Maybe you’re staring at next year’s numbers and wondering if your business is going to keep growing. Maybe your company is going through a merger. Maybe you’re getting a divorce. And maybe you just won the lottery and are trying to figure out how to keep everyone you’ve ever known from hitting you up for money. Whatever changes you’re facing in 2019, there are essentially two ways to approach them – calm (and maybe even giddy) acceptance, or massive resistance. Those are the only two attitudes any of us ever has when it comes to change.
The questions this article is going to try and answer is:
- Why are some people more likely to accept change than others? And
- Can you become more comfortable with change if you tend to dislike it?
We’ll tackle the second question first, and the answer seems to be yes. In fact, Yale researchers have drawn a fairly direct line between our attitude toward change and our sense of physical safety. A series of experiments has shown that conservative (i.e risk-averse) people become more liberal (i.e. risk-tolerant) simply by imagining themselves to be physically safe from harm.
In other words, when we feel safe, we accept change more easily.
This makes perfect sense in light of the changes we often experience at work. A company merger carries a massive amount of uncertainty, not the least of which is wondering whether or not your job will still be there in 6 months, and that perceived instability feels threatening. A divorce takes us out of a stable (if unhappy) environment and places us into an unfamiliar one, and our brains are wired to feel unsafe in unfamiliar environments so that we stay focused enough to not get eaten by something. On a more mundane level, overhauling your company’s IT infrastructure (which is almost universally everyone’s least favorite change at the office) means that you’ll be thrown into an unfamiliar technological environment, where all those hot keys and shortcuts you’ve relied on for 13 years won’t work anymore.
So how can you make yourself feel safe in an unfamiliar environment?
Well, the best approach would be for your company to do it for you. Any company even contemplating a merger should first spend a LOT of time and energy assuring its people that their jobs aren’t at risk. Most companies don’t do this, though (probably because in many cases there are jobs at risk), and so people spend a couple years walking on eggshells, which kills morale and definitely impacts productivity. The smartest companies are ones that spend as much time assuring their people that upcoming changes are not a threat as they do on the changes themselves.
But I don’t think it’s wise to sit back and assume your company will do this job for you. Which means the best way to convince yourself that a change is not physically threatening is to actually imagine – really, truly, deeply imagine – what that change will involve.
To use the merger example – imagine the atmosphere of uncertainty that is bound to come. Imagine yourself evaluating your job, your current skill set, your ability to find another job if necessary, or your willingness to take a retirement package if it is offered to you. Imagine being told that your job is being eliminated, or that you can keep it but you have to move to another city. Picture yourself packing up your house, driving across country, starting all over, making new friends in a different neighborhood.
If you actually do this, you’ll probably imagine some things you’d rather not have to deal with. But more importantly, you probably won’t imagine anything that is physically threatening. And if Yale psychologists know anything about psychology, then that all by itself will help you be more open to whatever change you’re currently afraid of.
I’ve been doing this my whole life, and only now do I have an explanation for why it works. I’ve always been better than average at dealing with change, and whenever anyone asks me how I deal with it, I’ve always told them that I almost immediately imagine the worst thing that could happen. If that worst thing doesn’t involve dying, then I decide it’s something I can handle. Imagining worst-case scenarios has been a go-to of mine for as long as I can remember – and while it might sound morbid, it really isn’t.
So give it a shot. Let yourself picture the consequences of a potential change that might happen next year, and see if it doesn’t give you a little peace of mind. Have a great 2019!