Coping with continuous change

Introduction

We are constantly bombarded by new ideas, asked to change how we are currently doing things, expected to adopt new apps intuitively. We are at saturation point with change so we need strategies to help us cope. We need more than a mechanism for leading a single change, we need an approach for navigating all of the changes impacting how we work.

We must start by recognising the pressure of unremitting, constant change and the stress that it causes. We need empathy but we also need practical support. This practical support helps us build our emotional resilience. Resilience is the perseverance and determination to keep going despite setbacks and at this point in the 21st century it is a capability that has never been more important.

When our ways of working continually evolve, it can feel as if we are on a treadmill that never stops. No runner can run for infinity so why do we think it is possible at work? Of course it isn’t, which is why we talk about stress and burn-out and why people leave their jobs even if they don’t have another to go to.

Drawing from the worlds of neuroscience and positive psychology, I think we have to adopt a new value. We need to look at the present and identify our achievements rather than focusing on the future and all the things we have not yet done.

Defining the problem

When change never ends, looking at the things not yet done means we steal away any chance of celebrating an accomplishment. We do not stop and congratulate ourselves for the progress we have made. How can we, we don’t feel we have made any progress because all we can see is everything still to be done?

  • We feel as if we are late and we are running out of time.
  • We panic that we will not get everything finished.
  • We have a base level of underlying anxiety that never goes away.
  • We cannot relax and enjoy our work and our colleagues.
  • We are tired from the stress of the anxiety.

These factors make us tired and dispirited which means we have less energy when we are already overwhelmed by the perceived mountain of tasks we must complete. Here are some coping strategies:

De-personalise the situation

Re-frame how we describe out situation in our heads. Our internal voice can have a powerful effect on how we feel and our ability to cope. Instead of “I am overwhelmed” change the description to “this is overwhelming”. A small change of words changes the meaning:

“I am” makes it the situation feel as if it were all on our shoulders, leading to stress and panic.

“This is” defines the situation objectively, this distance allows us to stand back and work out a solution.

Frequent celebrations

Let us replace the unremitting nature of this constant change with a new approach builds in frequent and regular points to evaluate our progress. We need to standardise these breaks so that they become routine.

It requires us to learn a new evaluation technique where we accept that we have not completely finished a task but that we have had lots of micro achievements along the way.

For example, I haven’t finished this article but I am pleased that I know the subject I want to write about and that I have already made some key points.

These mini celebrations enable me to quell my riding panic about all the things not yet done by reminding myself I have already been creative this morning, I have proved I can get started on an article and that if I just keep going at the same pace I am writing now I will have the finished product by lunchtime.

Know where we are

An essential skill in navigating a complicated journey is to know where we are, so we can judge how much further we there is to go. Adapt this for our situation at work by creating a quick mental inventory of the things we know how to do before going back to worrying about all the new ways of working that we have not yet learned.

Importantly we must do this stock take with a positive, celebratory frame of mind otherwise it will fuel our stress, not minimise it.

For example, I am having to learn a new platform for building and managing websites. It has so much functionality that it feels never ending. So I am going to celebrate that since last week I have learnt where and how to post videos which I didn’t know this time last week.

What works for you?

To help build these new habits think about how you like to learn. Do you prefer to keep a journal where you will write your achievements? Do you want to send yourself a congratulatory email, just as you would if you were praising a member of your own staff?

Maybe you prefer to write a to do list and cross off every single thing you have done or create a kanban board with sticky notes you can have the satisfaction of moving into the completed column?

Whatever your mechanism it helps to have a pre-defined set of questions that you can ask yourself to create these feelings of achievement. If they are simple enough they become like a mantra and they drive out the negative voice which is telling you what a failure you are because you haven’t finished x, y and z

Conclusion

I couldn’t finish without referring to one of my favourite psychologists, Professor BJ Fogg who reminds us that to create any habit we should tie it to our existing routine. If you plan your day first thing in the morning then this is the time to do your assessment of your achievements and create that feeling of pride in your accomplishments.

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