Here is a model for our emotional response to change. This is based on the Five Stages of Grief by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross:
As we reflect on this model we can relate these steps to our own story. We may also see where we have become stuck in a change. Our ability to navigate change depends on our capacity to cleave our own path in life.
This is self-efficacy. When we act and good things happen. We are hungry – we cry – we are fed. We stop acting to get something else. We control our pleasure and pain. It really works.
We find ourselves in a situation where we are continuously affected negatively. No matter what we do we cannot affect the situation. This may cause our brain to reprogram itself to think we can do nothing. We take on what Martin Seligman called “Learned Helplessness”.
Learned Helplessness has been shown in research. Like the pike in a tank with a glass partition that prevents it from accessing the little fish as food. When the partition is removed the pike dies of starvation, surrounded by its favourite food.
In a state of Learned Helplessness we see our problem as:
- Personal: “I am useless at this”.
- Pervasive: “I am useless at everything.”
- Permanent: “I am always going to be useless at everything”.
These three statements may sound hyperbolic. But if you have been stuck in learned helplessness you may recognise this place. But there is hope. These five steps combat Learned Helplessness:
There is power of relational support. A monkey in a cage was subjected to stressful experiences. Researchers measured the level of stress hormones released in the monkey. It was then given a companion monkey and subjected to the same experiences. Just having a companion halved the levels of stress hormones in each monkey.
This is the value in having a confidant, team dialogue or a mastermind group.
Accept what you cannot control. In fact, dwell intensely on what you cannot control. As you embrace the brutal truth of what you cannot control you will free yourself from the denial which prevents you from engaging in the emotional stages in change. Then take control of what you can. This simple step has a profound impact on your brain. Profound!! This action sets your brain up to carry out three executive functions:
- Attention: Focussing your brain on activities it can control.
- Inhibiting: Taking focus away from irrelevant, distracting, or destructive topics.
- Working Memory: Retaining and accessing relevant information on priority topics as individuals and in your teams.
Take learned helplessness head-on
Learned Helplessness is carried along on assumptions, which reinforce an attitude of capitulation. As you accept your change and engage in Research and Testing (in the change model above) your task is to record your negative, unconscious messages and turn them around into incisive questions to stimulate action.
For instance: moving from “People will not be interested in my webinar” to “There are a whole group of people for whom this webinar offers critical information and tools. I MUST do it”.
Act on priorities
Choose your actions carefully. “What is most important?” – is the wrong question. A better question is: “If all other areas of our operation remained at their current level of performance, what is the one area where change would have the MOST impact?”
A structure of accountability
Record your plan of actions as Objectives and Key Results. Work these through your established structures of accountability.
So how are you dealing with the changes in your environment? I work with many teams who are stuck in confusion and helplessness. And I have witnessed how these teams take decisions, move into action, and make an impact in their markets.