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Fighting a final boss: Adapting to change (3/n)
While change is inevitable, it can be difficult to accept. How might I remove the cognitive friction to acceptance?
“Change is the only constant.”
It’s a phrase that you have likely heard at some point in your life.
While it is a simple phrase to conceptually understandable, it can be difficult to put into practice.
What makes change hard?
I believe there are two major hurdles to overcome when it comes to change management:
In my experience, more often than not, we do not acknowledge the “activation energy” that goes into enacting change.
In the field of chemistry, activation energy is “the minimum amount of energy that is required to activate atoms or molecules to a condition in which they can undergo chemical transformation or physical transport.”
I postulate these components to the activation energy for change management:
Acknowledgement or awareness: you recognize that there is some behavior that needs to change.
The main mental block to overcome at this stage is to challenge your own assumptions.
Bargaining: you experience inner conflict or turmoil over the idea of changing your behavior.
The main mental block to overcome at this stage is to convince yourself why enacting on this journey is important and will benefit yourself.
Visioning: figuring out the direction you want to move towards.
The main mental block to overcome at this stage is to clearly articulate what your “ideal” end-state looks like—not what other people tell you it should be, not what society tells you it should be.
In my experience, there are two major, more tangible hurdles to overcome once I’ve gone through the mental hurdles:
Put together a tactical step-by-step plan to move towards your vision.
Identify the major stepping stones (more commonly known as “milestones” in the world of product management and product development) to reach your desired destination.
For each stepping stone, brainstorm the tasks, actions, or decisions that you need to make to move towards it. Organize these steps into a logical sequence. Identify if any steps can occur in parallel.
Figure out what support you need. This also includes enlisting the support of those who might be most suitable to provide help in specific areas.
Adapt the plan as you make progress.
Re-planning is your friend. You may be able to ditch certain steps. You may need to add new steps or entirely new milestones.
Here are some more tactics for getting more comfortable with undergoing change.
Inner work and mindset
Recognize and acknowledge that we as a species have adapted to dislike change. Change means there is a deviance from what we can expect, which naturally means there is ambiguity and risk about the future.
Reflect on the last time you experienced a life-changing moment. How did it make you feel in the moment? If you could go back in time, how would you have liked to approach the situation?
Reasoning with yourself
Identify whether the change is being enacted proactively or reactively.
Put another way, is the catalyst for change internal or external?
Reflect on and identify the barriers that are stopping you from accepting the change.
Maintaining a sense of stability elsewhere in your life
This leaves more space and energy available to deal with change where and when it’s necessary. Some examples that come to mind are:
Set a sleep schedule—and stick to it.
Establish rituals or routines to start or wind down from specific activities—work day, reading, journaling, cooking, and so on.
Avoid undergoing multiple big life changes at the same time, such as moving to a new place and changing jobs
Building in public
Here is an experiment that I’m running in the Women in Product Toastmasters Club that’s relevant to this month’s topic of adapting to change. I’m both a member and leader of this Toastmasters club.
Over the past year of serving as a leader in the Women in Product Toastmasters Club, I’ve heard ad-hoc questions or requests for events outside of regular club meetings, which occur every other Sunday.
We adjust this cadence whenever there is a holiday that falls on a Sunday, such as Mother’s Day or Father’s Day, or when members have a tendency to take vacation, such as around Labor Day weekend or Christmas/New Year’s Day.
To pilot the concept of one-off events, I did the following:
Gauged interest in a members-only event, with the intended outcome to update our resumes based on high-quality feedback.
Out of a total of 19 members at the time, I received 8 responses indicating interest (42% response rate).
Planned two resume review workshops.
Ran each workshop, and left time at the end of each workshop for attendees to share their feedback anonymously via Google Forms.
In the feedback form, one of the questions that I asked gauged interest from attendees to run a similar one-off event in the future for members.
Created a reusable event planning template.
Outcomes (so far)
For session 1, attendance was 5 members—including myself. This made up 25% of our club membership at the time.
All participants would highly recommend other members to attend this event.
4 out of 5 participants expressed a willingness to organize a similar type of event for club members in the future.
Unfortunately, the second session was originally planned for Wednesday, July 26. Shortly after work that day, the network in my area went down, so I had to reschedule this next session to later in August.
On the day of an event, especially with a small group, don’t hyper-focus on following your planned agenda to a tee.
Yes, I’m aware this may make some facilitators gasp in horror!
Hear out your audience if they express preferences on how they want to make use of the time together to achieve the outcome that you have prepared to steer the audience towards achieving.
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I’d love to hear and learn from you:
What about change makes you feel uneasiness?
What helps you overcome this mind hump?