Shift Happens, So Why Is Change Hard?
There are a few definitions under the word “Crisis” in the dictionary. They include (1) an unstable time and period of change and (2) “an emotionally significant event or radical change of status in a person’s life.”[i]
Depending on your personality and disposition, there are a lot of things that could be perceived as significant events or unstable times that cause a period of change. Change is constant and with the hyper-frenetic pace of technology, communications and activity, disruptive events happen constantly. It would be completely understandable if people across the world frequently felt like they were in some sort of crisis.
You may recall that Benjamin Franklin famously said death and taxes are the only two things that are certain in life. I am going to parse that further. Death and taxes have something in common—they create a change in your life. So, I think there is only one certainty in life, and that is change!
Here is the weird thing about human biology, we are hardwired to resist change. It makes handing crises challenging for us. It makes communicating with others during a crisis doubly hard.
Human beings mark time by using change. We determine the time of day by the changing positions of the sun and the moon in the sky. We determine the time of year by the change in weather and foliage on the trees. We determine our age by all of the changes we experience from cradle to grave.
When people are in the midst of a crisis, they frequently say things like, “Did that only happen two days ago? It seems like a month went by!” Or, “Has it only been a week? It felt like a year!”
During a crisis, we have the feeling that time has sped up because crises bring a lot of change and we equate change with time lapse. The amount of change we experience during a crisis increases exponentially from what we are accustomed to in our day-to-day lives, so it feels like more time is passing than actually is. It is a little trick of the mind.
Another trick of the mind is that we are hardwired to resist change. We can thank the amygdala for that. It is a command center in our brain for our emotional reactions. Much like artificial intelligence (AI), the amygdala learns through active learning. It records every past event in our lives and then dictates our emotional reactions to current events. It is also programmed to remember negative events five times more significantly than positive events. This is a survival mechanism, but can also cause issues with excessive fear, anxiety and phobias.
There are a lot of tools for dealing with change. One of my favorite books on it is not a self-help or spiritual book, but a business book called, Who Moved My Cheese? by Dr. Spencer Johnson. It is a simple story about two mice and two “Littlepeople” in a maze where the supply of cheese disappears. Who goes and looks for cheese (the mice) and who doesn’t (the Littlepeople debate it) illustrates the different reactions to change. While we have some time at home, it’s a quick read. Here’s the kindle link.
Portions of this blog post were excerpted from my upcoming book, “Communicating During a Crisis: Influencing Family, Friends and Colleagues When the Stakes Are High.”