with a box that monitored their activities throughout the day–sleeping, eating, walking, working, going to class, talking with friends, etc. They discovered that a whopping 90% of our daily activities follow predictable routines! And many of these routines are simply reactions to the world around us. John Bargh, psychologist at Yale University,  says this: “…most of a person’s everyday life is determined not by their conscious intentions and deliberate choices, but by mental processes put into motion by the environment.”

Many habits can lead to a healthier, happier lifestyle. Take for example, your routine to eat healthy food, to exercise every day, or to spend quiet time in mediation or self-reflection. Habits such as these enable you to live the life you want, whether it be to achieve a level of health, find peace of mind, or relieve stress.

Habits get us into trouble, however, when a need for change arises and we refuse to respond. Some habits lead to poor physical health, such as overeating. Some lead to a lack of connection, such as spending too much time staring at your cell phone. At work, a refusal to flex can lead to frustration when the new manager arrives, or an inability to work well with others if you’re tied to always doing things the way you want to.

Signs of personal agility

Not sure if you are flexible? Take this short quiz (adapted from the ISEI Coaching Toolkit developed by Dr. Laura Belsten) to find how you score in personal agility. Read each statement and determine how frequently you demonstrate the behavior, on a scale of 1 to 5 (1=Always, 2=Almost Always, 3=Occasionally, 4-Almost Never, 5=Never):

  1. I find it easy to operate out of my comfort zone.
  2. I am comfortable with change.
  3. It’s okay when things are ‘up in the air’.
  4. I readily embrace new ideas and concepts.
  5. I quickly make decisions and solve problems even when there’s not enough information.
  6. I shift gears quickly when changes arise.
  7. I don’t curse change nor do I let change put me in a bad mood.
  8. I like to learn new skills and new ways of doing things.
  9. I can take action without having the complete picture.
  10. I readily embrace shifting priorities.
  11. I am comfortable if I have to do things differently than they’ve always been done.
  12. Others view me as someone who is curious in new ways of doing things.
  13. I am comfortable working with people who are different from me in their thinking and problem-solving.
  14. I anticipate change and respond readily.
  15. I can juggle multiple demands with ease (and a smile).
  16. I am comfortable with risk and uncertainty.
  17. I tend to be an early adopter (of things like technology, new ideas, new procedures).
  18. I adjust quickly to the need for change even if the facts available to me are limited.
  19. I happily rearrange my schedule to make sure new priorities and deadlines are met.
  20. I am comfortable with chaos and complexity.

Total Score ________

If your score is:

1-20 = Your personal agility is high

21-40 = Your personal agility is moderately high

41-60 = Your personal agility is moderate

61-80 = Your personal agility has room for improvement

81-100 = your personal agility needs improvement

It’s about comfort

Why are some resistant to change, and instead want to cling to habits and old ways, even if those ways are no longer serving them?

Habits are comfortable, like a favorite pair of socks or a warm, cozy blanket. Carol Kinsey Goman, an executive coach and author of the book This Isn’t the Company I Joined: How to Lead in a Business Turned Upside Down,  writes this in an article entitled, The Effects of Change on the Brain:
Change jerks us out of this comfort zone by stimulating the prefrontal cortex, an energy-intensive section of the brain responsible for insight and impulse control. But the prefrontal cortex is also directly linked to the most primitive part of the brain, the amygdala (the brain’s fear circuitry, which in turn controls our “flight or fight” response). And when the prefrontal cortex is overwhelmed with complex and unfamiliar concepts, the amygdala connection gets kicked into high gear. All of us are then subject to the physical and psychological disorientation and pain that can manifest in anxiety, fear, depression, sadness, fatigue or anger.” (http://www.sideroad.com/Leadership/change-effects-brain.html)

The thing is, change threatens to push us out of our comfort zone.  And we love our comfort zones! But personal agility is increasingly becoming a vital self-management skill. Change is inevitable. It occurs within all areas of our lives — our kids grow up and leave home, coworkers come and go, relationships shift, job descriptions mold into a new set of tasks, and our bodies — need we mention our bodies and the aging process?!  Instead of fighting the need to flex to ever-changing situations, it’s more advantageous to learn how to get comfortable with ambiguity, be adaptable, and shift gears when needed.

Where to start? 

“Change might not be fast and it isn’t always easy. But with time and effort, almost any habit can be reshaped.” — Charles Duhigg

Though change can be difficult, learning to flex and move in a new direction will help you navigate the ever-changing world around you.  Here are a few ideas to try:

  • Acknowledge and accept the normal human responses to change:  denial, resistance, exploration, and new beginnings. Think of a change you are currently being asked to navigate. Which phase are you experiencing? Have you gotten stuck there? Simply recognizing where you are in the process can help you see the need to move forward.
  • Recognize what is in your control, and what isn’t. Focus on the tasks you can control.  Note:  Other people and their behaviors are NOT something you can control!
  • Look for people who can support you during difficult transitions.  Find someone who’s been through something similar, or who has endured a tough time and made it to the other side.
  • Let go of your preconceived ideas about ‘the way things should be.’ Be open to new perspectives and be willing to try out new ideas.
  • Get your emotions in check.  Sometimes we allow our emotions to flood and create more drama around the change than necessary. Take note of how you are feeling, and why, and spend some time processing those feelings by journaling or talking to a coach or counselor.
  • “Try it, you’ll like it.”  Sometimes the best way to navigate change is to give it a try.  Take small steps in a new direction and try it on for size.  Look for the positives, noting opportunities that may arise with the shift.

“Success today requires the agility and drive to constantly rethink, reinvigorate, react, and reinvent.” — Bill Gates

Turn, Turn, Turn

Article submitted by Amy Sargent.

It’s that time of year in Colorado when the aspens turn.  Entire hillsides are ablaze with the bright golden glow of shimmering aspen leaves, dancing their final performance before they flutter to the ground and rest for the winter.  Carloads of leaf-peepers flock to the mountains to catch a glimpse of this stunning transformation of yellow and orange before the first snowflakes begin to fall.

Seasons come and go, both in nature and in our human existence. Change is inevitable, and in many circumstances, there’s not much we can do to stop it.  Many of us invite the start of a new season and the unknown adventures it holds– but how adaptable are we when a call for change beckons in our personal or professional lives?

The ability to initiate, manage and lead change is a competency of emotional intelligence.  People who are good at this tend to recognize the need for change ahead of time, and look for ways to make it happen.  They remove the barriers that may slow things down even if it means challenging the status quo.  They’re not afraid to stand up to opposition — even more, they’re good at rallying others to champion the change along with them by setting an example of mental agility and flexibility.

Those who struggle — and this may be most of us — tend to ask things like, “Aren’t things fine the way they are?”, or make comments like, “This is the way we’ve always done things around here” and “It’s worked up ’til now — why change it?” They tend to lack the ability to keep an open mind when major adjustments are made and are often blindsided when a shift occurs.

“Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change.” ― Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, author of Frankenstein. 

Whether we embrace change or invite change–it’s going to happen.  As made popular by the folk-rock group, The Byrds, the song, “Turn, Turn, Turn”, written by Pete Seeger, was a 1950’s adaption of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 and paints a clear picture of how there is a season for the different aspects of life — and that these seasons will come and go.

“To everything – turn, turn, turn
There is a season – turn, turn, turn
And a time to every purpose under heaven…”

Resisting change is like resisting the clock to move forward.  Change will and is happening all around us. Where will you be when it does? Will you be the one kicking and screaming or the one out in front guiding others toward the new directives?  Can you learn to go with change, thrive in change, and even lead change?

“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.” ― Lao Tzu

Here are some tips if you’re prone to resist change to the point that it’s beginning to limit your development or trip you up.

  • Reflect on your current state of affairs — dive into areas like professional relationships, personal relationships, achievement of goals, satisfaction, excitement for life, financial comfort, contentment, stress levels, etc., and ask yourself, “How’s that working for you?”  Note any areas that could be improved upon.
  • Challenge the status quo. Ask yourself,  “In a perfect world, what would each area of my life look like?” (Or, within your company, what would you and your teams be producing, achieving, and experiencing in a perfect world?) How would I (we) feel if I could shift things to that ideal?  What could I (we) accomplish if these changes were to occur?”
  • Brainstorm.  Which small shifts could you make to turn these areas of life in a new direction?  No matter how crazy or silly the adjustments may seem, jot them down. If you’re having a hard time coming up with ideas, consider teaming up with a social + emotional intelligence coach.
  • Note the impact these small shifts may have on you and others.  Who will be impacted?  How will they be impacted?  Be sure to include both the negative and the positive potential outcomes.

Once you’ve taken these steps, it’s time to develop a written plan for change initiatives.  This plan should include:

  1. Your vision for the change.  An example vision statement template to use is, ‘I want to ____ to create _____ in my life.” Or, if the changes are for the growth of your company, ‘I want to _____ to create _____ in our organization.”
  2. A list of short-term and long-term changes that need to be made.
  3. A sense of urgency. Write down why these changes need to happen and when you’d like them to happen. Set goal dates on each step of the change initiative.
  4. A council of wisdom (friends, colleagues, a coach, trusted advisers) to provide a multitude of counsel as-needed.
  5. Strategy. Which steps will you take first?  Which steps will come next? Does this order make sense?  Check in with your council and bounce your ideas off of them. It’s OK to revise the strategy as you move forward if needed.
  6. Action Empowerment.  What hurdles are keeping you from making the change needed?  What hurdles are keeping your teams from making the changes needed?  Learn what needs to be adapted to allow for action to take place.
  7. Collaboration. Communicate these changes with those who will be impacted.  Be sure to communicate clearly your vision and how they are to be involved, as well as how the changes will positively impact them. Make sure each team member understands their role and what’s expected of them to help make the changes happen. Ask for their input, their thoughts, their reactions. Let them know you are there to support them as you navigate the new paths ahead.
  8. Celebration.  Develop a plan for congratulations to yourself and your team members as you hit short-term goals.  Maybe it’s a Friday morning coffee to talk about forward movement, or a weekly happy hour, or a quarterly lunch to celebrate successes.
  9. Anchoring.  Are there shifts in your routine you’ll need to adopt to allow the change to be a part of your daily life?  Are there shifts in the culture of your organization that need to be made to incorporate the change as the new status-quo? Define what these are and see what steps you can take to create a safe space for the changes to stick.

Learning to not only adapt to change but initiate change can make room for new leaves to blossom in the next season, enabling you and your organization to grow and bloom to your greatest potential.

“The only way that we can live, is if we grow. The only way that we can grow is if we change. The only way that we can change is if we learn. The only way we can learn is if we are exposed. And the only way that we can become exposed is if we throw ourselves out into the open. Do it. Throw yourself.” ― C. JoyBell C.

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