“NEW” IS GOOD!
The Need and Resistance to Change
As of today, March 2012, economists agree that we are slowly emerging from the recession. Whether it is because of the mild winter or the “Obama stimulus” or other factors, the consensus is that the economy is improving. There is also a growing consensus that our society will emerge from this recession changed in many ways.
Many jobs that before required workers in the past, can now be done by machine or have been exported to other countries where the labor is cheaper. Sound too sic-fi for you? Ask the thousands of people who lost their jobs in this way, often made to create the very machines or to train the very people that ended up replacing them. In the new economy there is, once again, a need for workers. But the workers needed now, are people with more skills and higher expertise.
Severely overworked, the productivity of people who do have a job, but are asked to do more and more work to keep it, is rapidly decreasing. This can be a signal to the employers that there is no more work that can be squeezed out of the skeleton crews they left in place after massive lay-outs. If they want their companies to continue to grow, they need to change the strategy. The time has come at last for the corporations to hire again. The question is who will be chosen?
What can one do to compete in this new society? Anthropologists will tell you that from prehistoric times humans survived as a species because they were innovative in taking care of their basic survival needs. They had ideas that transformed their lives forever: using sharp rocks as tools, learning how to control fire, learning how to grow crops. They survived because their minds were creative and innovative and allowed them to constantly learn and adapt. That capacity is in us today. People able to adapt quickly to new circumstances or challenges are considered to be smarter and more creative and are regarded with admiration. Why is adaptability a trait so much valued? Because it is linked to survival.
In a world in which we no longer literally hunt for food, our personal well-being has become attached to other forms of success: career, education, material possessions, status, an “exciting” life-style and so on. Therefore, new qualities are beginning to be needed to achieve successful survival. How do we know which qualities we will need to adapt to the post-recession world?
The capacity to adapt and create new worlds is still in us today, but so is the natural, innate tendency to resist change. Why is human nature so reluctant to change? One explanation is because change means instability and usually instability triggers intense fear. Our deeply rooted instincts, conditioned to maintain balance and stability, get on high alert mode when something threatens that balance. Our emotions, according to affective neuroscience, are believed to be at the very foundation of how our brain and mind works. Fear is a powerful emotion triggered automatically when the mind perceives a threat to its normal routine. When the threat is change, the emotional balancing mechanisms will try to manage the emotional reaction–fear of change—instinctively. An example of biological and emotional instinctive defense mechanism is “fight or flight.” When facing a fierce animal in the wild, with the goal of physical survival, it is an extremely helpful mechanism. But in the modern society where we face different types of threats, like losing income, prestige or social status, sometimes we need to override the “fight or flight” instinct, face our deepest fears and take an entirely different type of corrective measures.
This is an example when the cognitive aspect of our brain, the mind, developed much more recently in the evolution of our brain, needs to come in and control the ancestral emotional blueprint. One way to do it is through cultivating powerful motivations. Controlling and keeping the fear-emotion in check, allows the mind to create and execute an action plan to contain the threat, in our example, the threat of change.
Often, a bold action plan implies going against one’s fear. But when the action is well planned and carefully executed, it can trigger positive, rewarding changes that will quiet and sooth the instinctive aversion to change and will establish a new and reinforced emotional balance.
The conclusion is this: If you build in your mind such a powerful willingness to take a life-changing action, you can definitely override your fears and successfully deal with change.
Transformation and change is, inevitably and perpetually, the name of the game. Is it easy, comfortable or convenient changing? Of course not! It is stressful and scary and plenty confusing. Even if you just admit it is scary, routine, more emotionally comfortable, will try to pull you toward keeping things the way they are. The trouble is doing nothing often takes you straight to the obsolescence pool, which is populated by many who feel stuck and bitter, pointlessly reminiscing about “the good old days,” and unable to effectively adapt to change. People who stubbornly try to fit reality in a narrowly conditioned frame of mind are usually left behind in a fast paced society. They are not fighting against their emotions. Hopelessly they keep trying to fight against their fear of change by opposing change and denying the need for action.
Do you want to see yourself there? I doubt it. In reality, no one ends up there by choice. Going against your own fears, objectively assessing the circumstances of your situation and making the hard choices change often demands, is a very hard and brave thing to do. Neither denial nor inaction, but only courage and determination will help you see and chose the new opportunities opening right in front of you.
Staying open, staying informed, being ready to quickly use your existing skills in a new way or being ready to learn entirely new skills, are just a few of the things one can do to prevent becoming redundant and easily replaceable. Many people who have been laid off have already gone back to school to increase their work value in the new job market. Many more have learned different jobs. The transformation of our work force and our society is happening rapidly. Where and how can we find the courage to change?
Finding The Courage To change
“A bit of advice
given to a young Native American
at the time of his initiation:
‘As you go the way of life,
you will see a great chasm.
It is not as wide as you think.”
Joseph Campbel, “In The Field”
How can you find that courage? Do not linger in the warm nostalgia of the good old times. It may be comforting at first, but if you linger there, you will make no progress. Do not see yourself as a victim, either. That path is full of self-pity and leads to hopelessness and inaction.
Instead, keep your mind open, focused intensely on the changes happening around you. Stay alert to detecting the opportunities that might be to your benefit. Turn the new circumstances to your advantage. Shift quickly from something that doesn’t work or only works so-so to something new and exciting, with a much higher likelihood of success. Seek trusted advice from mentors and sages in your life. Do your homework and do take some calculated risks. Your mind, guided by your will, consciously and unconsciously, will start finding new ways to lead you where you want to be. Thus you will discover a new framework of thinking and living, new means of being at your best, new patterns of relating to yourself and to others. As you strive for this new you, if you fully embrace it, you will soon realize you actually like and respect the renewed version of yourself. These are only a few examples. If you get the idea, please add your own.
This way of approaching change will greatly increase your emotional and social survival ability in the emerging post-recession world. It will also help you achieve financial and emotional security for yourself and your loved ones. Successfully managing change will make you, more innovative, more skillful and much stronger. This, in turn, will make you even more successful. It is an upward spiral.
To remain in control, fight your “fight or flight” instinct and embrace the change. Find the mental strength to build a strong will, so powerful will that will dominate your fears. Maintain an open, flexible mind. Accept that “new” can be both challenging, exciting and renewing, all at the same time. Change can bring about opportunities you have never dreamt of. Hold on to the belief that New is Good and give yourself the chance to grow stronger and wiser out of your own fears.
If you face unemployment or other difficult transitions, make New is Good your guiding belief. It will inspire you to keep going, unstoppable, until you achieve your goals. Stay open, work hard, don’t look back and never ever lose hope.
P.S. The idea of New is Good as a guiding belief, has already been tested by one of my patients. She was fighting the despair of looking for a job for over a year despite her sound education, excellent references and plenty of experience in her field. She felt scared and confused facing the dramatic changes in the work force today. But she did not give up and worked on reinventing herself. We came up with New is Good while looking for a way to strengthen her will to keep going, keep fighting for the right job. It became her constant companion even long after she exceeded this goal. We both hope this will help you too to keep going until successfully overcome your own challenges, whatever they may be.
New is Good! Make it so!