Some people accept change or look for it as a new challenge or in the hope of some reward. Conservatively we can state that most of us, in some way or form, avoid or elude change as it threatens our way of life based on routine. I will explore here how I work with people to help them accept the unavoidability of change and how in fact it can be so rewarding that we can re-train ourselves to actually look for change instead of avoiding it.
As explained by David Rock and his team as part of their work at the Neuroleadership Institute, we are physically hardwired to avoid change. Our mind performs, at any given time, a large number of different tasks using both its conscious and unconscious part. The former uses a very energy hungry part of our brain called pre-frontal cortex and it allows all conscious activity for which we are required to be ‘present’ and actively thinking about it. As I am writing this post I have to think about what gets written: that’s my conscious mind at work. The unconscious mind works within various other parts of our brain and it requires very little energy to function; that’s why I can effortlessly type without concentrating on the keyboard while I am listening to music and so on. Most of our life goes on in autopilot, driven by our subconscious mind. Once we created a habit or a routine our subconscious mind simply takes over. Every time we learn something new we must be conscious and actively think about various aspects of what we are doing or learning, until we have learnt it and it becomes more or less automatic. However over simplified we can see why it always cost energy and effort to chance something in our life. This could be about learning something new or doing differently something we already know: think about speaking a different language, driving on the opposite site of the road or walking on a slippery floor: we need full attention and being fully present because our subconscious mind cannot take over yet.
Avoiding change for fear of the unknown
As we are comfortable in our routine, life or job some of us need a little bit of change just to feel the thrill, to feel more alive and rewarded. However many people are avoiding change because it involves… “changing”, going for something unknown, exploring uncharted territories.
Change as a challenge
Assuming that change happens because of a need, it might dictated by an external or internal factor. In the first case it could be your boss asking you to apply a new business procedure; in the second you decide to start a new career and retrain for it. In my personal experience an internal need is usually more motivating for me as I have decided to change, embrace and pursue it. An external factor, however well presented and required, might interfere with our personal preferences and cause disruption.
Given my age I have experienced a few changes in my life: I emigrated and started a new life in a different country which is now my home, I changed career 4 times and had a number of relationships. Sometimes change occurred because I was looking for it. Other times it was forced onto me. I remember that most times I felt a bit on anxiety and uncertainty about what was going to happen but then, as I embraced change as a positive thing, I capitalised on it and enjoyed the results.
When I am working as a coach most of my work causes change for my clients. When they come to me they are in situations which are suboptimal; they struggle with their business results, their work/life balance is not balanced or simply they are not where they want to be in their business and life. By following a well-defined structure I help them to formulate the goals they really want to achieve together with strategies to achieve them and, very important, precise actions which are necessary to achieve them. My work then involves supporting and challenging the resistance which emerges when they are trying to go into action and achieve their goals while their old life, habits and routine gets in the way. By questioning what gets in the way I help them to realise, in most cases, that the resistance to change is mostly in their mind and, once they rationalise it, they embrace change and enjoy a better future.