The Constant of Change
Why is becoming more adaptable so crucial to success in business and life? Let me give three quick reasons:
- Circumstances are always changing.
- People are always changing.
- We are always changing.
With so much change, our ability to not only accept change but to adapt to it stands out as a vital quality for finding success. Not only does some of the scientific research on leadership suggest adaptability as a necessary quality of a good leader, but the case for being flexible also goes way back to the philosophers of ancient Greece.
The ancient Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, proposed the idea of change as a constant aspect of life. His doctrine of change is summed up with this famous saying: “Life is Flux.” He meant that everything is and always will be changing. In other words, the only constant in life is change.
Think about it.
The circumstances in your life are always changing. One day things are a certain way and the next, everything is different. You lose a job. You get a pay raise. Your friend leaves the country. You find out you’re having a baby. Even the smallest of events and circumstances can radically disrupt your life.
If you look back at your own life, you can most likely find some small event that radically changed the course of your life. Maybe something a professor said in a college class changed your course and determined your entire future: your career, your spouse your kids, where you live. All of this from maybe a sentence or a lecture.
Small things, while we typically disregard them, have incredible power to make momentous changes to our lives, and as we know, little things are happening to us all day, every day. Circumstances are always changing.
But additionally, people are always changing. Again, the changes we see in other people happen, but they happen in such small ways that if we are around them regularly, we rarely recognize them until those changes reach a point of critical mass. That is how someone can wake up one day, look at their spouse and think: “This is a completely different person than who I married.”
We recognize the changes in others easier through distance or separation. When we aren’t around someone for a period, and then we meet them again, we see how different, yet the same they are. We look at the resemblances of the person we knew long ago, but we also see how much they have changed.
In much the same way that others are always changing, we also are changing. Things happen to us in life; we have new experiences and new relationships that force us to adapt and change. Our perspectives and outlooks change, our values sometimes change, and even our behaviors and responses change.
Through time, we are somewhat the same and somehow entirely different than we were at other points in our past. It’s a commonly held belief that even our entire physical body is different, reproducing all of its cells with new ones every seven years. Regardless of the truth of that statement, the fact is we change both biologically and psychologically.
We don’t realize this change either because our relationship with ourselves isn’t broken up by absences of time. We live with ourselves and experience ourselves in a constant continuum. The changes that happen seem to be just a regular part of life, and they disappear in the everydayness of existence. But ask someone you haven’t seen for a while, and you’ll find that in the same way your friend has changed, you have also changed.
Typically, people dislike and don’t want to change or adapt to new contexts and environments. We become accustomed to “the way things are” and changes to those routines disrupt our regular practices. We develop habits in our lives which control our behaviors outside of our conscious awareness – they take place on autopilot.
Changes disrupt those habits, and the disruption forces us to become aware of new behaviors and figure out how to adapt. The change requires from us more mental and physical energy to deal with the new context. This adaptation involves effort, and we usually don’t like to do the hard stuff.
But we need to recognize the truth of reality – we are already continually adapting to the changes in our environment. It’s just that most adaptation takes place below the surface of our conscious awareness. Two types of adaptations can happen to us: structural adaptations and behavioral adaptations.
Structural adaptations are adaptations upon our physical being. Life requires exposure to different environments, and through that exposure, we undergo some form of structural adaptation. For example, with the invention of the computer and more people typing, more people have become susceptible to carpal tunnel syndrome due to the amount of pressure on the median nerve in the wrist. Others have developed “Text-neck” due to the continual bowing down to their smartphones to check email, surf the web, or scan their newsfeed.
We all have structural adaptations taking place as we encounter our physical environment even down to the effects of gravity upon our physical bodies. A recent astronaut grew two inches in space over the course of a year due to the absence of the gravitational force on his body. The point is, our bodies adapt to our environment all the time and in ways we don’t usually recognize.
Not only do we undergo structural adaptations, but we also experience behavioral adaptations. Behavioral adaptations happen both automatically, like when someone gets a new job and has to work a different schedule, and intentionally, like when we decide to implement a change in our lives like going to the gym or stopping smoking.
When structural and behavior adaptations happen outside of our awareness, we naturally adapt to the change without too much difficulty. The challenge of adaptability comes when we must make behavioral changes with a full understanding of the effort needed to accomplish them. The problem is that we don’t want to do it because it takes effort and we may not believe that the outcome will result in an improvement
So, how can you learn to be more adaptable?
1 Recognize your biological predisposition to adaptation.
The reality is that our bodies and brains are already conditioned to adapt to changes. We previously discussed how our physical bodies change due to pressures from our environment. And neuroscience has shown that our brains are moldable as well – a condition called neuroplasticity. In neuroplasticity, the paths, or neural networks of our minds, which determine our thoughts, choices, and actions are strengthened through continual use. When we think or do something the same way over and over, we reinforce the neural network form a habit.
This explains why we do things the same way without thinking about them. But neuroplasticity means that we can think in different ways and make new neural paths. Our brains possess this moldable quality even into our elderly years. So first, you are already changing, and your brain is set up to change as well, and though you think you can’t change, the science shows that you can. It’s just a matter of time and repetition.
2 Make Adaptability a Habit in itself.
Adaptability is only a way of thinking, and therefore only a neural network strengthened through continual use. Adaptability is the attitude we have when it comes to dealing with change. The good news is that you can change your attitude.
How? By determining to think differently. Intentional thinking is merely re-directing or creating a new neural path. Then, when you do it over and over, that path begins to take prominence over the old path. When you think more in new ways and less in old ways, the old path loses its potency. It’s like an old path in the forest. Without much use, branches and weeds grow over it to the point that you can’t even find it anymore.
So, becoming more adaptable requires recognition of its possibility, a change in attitude and finally, a commitment
3 Commit to time and repetition
Anybody can change. That’s a fact. For some, it’s more difficult, but the truth remains that we can form new neural paths with behavioral changes. Not only does our thinking affect our behaviors, but our behaviors influence our thinking. When we act in specific ways, those actions force our brains to work overtime – to create new paths. The actions change our thinking.
Adapting to change requires the effort of time and repetition. The good news is you can hack your behavior and thinking through intentional actions. By making an effort to think intentionally and committing to regular, consistent action, you will reform and rewire your brain. The key is consistency. Forming and strengthening neural networks takes time and repetition. The more you think and act in specific ways, the stronger the network gets until it works automatically. For this reason, as much as adaptability is an attitude; it can also become a habit.