How Should We Respond to Change?

The only constant in life is change. Heraclitus of Ephesus was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher, known for his doctrine of change. He believed that change was central to the universe, and fundamental to the natural order of the cosmos. Well, if change is central to the natural order of the universe, then why do we still continue to struggle with change in our lives today?

One of mankind’s greatest contradictions is that the majority of us seeks change in our lives daily, both professionally and personally. Yet, we fiercely resist change when it does occur. President Obama won the presidential election largely because the electorate felt he embodied the change most voters needed in our country. Now, the two political parties are tearing themselves and the country apart as a result of the changes made during Obama’s presidency. Is this an appropriate response to change? Hardly.

How should we respond to change? I’m not going to take the easy route with an answer on this one and say, “it depends on the situation”, that is a BFO (Blinding Flash of the Obvious). However, I do want to share some ideas to help us approach change differently when it comes.

Here are the mental steps most of us go through when confronted with change in our lives:

  1. Acknowledgement/Fear – change is coming, or oh crap here we go again!
  2. Understanding/Confusion – what does this mean to me, what are the implications?
  3. Acceptance/Resistance – sounds good to me, or I’m having a problem with this.
  4. Commitment/Rejection – I’m on-board with it, or it’s just not going to work for me.
  5. New Normal – find our “happy place”, so we can adjust to the change or check out and move on.

Today, we alter our mindset only if we see the point of the change and agree with it. As a result, cognitive dissonance occurs within an organization or society when people find that their beliefs are inconsistent with their actions. This is the stage at which disagreement and resistance also tends to surface. If allowed to manifest itself, the resistance to change can be counter-productive or downright destructive.

One of my favorite leadership mantras is “if you are not uncomfortable, you’re not growing”, and with growth comes change. Whether we like it or not, change will come in all aspects of our lives, because change is relentless and it is as much a part of life as breathing. If we are able to approach change, disruptive or otherwise, as an essential part of the growth process and minimize residual anger, fear or anxiety we identify with it, then progress can occur unabated.

Now, I’m not saying that we should just go along our merry way and accept change as it comes without thinking through the ramifications to us and to others. We still need to go through the mental exercises outlined previously, and then appropriately respond to change – both good and bad. But in doing so, let’s approach it with open minds so we can fully explore the possibilities and then be in a position to reap the benefits of these changes. Whether we’re in full agreement with them or not.

Back to the central question, “How should we respond to change?” Here are my final thoughts on how to appropriately respond to needed change:

  1. Embrace it.
  2. Share it.
  3. Create it.
  4. Lead it.

If change is central to the universe and fundamental to the natural order of the cosmos, as Heraclitus’ teachings suggest, then we should be spending less time over-thinking it, justifying it, lobbying against it, and undermining it, and more time making change happen.

Your thoughts?


COPYRIGHT © 2012 John Carroll