How to get comfortable with change

Emma-Sue Prince, trainer at Unimenta and author of 7 Skills for the Future, reveals adaptability techniques.

Adaptability is an attractive quality. We all like to think of ourselves as being flexible and adaptable, being a team player and ‘going with the flow’. It means that we are not rigid or stuck and so are open to change and challenge. If you were to ask people if they consider themselves to be open and adaptable, most would tell you ‘yes’.

If you truly are adaptable then you are more likely to handle change with grace and ease, not be thrown by the unexpected and be a lot happier. Yet most of us are actually a lot more resistant to change than we might believe. And certainly the past two years will have both tested our ability to be adaptable, as well as increased it and made us better at it.

Adaptability is more than being flexible – it is about being open to things, even outside our comfort zone and not stating preconceived judgements, such as ‘I could never do that’, or ‘That will be too hard for me.’ We cannot afford to think we know everything, either. Something new will come along and blow that out of the water, whether it is a new technology, a new process or
a new plan.

Adaptability is about continually developing more of what we are truly capable of and living up to our potential. This is critical for our skills now and in the future. Unfortunately, it is also something we may well talk ourselves out of more than we think we do.

The best way to develop adaptability, or any behavioural change for that matter, is by practising it in everyday ‘low-stakes’ situations. When we talk to people about simple ways they might try to go out of their comfort zone, most invariably come up with big challenges – when, actually, the best way to get into stretch is through doing small, incremental things each day. So seemingly small things like changing your route to work, saying ‘yes’ to something you might normally say ‘no’ to automatically, or trying a different and unfamiliar food are relatively low-stakes situations, which then help you to move towards higher-stakes ones.

Comfort versus stretching

Change is difficult because we want to stay inside our comfort zone and will resist anything that requires us to step out of it. Therefore, a conscious effort is needed to do this for those of us less open to change, and even for those of us who are. Our comfort zones are, basically, as small or as big as we make them. We make them bigger by engaging in more activities, tasks, thoughts and experiences that lie outside of our comfort zone. The bigger our comfort zone, the more adaptable we will be! The comfort zone is where everything is easy and nothing risky ever happens. We can even be highly competent there. Equally, nothing great or exciting happens there either.

Just outside your comfort zone is the ‘stretch zone’, where learning and growth happen. This is the place which can feel a little uncomfortable because you might be stretching yourself in new and different ways, but you’re still able to manage. It’s not easy, but not impossibly hard either.

However, if you go too far in this direction you’ll reach the ‘panic zone’, which is not a good place to be, as the name might suggest. Learning and growth can’t happen here because we are so far out of the comfort zone that we find ourselves in fight or flight mode.

The stretch zone is the best place to be, and one of the most effective ways to increase your ability to be adaptable is to ensure you are spending plenty of time there.

Other adaptability techniques

1 Look for opportunities to try new things that will keep you learning

You can do this in very small ways to start with – learning a new skill, making new friends, trying a new type of food, taking the initiative for starting something in your community. As your comfort zone expands, make it bigger by doing more. Take on new challenges for work and seek them out. Embrace change, even if it feels uncomfortable at first.

2 Change your behaviour next time you are faced with a change

Even though it is natural to want to resist change, try and build up your ability to adapt and respond positively by literally changing your behaviour when you are faced with a change.
Again, start with small steps. Do you feel disappointed because of a change of plan? Respond enthusiastically even if you don’t feel like doing so. Couldn’t get tickets for a show you’ve been wanting to see? Smile and choose something completely different so you can embrace a new experience. Lost your job? Get upset, yes, but bounce back faster by taking positive action every day.

3 When you encounter a new challenge, list potential ways to  solve the problem

Research suggests that people who are able to come up with solutions to a problem are better able to cope with problems than those who can’t. Experiment with different strategies and focus on developing a logical way to work through common problems. By practising these skills on a regular basis, you will be better prepared to cope when a more serious challenge emerges. 

AAT Comment offers news and opinion on the world of business and finance from the Association of Accounting Technicians.

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