Learning to Deal With Change Faster is Key to Being More Resilient at Work

Habits may be hard to break, but they aren't hard to make.

learn more about Andrew D. Wittman

By Andrew D. Wittman

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How do you react to change? How do your employees react to change? If you do not learn to manage -- even embrace -- change, you'll face an uphill climb of constant struggle in your career. Heraclitus, an ancient Greek philosopher, said, "No one ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river, and you are not the same person. The only thing that is constant is change." We all instinctively know this, yet most humans have difficulty dealing with change.

When faced with changes at work, most people react with discomfort, fear about the loss of control, uncertainty that they'll have the skills to navigate the new river, or they simply resist the prospect of having to expend mental, emotional and physical energy and effort -- otherwise known as work.

Related: The One Constant in Any Business? Change.

The mantra of a person with an average mindset is "I just want to be comfortable and have security." This mentality loathes change and does everything it can to avoid it. When change is unavoidable, the average person will act like a drowning victim, thrashing and flailing against the currents of change, expending their energy on resisting the river, confused as to why life is so difficult.

Instead, imagine yourself operating with a mentality of resilience, calmly embracing the current and flow of the river, channeling and directing your response into surfing the current and using the river's energy to their power your efforts. This is the crux of resilience, adroitly and skillfully using change to power your journey to success, fulfillment and happiness. Master this concept and the world becomes your oyster, waiting to be shucked.

We're all creatures of habit.

Human beings are designed to operate as creatures of habit. Remember, our brains function by intaking 11 million bits per second and filtering out 126 bits per second to the conscious mind for action -- leaving more than 99 percent of what's happening outside of our conscious mind. Even the filter is a product of auto-pilot programming -- habits. We are creatures of habit. I'm not saying it's good. I'm not saying it's bad. It just is. The question becomes how can you use that fact to your advantage?

Related: 10 Weird Habits That Can Actually Be Good for You

Here's how long it takes to form a habit.

When I ask in my workshop, "How long does it take to form a habit?" most will shout out, three weeks or 21 days -- the prevailing conventional wisdom. I contend that it takes the human being exactly one time of doing something to make a habit. Imagine you are in the audience at my workshop, and it is a two-day event. Where will you sit in the room on the second day of training? Chances are very high that you will sit in the exact same chair as on day one. You will look to park your car in the same spot and if it is taken, you will not be happy about it. The key to creating a habit has nothing to do with time and everything to do with comfort. The faster a human being becomes comfortable, the quicker that human repeats the behavior. The trick to making something a habit is to as swiftly as possible become comfortable. This is also the trick to surfing the river of change. When changes are sprung on you, the quicker you become mentally comfortable with the change, the quicker you adapt and overcome.

These are the phases of adaptation.

The human machine, when faced with change, goes through a series of phases in the process of adapting to the new situation. The more rapidly one progresses through the phases, the more rapidly one adapts and overcomes. Think of it like a board game where you move your piece from the start point to the end point as quickly and efficiently as possible.

When we are confronted with the news of change, the first phase kicks in -- resistance. If you have trained your mind to operate with a fear and scarcity mentality, your first reaction will be fear-based -- worry, anxiety, anger, blame and maybe even denial. This leads to confusion, and your discomfort begins immediately. How this will affect you personally? How will it upset your security.

Related: Your Brain Doesn't Want to Change: 5 Ways to Make It

As the new "forced-upon-us-reality" sets in, we move to integration. New routines begin emerging as we experiment with the new reality. Mistakes are made, but so are course corrections, and you start learning how to overcome. Finally, there's commitment. The new reality becomes the new normal, and we become comfortable, once again. I say commitment, because once you become comfortable, you will fight to hold onto the new reality (which has now become a habit), as fiercely as you once fought to hold onto the old reality.

Think of it like this. If you were forced to replace your computer operating system at the office with a new technology that seemed very difficult, you would most likely fight to keep the current system in place. After all, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. The way you resist the coming of a new operating system now is the same way you will resist when faced with the prospect of replacing that new system two years from now. Once you get comfortable with the system, you become committed to it, emotionally attached and invested, and you will fight to keep it. That is why we feel that tinge of nostalgia and vacillate at the last moment when trading in a car that took us on so many grand adventures. That is until we adapt and overcome, by becoming comfortable, attached and committed to the new thing.

Andrew D. Wittman

Personal and Executive Leadership Advisor

Andrew D. Wittman, PhD, is a United States Marine Corps infantry combat veteran, a former police officer and federal agent. As a Special Agent for the U.S. Capitol Police, Wittman led the security detail for Nancy Pelosi and has personally protected Hillary Clinton, Tom Delay, Trent Lott, King Abdullah of Jordan, Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, Sir Elton John, as well as Fortune 20 CEOs. As a security contractor for the State Department, he taught high-threat diplomatic security to former Navy SEALS, Marines, Rangers, and Special Forces.

Wittman is founder of the Mental Toughness Training Center, a leadership consultancy specializing in peak performance, team dynamics, resolving conflict in the workplace and is the author of the new book, Ground Zero Leadership: CEO of You (2016). He holds a Ph.D. in Theological Studies, is a guest lecturer at Clemson University and co-hosts the radio call-in show “Get Warrior Tough.”

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