I am a big fan of Spotify weekly suggestions. Somehow, a clever algorithm conveniently picks the best tunes out of its massive collection for my enjoyment. Combined with a cup of freshly ground coffee, this is my Monday morning success recipe.
The issue is that sometimes the app is insistent on adding songs that I dislike right off the bat only to find myself loving the same song a few days later. A quickly found scientific explanation suggested an answer – the human brain enjoys familiarity. A trick that is known to radio DJs is to sandwich new style songs with old ones to prevent a drop off in listeners.
Instead of playing a new song by itself, they would introduce it gradually in-between well known and loved hits. Starting once every ten popular songs, they will increase the frequency until the unknown stranger becomes a cool tune everybody likes.
I am familiar with a resistance to change from other areas of my life. For instance, up until recently, I never had luck with standing desks in the office. I tried them a couple of times, confirming my theory that some people like weird things. That was until I had a lower back injury from the gym. My body demanded to be parked in two preferred positions – horizontal and vertical. Since lying on an office floor was not an option, I gave the oddity a second chance. Guess what – I loved it. Little by little standing desks became a norm – I am writing this using a kitchen counter of my apartment.
Looking back on my life experiences, this skepticism and reluctance was pervasive. I was surprised that people loved avocados, scared of going to Latin America because of my father’s civil conflicts stories from the 70s, hosting couch surfers thinking that I may get robbed – and the list goes on. All of these turned out to be untrue – guacamole is now my favorite dip, my trip to Colombia blew my mind and I met amazing people by opening my house to travelers. If this was a best friend and not my brain playing tricks on me, we would be having a hard conversation by now.
During my masters at the University of Sydney, I took an innovation course where a passionate lecturer showed us an adoption curve for new inventions. When a new piece of technology comes to the market, it is riddled with bugs. There comes a first wave of users who love the challenge of finding those faults and helping to make the product better. It is a small number that do it out of curiosity and a pioneer badge. The percentage of early adopters is only 13.5%. The 70% majority is waiting behind as not everyone wants to put in time and mostly unpaid effort unto testing often half-baked products.
The curve made sense from the innovation perspective but this reluctance to change, locks us out of opportunity to experience the good from the supermarket of life forcing the majority to a tiny corner shop close to a safe home. This has another negative side to it. Perceived pillars of stability that we cling onto in life are an illusion. Companies go bankrupt, marriages fail, governments disintegrate. The change will inevitably be forced on us whether we want it or not.
The brain’s proclivity for negative bias is well researched with some belief that this is an evolutionary survival mechanism. Perhaps early humans attracted to brightly colored poisonous berries were the first to go. Skeptically inclined people lived to see another day while eating potatoes and muttering “better safe than sorry.” This made sense thousands of years ago but we are out of caves and stone arrows. Dealing with the change in a logical way is a necessity of a modern day. Thankfully the same brain that creates anxiety about new experiences can beat evolutionary fears and help us to embrace change like a surfer embraces a wild wave.
“Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” – Albus Dumbledore
1. Make it positive
Become an ally with the negative know-it-all voice in your head and teach it new encouraging things to say. Using reframing we can create focus on a positive aspect of a change.
For example, if you are asked to work from home during a pandemic, it will suck not to have social interactions in the office. But since there is no lengthy commute, you can work on your personal projects, clean your house or learn a new skill. Doesn’t it make you excited about the idea? You can speak with people using videoconferencing to deal with social isolation. Yes, it is not the same but at least you won’t have to sit in a meeting with Bob’s potent breath.
2. Shed light on ambiguity
Changes or new adventures are associated with a fear of the unknown. Make the unknown known and deal with real issues rather than an ambiguous – “it’s all bad and scary.”
For instance, before traveling to a new country, you can research the safest places to go to, take precautions like carrying a mobile phone with a local sim card, and travel with a large group. Ask yourself a question, “What does this change mean for me?” Consider only objective and specific answers.
3. Do not be a passenger
Human beings are highly adaptable species – we have lived in caves, jungles, and freezing cold forests. When the new change occurs, it will be uncomfortable in the beginning but little by little you will get used to it. It is important to be proactive. Stay on the front foot by engaging with sources of change, understanding the details and more importantly learn and experience from it. Changes are the source of personal development and growth.
Remember that when you are saying “no” you are potentially walking away from an opportunity to become a better person.
“If life were predictable it would cease to be life, and be without flavor.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
4. Speak with someone
It may be stressful and challenging and you do not have to do it alone. I am certain that you have someone in your life that cares about you. Speak to them, share how you feel and seek for advice. Do not forget to return a favor when they need you to help – relationships are a two-way street.
5. Change gears
The amount of change can be overwhelming. In the organizational context, there is a term “change fatigue” and good leaders are aware of making too many changes at once. While change is a positive experience, we need to alternative between periods of change and stability.
This is similar to your parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems. The former controls rest and recovery with the latter being responsible for flight and fight. These FF-RR cycles are crucial to dealing with changes like a pro. Even the strongest athletes need time to recharge. Use quiet periods between changes to reflect on gained experience and integrate the learnings.
In the words of a philosopher Alan Watts, “the universe is a continuously changing flow of energy and trying to cling to it is akin to walking in a pool.” You have to swim to go places in this world. Being able to deal with constantly changing circumstances is becoming an athlete swimmer in the Olympics of life.