“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing themselves” Leo Tolstoy
It seems an oxymoron to put joy and change in the same sentence – a short sentence at that! But this is my next mission – to help people understand that change is possible and can be joyful. We know change is the only constant in today's world of complexity and chaos, and that the bulk of a leaders job is to facilitate changes in people's behaviors.
The good news is that research in a field called neuroplasticity has become popular and proves that we can change! We are not hard-wired. A leopard can change its spots. Well, maybe a leopard can't, but we can!
Essentially, neuroplasticity describes the brains ability to set up new connections – everything in life is about connections, at a brain and heart level.
The Brain Level – The Power of Focus and Attention
I somehow knew this when I was 23 and practicing as a new, enthusiastic and excited physical therapist. I was working in the neurological ward and I have no idea how I just knew this but I did! I used to explain to my stroke patients that the first time they managed to control or regain an isolated movement, a tiny scratch would be etched on their brain. Each time they repeated this movement or action the scratch would become deeper and deeper until it was so deep that the movement became automatic and at that point, they did not have to think and work incredibly hard to make their toe move. Initially they had to focus very hard and pay extreme attention to every aspect of the movement. It had to be a very conscious brain effort.
This is in essence what neuro-plasticity says – VERY simplistically! If we focus our brains attention on what it is we want to change and repeat it frequently, we can make new connections and lay down new pathways. The more we do it, the easier it becomes, until finally we don't even have to think about doing it – it is automatic.
On the other hand, if we continually focus on the negative aspects of anything, those connections and neural pathways are reinforced – until they become your automatic response – you don't even know you are officially a pessimist! Pay attention to what you focus on in life – the good or the bad. If it's the bad/difficult/struggles/down sides of things – today is the day to re hard-wire your brain by consciously focusing on the positive, optimistic side of everything.
Remember – the more you do something, the better you will be at doing it!
The Heart Level – The Key is Emotional Connection
What really worked back when I was a physical therapist at 23 was what I unknowingly did at a heart level. The excitement and enthusiasm I felt for, and showed my patients at any little change, and my belief and absolute faith they would be able to do it, was what transformed them. It motivated them to keep going and keep trying – it touched their hearts and my faith made them feel they could do it.
Change is all about how people feel about themselves and what they believe they can do – and what is in it for them to change.
Think back in your life to a time when you made such a change. Often the decision to make that change comes in a heartbeat. Because you had an ‘ah ha' moment which I believe is a moment of revelation in your heart. If we try to change just from our brains, it takes 60-90 days for a change to stick and we have to repeat it a lot.
People will begin a change process when they FEEL – in their heart – they want to change. They hate it when other people impose change on them, force them to change, or tell them how to change! For them to own the change and make it joyful, they have to emotionally connect with some aspect of the process and have an ‘ah ha' moment in which they realize the value of the change for them personally. The ‘what's in it for me if I change' component.
Letting Go of Judgement
Judging ourselves often blocks our learning and capacity to change! We need to become aware of our perceptions and beliefs about ourselves, as they shape our reality. Experiences and truth don't shape our reality – our preconceptions, expectations and judgments determine our perceptions, which determine out reality!
What we expect to happen, and what really happened are often very different things.
Think about what happens when we reprogram a computer. If we just delete some information in a computer, a ‘black hole' is left! We need to replace that deleted or changed program with something that is upgraded or improved. Similarly, I believe it will help us to replace judgment with reverence.
If we see ourselves and others through the eyes of reverence, our world changes. Reverence means we see the spark of divinity in every person we meet – no matter who they are. And we hold them in awe and wonder – we acknowledge that they are amazing beings with amazing hearts. Sometimes we have to keep reminding ourselves but if you can truly view someone else with reverence, you will be stunned at the difference it makes in all your dealings with them.
Never Give Up
It's so easy and natural for most of us to give up when the going is tough. And it's tough learning news things and changing how we do things and what we think because the work we actually have to do is energy expensive. It takes effort, commitment, perseverance, patience and discipline. And so we perceive it as hard – especially if we don't see the value in it for us.
We give up – often just before the change is cemented or we reap the benefits of our efforts. Instead of giving up – how wonderful it would be if we could face change with cheerful enthusiasm! Having faith that things will work out, doing our best, being optimistic and staying cheerfully engaged throughout the whole process makes change a joyful process!
So much of change is a choice. A choice of how we look at it; being aware of our expectations and beliefs and choosing to change them if necessary; choosing to be engaged and connected; choosing to participate; choosing to serve rather than just seeking personal gain – so many choices!
As leaders, we need to choose to present change in a way that touches peoples hearts AND minds. To give them the skills, knowledge, confidence and courage to be successful with the new changes; to encourage them – and most importantly, to celebrate small changes along the way. Our brains need to see /feel/hear the changes quickly, so our hearts are encouraged, and we stay motivated to participate and be engaged. There is a big difference between participating and participating and being engaged.
In short, change your perceptions first and your world and others around you will change.
Touch peoples hearts if you want them to change their behavior; create as many ‘ah ha' moments as you can; consistently remind them of the ‘ah ha'; create a context in which people take ownership of the changes that are necessary; treat them with reverence; teach, show and train them so they can be good at the new tasks; give people a sense of purpose and meaning in what they are doing – some sense of service and serving others; and celebrate their successes
Then keep doing it! That way you re-frame change from something uncomfortable into a process in which people feel valued, cared for and that they are growing and developing.
You'll see – change can be joyful!
Want to find out more – watch this video on How to Be the Boss of Your Brain!