Friday, April 3, 2009

The Cave

The entrance to one of the buildings where I work has just undergone a complete renovation. It’s now well lighted, with high ceilings and a very open and inviting feel. The other day I asked the security guard what he thought about the new entry and he simply shrugged his shoulders and answered, “It feels like a cave.” He wasn’t smiling when he spoke and I took his response to mean that he wasn’t entirely thrilled with the new entrance, beautiful as it now is.
That’s often how it is with change; even one that most would agree is an improvement. Almost no one really likes to change and most of us, no matter what we say to ourselves and others, resist change. The familiar becomes comfortable, creating a sense of stability. Just think of your current workplace, especially if business is not going well right now. This is the reason why people will stay in a miserable job or one where the boss is abusive, sometimes for years and then move on only when forced to. Homeostasis, our need to keep things the same and stay put, is powerful.
The challenge we are facing, however, is that the pace of change is accelerating and the changes we are faced with can often be dramatic. This causes a great deal of resistance, which in turn heightens our stress and anxiety. And as stress and anxiety intensify, it becomes more difficult to manage the demands we face each day. This process can easily turn into a downward spiral leading to feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, and possibly, depression.
So, how does one avoid this potential vicious cycle and instead make the process of change an ally? There are several things to do. One is to recognize and accept that change, big and small, is a fact in our lives. Next, once you fully understand this, you can then work to look for the positives in any change that comes your way. The security guard could have chosen any number of ways to describe the new entrance, other than as a “cave.” Finally, and perhaps most importantly, is to make change an opportunity for learning. That is to say, with every change, you need to pose the question: What does this experience of change teach me that will allow me to be more effective in the future?
One final note is to understand that all change, even the positive ones like a raise or a promotion, cause stress. This means that having a practice of stress management will serve as a preventive and can inoculate you to the negative effects of continuous and rapid change. Stress management techniques can include any or all of the following: regular exercise, getting plenty of rest, eating well, having someone to talk with about important issues, keeping a diary or journal, regular prayer or meditation, yoga . . . .
Best wishes in managing change.

Mark Guterman