Most of us struggle to adapt to change, where comfort is found in our habits and what is familiar. Even when we decide to make changes within ourselves, it poses a scale of difficulty to adjust. We naturally resist change because it represents uncertainty. Our brain feels the uncertain pressure, where it wants to keep us alive and safe. Although it is not necessarily life-threatening, the brain has wired itself to function that way.
When we feel stressed or anxious, our fight or flight mechanisms are activated. The mental resources divert from the frontal lobe, and we focus on survival. When this happens, there is increased activity in:
1) the orbital frontal cortex (error prediction)
2) the insula (pain and disgust)
3) the anterior cingulate cortex (worry)
4) the amygdala (anxiety).
The Process of Change Resistance
Our intellectual thinking comes from the frontal lobe. Because our mental resources have become diverted, our capacity to be rational diminishes; resulting in a resistance to change.
- A threat is recognised (uncertainty)
- We respond to the risk (fight or flight)
- Fear and anxiety increases
- The ability to be rational diminishes
- Our performance is impaired, and our emotions increase.
Change and Our Routine
When we are living our daily routine, the activities we do use an area of the brain known as the basal ganglia. It plays a significant role in forming long-standing habits. When we do something repetitively, where we no longer have to pay attention, the basal ganglia activates. It requires much less energy than our working memory because it uses brain circuits that have already previously been shaped and defined through our experiences.
All activities we do subconsciously become activated in this way. Brushing our teeth, making a coffee in the morning, or getting in the car to drive to work are all subconscious examples of what we might automatically do. When our subconscious activities are engaged in this form, it frees up the prefrontal cortex to focus on fresh and new inputs. Once a routine becomes hardwired into our brain, whether it’s healthy or unhealthy, it makes it hard for our brain to override and make a change. Although bad habits often remain in our mind, it is possible to replace them over time with healthier habits that are much stronger.
Change in Our Decision Making
Decision making goes hand in hand with changing moments in our lives. With each decision comes a drain of energy that is easy to underestimate. For example, researchers looked at what plays a role in how judges of the law make their decisions. They found evidence when judges make repeated rulings; they show an increased inclination to rule in favour of the status quo. The evidence suggests that mental fatigue and tendency of the judgments affected their decision making. Further research showed that to overcome such fatigue, judges could take short breaks, view scenes of nature, or experience a positive mood. If we have a big decision to make, having the ability to stop, pause and respond rather than react is extremely important for our brain.
The Impact of Change
Change happens all around us, whether it’s personally or professionally. Life changes are inevitable and can be both enjoyable and unpleasant. Small changes make life more interesting; where we may try a different sport, change our diet, or our local restaurant. Change opens doors to other things, like new friends, new skills, or new confidence in life. But it’s not always easy to connect change with our identity.
Being able to adapt to change is essential for development and growth as a human. Without change, we assure ourselves of staying in the same state and doing the same monotonous routine. For some people, they are happy fulfilled and happy. But for many people, when genuinely thinking about their current path, there is an area in their lives that they want to change but can’t figure it out.
The reality is that change is hard. Among the low success rates of New Years Resolutions and the lack of sticking to a routine, there is often a large gap between making a change and forming a change as part of ourselves.
Adapt to Change
Our lives don’t get better by chance; they get better by change. Change comes into our lives as a result of probability, crises, or choice. In any situation, we force ourselves to weigh up our options and decide if we make a change. What stops us from learning and growing is being unprepared and resistant to change. Being resistant means have no choice or control over how we want to live. Life becomes reactionary, and we continually are a step behind while our reality is always one step ahead.
Although we cannot control unexpected events like death, loss of employment, or illness; these are events that challenge us and force us to step outside our comfort zone. If we ignore the challenge of change, we deny the opportunity and ability to adapt, learn and grow. For us to adapt, we need to understand two areas that help us develop and grow as a human: our intellect and our action.
Adapt to Change Intellectually
Embrace feelings of change: Allow yourself to feel all of the emotions. If a loved one has died, allow yourself to grieve. If you have lost your job, let yourself to be upset and angry. Whatever type of change is upon you, embrace it politely.
Understand the inevitability: Know old things must go, and new things must arrive. The world never stays the same and is continually evolving.
Perspective: It’s easy to get overwhelmed when there’s a shift in your world. By re-framing the situation, you can determine if the change is worth worrying over. Ask yourself “What is it that I believe will happen as a result of this change? Are these thoughts and beliefs realistic?”
Be Positive: Use the change to turn a negative into a positive. If you have lost a loved one, let that experience bring your family closer together. Perhaps you have been made redundant? Learn more about what brings you joy. If you have separated from a partner, understand that you both will be happier in the long term.
Adjust to Change With Action
Exercise. One of the most important ways to reduce stress levels is to move your body and exercise. It is a vital part of staying healthy and clears your mind from the clutter and overwhelming nature of emotions.
Stay productive. If you become negatively impacted, keep yourself productive. By working, producing something, or socialising, it will help your adaption and allow you to move on and focus on other aspects of your life that are important.
Create a list of goals. Listing your goals help you think live in the present and become motivated for the future. By looking ahead, you will be able to better deal with the past and adapt for the future.
What we focus on in our lives, determines in a large part the direction we take. We know neurologically that what we focus on, expands and becomes more important than what we don’t focus on. Due to the brains proclivity to implement habits, repetitions of a deliberate action yields conditioned responses. We experience those as habits and are what shapes our day to day experiences that form our lives by default. By thinking with action and intellect, we are able to adapt to change in a more effective way.