4 Tips to Reducing Resistance to Change

You go to your favorite restaurant and they have taken your favorite menu item off the menu. Boo hoo. You’re told by the Accounting Manager that you have to use a new expense system instead of the tried and true excel sheet you have always used.  Aargh. Your husband calls to say he won’t be home for dinner after you’ve already started cooking a feast for four (and the dog doesn’t like pot roast).  Sigh.  Change is constant and it’s making you at the very least frustrated, if not leaving you completely overwhelmed.photo-1430760814266-9c81759e5e55

In the day and age of VUCA world, an acronym for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity, it can feel like it’s completely out of control.  Or as Nathan Bennett and G. James Lemoine wrote in their HBR article, “What VUCA Really Means for You“: Hey, it’s crazy out there!  What’s important is to not take this constant change personally.  When the client cancels or your daughter is two hours late, you internalize it as the universe striking out against you once again and you slowly start feeling helpless.  Or as Eeyore would say, “The sky has finally fallen, I always knew it would.” Resisting change requires a lot of effort and energy and, if you think about it, it’s quite futile.

Here are 4 tips to reducing resistance to change:

  1. Reduce your distractions.  I wrote in my last post that watching the news everyday increases your feelings of helplessness.  95% of what you see or read in the news is completely and utterly out of your control (and we all want control).  When your mind is constantly being distracted by news and notifications (i.e. email, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.), you start to feel helpless and overwhelmed.  You are primed to rebel against the next change. So when the new company initiative gets rolled out you start to think “not one more thing!”   I have turned off all my notifications on my phone except for phone calls and texts.  I’ll find out what email I have twice a day instead of constantly checking my phone.  The reduction in distractions has made me calmer and open to what might be coming next.  So if the meeting is cancelled or your boss scraps your project, you won’t fall into overwhelm.
  2. Rituals and routines.  I think I have close to 25 morning habits and I keep adding.  Weigh myself, take my medication, brush my teeth while saying affirmations, water pik, grab my sneakers, let out the dog, turn on the outside light, feed the dog, grab my phone and earbuds, sit in my swinging chair, listen to my Calm app for 10 minutes of meditation, grab a cup of coffee, move to my recliner and listen to my Whil app for mindfulness guidance for 10 minutes, wish everyone happy birthday and post a positive meme on Facebook, mental exercise with Lumosity app,  study two Spanish sections on my Duolingo app, put my sneakers on, take out the recycle, turn on my book on Audible and take a 30 minute walk, take a shower, dress, drink breakfast smoothie and head to work.  The point of all of this is that I can control these things.  I do all these things, all the time(for the most part, I don’t travel with my water pik) and I feel the rhythm.  I feel in control.  It helps be feel empowered over my day. When other people get defensive in a meeting, I am able to take it in and not react.  I respond.  So when there is an unexpected change, I just roll with it.
  3. The glass is half full.  Having a positive outlook is imperative in the VUCA world.  Kelly McGonigal wrote about this in her book called the Upside of Stress.  She recommended reframing the latest stress as a “challenge” rather than a detriment.  My husband has caught me saying, “I’m anxious about this speaking engagement” and he’ll correct me. “You mean, you are excited.”  It’s much more empowering to feel excited versus anxious.  So if the project needs to get done by 8 AM instead of next week, try thinking, “Wow, this is a real challenge, I’m excited.”  Your cortisol level will remain low and you will be able to work more efficiently.  Stress typically takes you to your primitive brain that shuts done your prefrontal cortex where you do your best thinking.  When you can reframe the change as a positive, you can recover your prefrontal cortex and get back to your best thinking.
  4. Connect with others.  As McGonigal wrote, “Connection with others activates prosocial instincts, encourages social connection, enhances social cognition, dampens fear and increases courage. You want to be near friends or family. You notice yourself paying more attention to others, or are more sensitive to others’ emotions.”  The best way to do this, if possible, is in person.  If your boss cancels the project, walk over to her office and find out the rationale behind the cancellation.  If you sit in your cube and ruminate about the change, in all likelihood your self-critic will be on steroids. “She doesn’t trust me. I’m in competent. She’s going to fire me.”  If walking into their office isn’t possible, go ahead and pick up the phone.  DO NOT EMAIL or MESSAGE.  It’s so easy to read into things too much based on the written word.  Personally connecting in person or by phone builds the relationship.

Controlling what you can control and letting go of what you can’t is the key to staying on top of the VUCA wave and not being crushed into the sandy surf.  You are only responsible for you.

How to face your fear. What to do when a tornado is approaching.

My home was under a tornado warning last week. I remember on the television screen they mapped out the path of the potential funnel cloud to “Walnut Creek 1:14.” It was 1 PM. Fourteen minutes. Suddenly my television screen was locked with a banner across the top saying to go find shelter. Believe it or not, I tried to change the channel. Like maybe I should catch “Let’s Make a Deal” while the tornado is bearing down. Maybe another channel will predict the storm going elsewhere. My cell is alerting me that I need to take cover. So I call my husband “Should I take shelter?” and he said “Yes.” Like I need permission to find shelter. Crazy things you do in the moment of fear.photo-1442213391790-7656f6e368b9

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So I grab a pillow and my dog and headed to an interior bathroom. I feverishly watch the radar on my phone and listen to the television set muted through the bathroom door. I sat there on the slate floor reflecting on the fact that my dog had no idea what was happening. She was free of the abject fear of that moment. As I sat there wondering if that huge pine in the front of the house would fall on us. I reflected back on the book The Upside of Stress by Kelly McGonigal. Hmmm. How can I use some of the things she recommends. This is the perfect Petri dish of fear to give it a try.

So here is what I did to face fear:

1. I started by reframing it. I initially thought “I’m scared.” Then I thought about reframing that to “I’m excited.” So I started to appreciate the uniqueness of this situation. “Wow, I’ve never been under a tornado warning before. This is exciting.”
So my daughter was under a tornado warning some 3 hours later in Durham, NC. She was scared. I tried to reframe it for her. She texted, “I’m scared to be all alone :(.” I replied, “We are with you. Rise to the challenge.” I don’t know if it helped her but I know that when I reframed the situation as I sat on the bathroom floor, I used my energy to focus on being proactive by searching radar information and taking my mind off awful-izing what might happen.

So if you are headed to speak in front of an audience of 100 or having to terminate an employee, reframe it to excited energy. Harness that energy to help you move forward through the fear.

2. Find the positive spin. I realized that I was glad I was with my dog. How often do I get to sit on the bathroom floor with my dog? Like never. I appreciated her calmness. She walked around in a circle and sat down like this was as good a place as any to take a nap. It’s hard to be panicked when you’re sitting next to a Zen dog. I started to think about the fact that I was safe at home and not out on the road. This was the safest place in the world. In the text conversations with my daughter, I kept up the positive spin. “The house you are in is a newer house” and “the storm is traveling fast you’ll be out of it no time” and “you are strong.” Shoring up your resources keeps your mind in a more positive state.
So when you step on that stage in front of an audience of 100, think about the positive intention you are going to bring to the folks. And when you are terming an employee? Think about their positive humanity. The upside propels you forward.

3. Find someone to connect with. I was texting my husband and daughter in a group text while I sat on the floor. I was snuggled up next to my dog as she lay on the bathroom floor. As McGonigal wrote, “Connection with others activates prosocial instincts, encourages social connection, enhances social cognition, dampens fear and increases courage. You want to be near friends or family. You notice yourself paying more attention to others, or are more sensitive to others’ emotions.”

While I was texting my daughter as she sat on her bathroom floor, I asked if I could call. We spoke on the phone as the worst of the second storm cell passed over. I don’t know if she felt better but I felt better by connecting with her. I felt like teleporting my dog up to her bathroom floor. There have been several times that I have been on the phone with my daughter and I’ve said, “I am holding you right now.” It might be virtual but I know it helps. If you are unable to connect due to loss of power or phone connection, try a mantra or affirmations. You can also imagine that your mother is there holding your hand. So when you walk up on that stage, make eye contact and smile at one or two people. When you terminate that employee, look them in the eye. Shake their hand when they leave. Connection dampens down the fear.

It’s not obvious my daughter and I lived through three tornados that day. No downed trees, damage or loss of power. But I have to say I learned from the experience. For one, I didn’t succumb to the stress of the situation. I stayed focused and positive. My husband, who had been on a group text with my daughter and me, came home that night and commented, “You did a great job.” He showed me his phone and there were apparently 80 text messages that went back and forth that afternoon between us as two separate tornados spun by my daughter’s home. If you are in a similar situation, I recommend you focus on the upside. You will think better if a catastrophe does happen instead of reacting out of fear.

3 Surprising New Ways to View Stress. It Might Save Your Life.

You have a missed call from your boss and your heart rate goes up. You’re trying to get home for an important event and the highway is closed down, leaving you driving through the hinterland as everything runs amok and confusion is rampant. Your speaker cancels at the last minute and you start sweating as you try and figure out plan B. Your spouse forgets the dinner plans and you react by texting, “Whatever.” Is this your reaction? Better yet do you go around saying, “I’m so stressed!” Turns out, that’s a bad idea.

Kelly McGonigal wrote a break-through book called The Upside of Stress. McGonigal herself had a lot of preconceived notions about stress. We all do. Stress is to be avoided or numbed out (say one more cigarette or beer at the end of the day). As she posits in her book, “Mindset 1 is: Stress Is Harmful. Experiencing stress depletes my health and vitality. Experiencing stress debilitates my performance and productivity. Experiencing stress inhibits my learning and growth. The effects of stress are negative and should be avoided.” This is definitely the way I’ve viewed stress and I bet you do to. Dampen down the feelings and try to escape from it.

What she found with the opposite mind set was, “Mindset 2 is: Stress Is Enhancing. Experiencing stress enhances my performance and productivity. Experiencing stress improves my health and vitality. Experiencing stress facilitates my learning and growth. The effects of stress are positive and should be utilized.” Skeptical? So was I. How can you embrace stress? How can you see it as your friend?

Check out these surprising healthy responses:

1. Rise to the Challenge. As McGonigal suggests, if you can view the stress as a challenge instead, it’s a much more positive experience. So your heart rate is up? Good, that means you’re excited, you’re focused and ready to act. It’s almost like letting the dam break instead of trying to hold back all the pressure. Holding back the pressure is what is actually harming you. As concluded in Health Psychology, “High amounts of stress and the perception that stress impacts health are each associated with poor health and mental health. Individuals who perceived that stress affects their health and reported a large amount of stress had an increased risk of premature death.” So dampening down the stress and viewing it as bad for your health is actually bad for you. Embracing it as a challenge can increase your life span. Amazing what a little mindset can do.

2. Connect with Others. This was a huge insight for me. I never realized that when I am under stress I want to connect with others but this is the “Tend and Befriend” response. I always viewed stress as “Fight or Flight or Freeze,” I didn’t consciously realize from a biological standpoint, a mama bear is going to automatically protect her baby cubs. I can look back now and realize that, when stressed, I tend to reach out to others by picking up the phone or looking for an embrace from my spouse. The connection response is built into your body.

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Another study cited was on volunteerism from The American Journal of Public Health. This study looked at the mortality rates of those who volunteered (re: connected with others) versus those who didn’t. The conclusion was “helping others predicted reduced mortality specifically by buffering the association between stress and mortality.” Connection including volunteering helped buffer the stress. It helps your social cognition, lessens fear and bolsters your courage.

3. Learn and Grow. My tendency was to try and shut out stress and certainly not try to “grow” from it. What could be gained by reliving stress? Apparently it’s good for you if you can put it in a positive light. So when you can reappraise the situation “Hmmm. I wonder why I feel my adrenaline shoot up when I go on stage. How can I harness this energy to perform better? What am I learning about my body’s response?” This is actually rewiring your brain to respond differently and more positively in the future. As cited in the American Psychology Association, “Given that adaptive responses to acute stress improve our ability to cope with future stressors, health education programs might seek to educate students about the functionality of stress in an effort to break the link between physiological arousal and negative appraisals.” Seems completely counter intuitive, but you need to view stress as a positive. This is your body responding and let’s ride the wave while we learn from it. Be sure to reappraise the stress in a positive light.

So once I finished the book, I started realizing how often I said “I’m totally stressed” or “I’m so stressed out.” Actually my husband is doing a good job of catching me say it as well. Find someone to hold you accountable for your mindset. Maybe set up a jar and put a dollar in every time you say you are stressed. Now I’m trying to say, “I’m really excited and alert” or “This is going to be an interesting challenge.” This is really tough but if it could extend my life and yours. Isn’t it worth it?

Be the Lizard Tamer

Breaking habits is tough work.  Whether you want to quit smoking, stop procrastinating or get off the couch, it’s tough row to hoe.   Your amygdala is frequently referred to as your lizard brain and it’s standing in your way.  It’s the oldest part of your brain and where your fear lives.  When you get on a bike for the first time in ten, er, twenty years, your amygdala kicks in and remembers how to ride the bike.  It also brings along all the emotions that go with it.   I remember when I broke my arm at age 13 while riding my bike down Majestic Court with my friend Wendy.  It’s all there – one pedal at a time, balancing, the asphalt, the road rash, the trip to the ER, and the cast on my arm – one big sloppy sack of memory.  And my amygdala is happy to bring it up every time I think about riding a bike.

So every time you try to start a new habit like riding a bike, eating less, or working on projects first thing in the morning, your lizard brain wakes up and tries to put the kabosh on the new habit.  When you wake up the lizard brain, it sends out the fear signals.  Ride a bike? Don’t you remember going to the ER that time? Skip the Krispy Kremes at the breakfast meeting? But I always get a glazed cream filled donut at the finance meeting.  We are on auto pilot and our lizard is leading us down the path.

The good news is there are ways to unplug your auto pilot, tame your lizard and get on the road to renewal:

1. Meditate. Studies have shown that just 5 minutes of meditation a day can increase neuroplasticity and blood flow to your prefrontal cortex in just 8 weeks. This creates greater connections in the brain and improves brain function, especially your prefrontal cortex (where your best work is done!).   The best part is that it decreases the size your amygdala which lowers your stress level.  When your stress is lower, you make better decisions; like skipping the donut and riding the bike instead.

2. Lucky 7.  That is the sweet spot on sleep.  No more, no less.  For optimum cognitive function, you need 7 hours of sleep.  More than 8, and your brain function declines.  Less than 6 and a half and it declines as well.  For better concentration and control of your decision making, it’s best to get seven hours of sleep.  Have you ever had to have a conversation with a teenager after an all nighter?  Nuf said.  Get your lucky 7.

3. HRV.  You want to increase your Heart Rate Variability.  In the book, “The Willpower Instinct” by Dr. Kelly McGonigal, studies have shown that those with a higher HRV can handle anxiety and stress more easily.  They bounce back and get back on track easier.  It’s difficult to change your HRV but quitting smoking, eating a plant based diet, meditation and regular exercise are four proven ways to increase it.  Slow your breathing down to 4 to 6 breaths per minute.  If you can exhale slowly before facing a stressful situation, you will be more resilient.  Angry customer?  Slow your breathing.  Need to resist that cream filled donut?  Slow your breathing.  Take back control.

4. AlcoholEvery time I started smoking again, I was in a bar.  Hmmm.  I wonder why?  Maybe it’s because alcohol was involved.  Alcohol lowers your inhibitions and, of course, lowers your self control.  So if you are working on a new set of habits and want to bolster your self control, put down the martini glass.

5. Exercise.  It just takes 15 minutes a day.  It can take any form you like: window shopping, gardening, walking, p90x, or yoga.  As Dr. McGonigal says all that’s required is that you are able to “answer no to the following two questions: 1. Are you sitting, standing still, or lying down? 2. Are you eating junk food while you do it?”.  Easy.

6. Plan.  Think and plan your habits.  Put your sneakers by the foot of your bed.  Don’t power up your PC until you’ve planned your day.  Schedule your meals for the day in advance.  When you’ve planned it out ahead of time, the new habit becomes a default. I guess I have to run this morning because my sneakers are waiting for me.

7. NoAll willpower starts and ends with No.  You will need to push away from the table, turn down the dessert, shut down your devices, and walk away from facebook.  Start with steps 1 through 6 and your prefrontal cortex will be there to support you when the going gets tough.

It’s also a good idea to take one small step at a time.  Start with the meditating and then build from there.  It takes time and patience to take control of your lizard.  Be the Lizard Tamer.

How have you tamed your lizard?