Our journey through life involves a series of changes - some major and many minor. Even though change has always been a part of life it seems that change is happening faster than ever before. This is especially evident in the workplace. Competition in a global marketplace, technological advances, changing demographics, and the speed of information transfer are just some of the influences that have had a dramatic impact on how organizations operate. Day-to-day work life is commonly filled with policy and procedure changes, shifting responsibilities, and expanding workloads. At the same time, our personal lives are often marked by competing demands and priorities.
Being able to adapt and respond effectively in a constantly changing world has become a necessary skill. And one that we can enhance and develop when we understand what goes on at a personal level when we are faced with change.
How we respond to change is a funny thing. There are times when we go out of our way to initiate change in our lives. For example, we may move house, city or country; change jobs or go back to school. Although we may be apprehensive about such changes, we are stimulated by the possibilities and opportunities that will emerge.
When we initiate the change, we are likely to define the experience as exciting. On the other hand, these same changes might be imposed on us by circumstance, or the design of another person or our workplace. When change is imposed on us, our experience of the change is likely to be quite different. In these situations, we may feel threatened and fearful about the change, and focus heavily on negative outcomes. We may want little to do with the change and find ourselves resisting it fiercely.
Moving From Resistance to Acceptance
When we resist change, we knowingly or unknowingly behave in ways that attempt to keep things 'the way they were'. Our attitudes and actions are not aligned with the new directions and we are likely to feel discomfort or tension as a result. To help ourselves move from resistance to acceptance, it can be useful to understand that there are varied reasons why people may resist or struggle with change it isn't simply because we think the old way is better.
When we find ourselves resisting or struggling with change, the first step is to ask ourselves WHY?
It May be Because... We Are Creatures of Habit
Being able to do things the same way provides us with a large element of predictability, stability, and comfort in our lives. When it comes to our responsibilities at work, once we have done things the same way for a certain length of time, we end up getting quite good at what we do. This degree of competence contributes to our sense of value or worth. When we are asked to make changes that impact how we do our job, our sense of comfort and competence becomes disrupted. We may at times feel insecure about our abilities.
It is important to recognize that it is natural to feel out of sorts and frustrated from time-to-time when we are embarking in new directions. Doing things differently takes effort and the course is never really clear. It's important to ask ourselves what knowledge or skills that we may be lacking and to seek these out. We may also benefit from making a goal that relates to doing our personal best within a changing environment, acknowledging that things will not go smoothly all of the times.
It May be Because... The Change Involves a Loss
Certain life events, such as losing a loved one, involve an obvious major loss. In such circumstances we understand that people will grieve their loss. However, with other sorts of change the losses we experience are not always obvious. And with workplace change, our workload is usually so full that it is hard to imagine that we've lost anything. However, as a result of the changes, we may not have the same opportunity to connect with certain people or certain activities that we've enjoyed. These subtle changes can translate into a loss, and leave us feeling amiss and reluctant to move forward with the changes.
Making a special effort to stay connected with people that are important to us can be helpful.
Identifying those aspects of the change that represent benefits for us personally will help us get a balanced perspective and orient us positively toward the change.
It May be Because... We Fear the Unknown
During periods of change, when things are uncertain and unpredictable, we may fear or worry about the unknown. We may be anxious about where we are headed, and what the future will look like. We generally have a high need for information, and yet it is common for information to be sketchy or incomplete. In the workplace, a change in one area may require decisions in another that can't always be foreseen or articulated as quickly as we would like.
There are a number of things that we can do to help ourselves adapt to uncertainty or ambiguity:
First, ask how the change will affect our immediate situation; ask questions to clarify things that seem unclear; stay focused on the task at hand; focus on one step at a time or one day at a time. To minimize worry about what lies ahead ask yourself the question 'is there anything that I can do about this matter?'
If yes, then identify the action to be taken. If not, acknowledge that 'I have no control over this matter' and focus on those things that you can influence.
We can learn from our past experience of change by asking 'have I been through anything like this before?' or 'how did I get through it and what seemed to work?'
Positive Orientation Towards Change
No matter what change we are faced with in life, it will be much easier to cope with and adapt to if we hold a positive attitude about change in general. This doesn't mean that we necessarily have to agree with the circumstances or details of the change. In fact we may disagree with it, but can still adapt to it in a constructive manner.
Having a positive orientation towards change involves:
knowing what we can and cannot control in a given situation
recognizing that disruptions are a natural response to change
being creative and looking for the opportunities that change creates
recognizing that there are a number of right ways to do things
utilizing our personal resources and strengths to actively do the best we can
Being Aware and Taking Care
Having a positive orientation towards change will go a long way in minimizing the stress that we may experience during times of change. Nevertheless, it is important to be aware of our stress levels, and to take special care of ourselves during these times. This means ensuring that we are getting enough rest, eating healthily, and participating in activities such as exercise, relaxation techniques, and hobbies that help us get away from this stress. Many people find that speaking with an EAP counsellor can be helpful during periods of HEIGHTened change.
We each have an active role to play in how we respond and adapt to change that we experience in life. Understanding this will make it much easier to take advantage of the opportunities for learning, and personal growth that do exist amidst change.
When you remember a past event, you’re actually remembering the last time you remembered it, not the event itself
The brain is one of the most biggest and complex organs within the human body. It is responsible for many different bodily functions and is capable of extraordinary things, so why has research shown that each time you recall a past event, your brain distorts it?
A Northwestern Medicine study involving 70 people has shown that every time we remember an event that has happened from our past, our brain networks change in ways that actually alter the recall of the event. This means means the next time you remember it, you might not remember the original event but what you remembered the previous time.
As postdoctoral fellow Donna Bridge explains, “A memory is not simply an image produced by time traveling back to the original event — it can be an image that is somewhat distorted because of the prior times you remembered it,” and, “Your memory of an event can grow less precise even to the point of being totally false with each retrieval.”
Donna Bridge explains the reason behind the distortion is that human memories are always adapting and that memories do actually change over time, e.g. if you think back to an event that happened to you a long time ago, like your first day of school – you actually may be remembering the information you retrieved about that event at some later time, not the original event itself.
When thoughts go in several directions at once or when you feel disconnected from what you are doing in the moment, do yourself a favor. Pause for a moment to center your emotional energies.
When you are not centered, fear has overwhelmed the balance of the body, and thoughts feel scattered because the emotional part of the brain is flooded. Your subconscious mind has stopped cooperating with your conscious mind, in fact, it has hijacked all the systems of your body, as happens, whenever the stress response of the body gets activated.
Whether you are worrying about the future or a problem that needs to be fixed or just entertaining anxious thoughts, in effect, you are unwittingly throwing off your body’s balance by entertaining worrisome thoughts that focus your mind on anxious images “out there” somewhere in the future. Since the power to make choices resides in the present moment, this can leave you feeling powerless, or even overwhelmed.
What happens to throw you off balance or make you feel disconnected? Conflict. Tense moments. Triggers.
What do they have in common? They activate painful or unpleasant emotions inside, and the body’s “fight of flee” response.
Emotions are signals, important messages that the mind of your body sends to your thinking brain. “It is through ‘molecules of emotion’ that our brain, glands, organs, and immune system are in constant communication,” says Dr. Candace Pert in her book, Molecules of Emotion: The Science Behind Mind-Body Medicine. Unfortunately, if you’re like many, you’ve been conditioned throughout life to deny or numb, ignore or dismiss painful emotions.
Avoiding or denying your feelings, however, is a temporary solution that backfires somewhere down the line. Taking a few moments to center yourself is a great option, as well as a kind loving gift to yourself.
What does centering yourself mean? It is a process that involves tuning into what is going on inside, your feelings, thoughts, needs, wants, etc., so that you may be fully present to your experience of self in the moment. This allows your conscious mind and subconscious to work together.
Since your conscious process, it involves making conscious choices. More specifically, you can choose to gain the cooperation of your subconscious mind, the part of the mind that runs all the systems of the body. Here are five fast and easy ways:
Set an intention to do so. One of the first steps to take, when you notice you are off balance, is to simply set an intention to restore calm to the energies of your mind and body.
Practice slow, deep breathing. Prompt yourself to, “Breathe,” and take long, slow, deep breaths, from deep within your belly. Focus on your breathing, with every inhale, breathe in a sense of calmness and confidence. With every exhale, let go of tension or stress. If you follow the ebb and flow of your breath, you will find this easily restores your balance.
Notice what’s going on inside. Observe what you are thinking, feeling or needing inside. Consciously let go of any judgments, give yourself empathy, and validate your emotions with an affirmation, such as, “It makes sense that I’m feeling anxious. I’m scaring myself out of sharing my feelings with worrisome thoughts, such as ‘I will hurt people’s feelings if I tell them how I feel.”
Affirm words to yourself that are calming. Confidently remind yourself that you can handle unpleasant emotions, and think of situations in the past when you have. Make calming affirmations, such as “I feel anxious. I can handle this. I have in the past. I feel confident in my ability to remain centered and calm.”
Visualize the outcome you want. If possible, sit down for a few moments, close your eyes, see your entire body relaxed, put a smile on your face, and picture yourself as calm, confident and centered. Now imagine the most positive outcome to some problem. See the picture vividly, hear the sounds, feel the feelings. Enjoy the sensations this image brings to you.
Use these five tools daily, as needed, to center yourself in the present moment. When you are fully present to your experience of life in the moment, you have access to vital resources inside, core powers of awareness, intention, and breath, etc. This optimizes your ability to make informed decisions.
EPFL scientists have proven that light intensity influences our cognitive performance and how alert we feel, and that these positive effects last until early evening.
Tests conducted in EPFL’s Solar Energy and Building Physics Laboratory (LESO) have confirmed the hypothesis that light influences our subjective feeling of sleepiness. The research team, led by Mirjam Münch, also showed that the effects of light exposure last until the early evening, and that light intensity has an impact on cognitive mechanisms. The results of this research were recently published in the journal Behavioral Neuroscience.
Light synchronizes our biological clocks. It is collected in the eye by photoreceptors that use photopigments (pigments that change when exposed to light), known as melanopsin. These cells, which differ from rods and cones, are considered a third class of photoreceptors in the retina and were discovered just ten years ago. They’re not there to form an image, but to perceive and absorb photons in the visible light spectrum. In addition, they are stimulated by blue light.
Research shows that light can influence memory and the subjective feeling of sleepiness. Image credit to EPFL.
Exploring office lighting
Münch and her team wanted to know how our circadian rhythm could be influenced by our perception of light during the daytime. They created realistic office lighting conditions and recruited 29 young participants. “For this study, we took into account the intensity of natural and artificial light without specifically evaluating their spectra.”
From daytime to dusk
To synchronize their internal biological clocks, the volunteers had to maintain a regular sleep schedule during the seven days leading up to the test. They wore bracelets equipped with light sensors and accelerometers, so that the scientists could monitor their movements.
The study itself took place over two eight-hour sessions. The participants spent the first six hours in an experiment room, first in well-lighted conditions (1000-2000 lux, more or less equivalent to natural light in a room). In the second session, the light intensity was about 170 lux, which is what the eye perceives in a room without a window, lit with artificial light. For this experiment, light intensity was measured at eye-level. Every 30 minutes, the subjects were asked to assess how alert or sleepy they felt.
Finally, at the end of each session, the participants underwent two hours of supplemental memory tests in a darkened room – less than 6 lux. During these last two hours, the researchers took saliva samples in order to measure cortisol and melatonin concentrations. These two hormones are produced in a in a 24-hour cycle by the human body.
Boosted by the light
The volunteers who were subjected to higher light intensity during the afternoon were more alert all the way into the early evening. When they were subjected to light intensity ten times weaker, however, they showed signs of sleepiness and obtained lower scores on the memory tests.
These results were observed even in the absence of changes in cortisol and melatonin concentrations in their saliva. “With this study, we have discovered that light intensity has a direct effect on the subjective feeling of sleepiness as well as on objective cognitive performance, and that the benefits of more intense light during the daytime last long past the time of exposure,” concludes Münch.
Most people have been judged in ways that bring to question their very mission in life. Far fewer find an amygdala‘s mental tools to forgive, accept without expectations, and move on.
Well beyond harsh judgments or words that leave you feeling like a slug on skid row, lies the brain’s ability to embrace genuine reconciliation.
It’s true – your brain comes with equipment that segues into peace and recaptures gratitude, hope and joy. It’s rarely easy to pardon though, and has little to do with showing your side of a story in defense. Rather than recycle guilt, see yourself – along with others – as worthy of care without demands for change as a condition.
Forgiveness literally alters the brain’s wiring – away from distortions brought about by the past, and beyond fears that limit the future. It leads from misery of a broken promise, to wellness that builds new neuron pathways into physical, emotional and spiritual well being.
How do brains forgive?
From a brain’s perspective, forgiveness takes far more than merely letting go. It takes deliberate decisions to move beyond another person’s judgment of you. Replace a sad or disappointing encounter with memories of events that stoke healing, for instance, and your brain shifts focus.
The willingness to drop any need to blame diminishes your need to explain your perspective. A brain forgives as a commitment to understand the other side, to feel empathy for another, or to regain compassion for a person you care about who hurt you.
The event that caused conflict in the first place may not change, but forgiveness opens new segues into empathy, delight, and care for another person. Pardon designs mental escape routes for your thoughts – that may otherwise be relegated into corners that distrust or fear.
Forgiveness rarely opens another’s person’s eyes to see your inner value. Nor does it validate hurtful words or callous acts. To exonerate is not even to quell harsh judgments. It simply adds a peace that allows you to move on, and to embrace your mission with new delight.
Forgiving brains fuel unconditional love. How so? Speak of another’s genuine value, rather than replay disappointment’s darts – and sorrow fades from the brain’s amygdala, like clouds float off on a sunny day.
Mental benefits emerge in forgiveness
Crave healthier relationships? Rewired brains can unleash kindness without demands, or enjoy perceptions not colored by past perspectives. Since care cannot co-exist in human brains alongside attempts to change another, simply enjoy each moment without such limitations.
Long to find new freedom with those you value most? One way to let go of hurts is to replace grudges with generosity. Make kindness more important than hostility. Extend gestures of care to others and you’ll rewire the brain from victim modes, into habits that default to healthy relationships.
Not everybody will value your strengths, and those you love most will likely spot your flaws first. Convert compassion into daily practices that show care though, and expect well being to follow. Project images, words and icons of acceptance, and these gradually become your perception of people who differ from you. Your brain rewires to delight in differences!
Stress defaults to unforgiveness
Stress comes from hostility – and while it gets dubbed by many names stress shrinks the brain and anxiety drains mental life. Simply stated, stress flips your brain into shutdown or shotgun mode.
You default to ruts or trigger further problems, because stress from unforgiveness masks as savior but it strikes as killer!
Forgiveness, in contrast, leads to:
~Healthy relationships where others see efforts to make peace larger than personal gain.
~Fewer loneliness tanks and higher spiritual and psychological peaks to wellbeing
~Stress-free friendships that sidestep hostilities by yielding personal desires for shared harmony
~Fewer risks associated with depression, stress, and substance abuse that follows
Brains holding grudges slow to the speed of a slug
Most people want trusted relationships, yet many seem unable to attain these, because fear confuses people and distorts perceptions about what’s going on. When hurt by people you trust and love, your brain slips into confusion and sadness tends to follow.
Replay painful incidents mentally, or dwell on hurtful events, and negative feelings begin to crowd out possibilities and you may drown in a sense of injustice. The brain’s basal ganglia stores every reaction to severe disappointments. And if negative or bitter – these reactions limit your chances for finding well-being in a similar situation.
Brainwaves slow to a grind and serotonin supplies diminish under excessive weights of a grudge. Over time feelings of anger, sadness or resentment can rob your contentment, because these can form the engine that drives behavior. If you repeatedly find yourself drowning in a sense of injustice or bitter disappointment – you may create a pattern of bitterness.
Toxins will follow you into new relationships, and the cost tends to be far higher than the pain of disappointment. Your actions become tainted by the sense of loss – so that you lose sight of your ability to enjoy the present. Unable to understand your feelings, you use anger to cover up your hurt.
Depression and anxiety spring from an inability to forgive. You begin to sense your life lacks meaning to others you love most, and you seem to be at odds with all that you hold dear. Unless checked – you begin to lose ongoing connections with those you care about most.
How does the brain deal with forgiveness?
Laugh more as you keep alive in you – that three year old – active, curious and ready to be surprised by joy from others. To forgive is to choose change and graciousness in spite of conflict or accusations encountered. The first stage of forgiveness is the awareness that to forgive is far greater than the need to be right. It’s typically about your calm reactions to conflict rather than about gaining ground in a difficult situation.
Forgiveness is measured in health and well being – in spite of injustices and disappointments. To forgive a person who judges or hurts you is to refuse the role of victim and to unleash a new chemical and electrical circuitry for letting go of grudges. Once you leap past hurdles of anger or grief, you often find yourself ready to enter new doors of compassion and understanding for others who face injustice.
If you demand justice as a door into well being, you’ll likely find it harder to forgive folks who fail to see the problem or admit the pain it caused. If you value a person deeply, forgiving that person is likely harder because your amygdala stores its memory and your mind replays each sting. It takes a stronger desire for integrity, peace and wellbeing to move forward.
You can sense forgiveness if you no longer feel stress or tension in that person’s presence. No longer will you need to be understood, when you begin to understand, what Khalil Gibrand pointed out:
If you love somebody, let them go. If they return, they were always yours. And if they don’t, they never were.
Here’s where an open mind helps to sustain forgiveness – and it doesn’t depend on another person feeling regret or sharing in your hurt. Admit your own mistakes quickly and treat others as if you walked in their shoes when conflicts arise. The brain responds with a warmth of compassion, care and curiosity – as forgiveness reconnects you to people you cherish.
Ever see entire communities flourish, when one or two people project mind-bending forgiveness?
Since 2001, MINDtalk has been bridging the disconnect between what brain-science knows and what business does.
We are continually helping clients, through one2one coaching and group workshops, to utilize brain-science, psychology and interpersonal communication skills to improve their ability as leaders and business professionals.