I have no problem with change — if I have initiated it and get to control it. I think most people are that way. Such change can be exciting and energizing. And then… there is most change: we probably have not initiated it, can’t control it, do not prefer the uncertainty of it all, and have a tendency to resist it. It can be uncomfortable or anxiety-provoking as it interrupts our patterns and habits. The expression that humans are “creatures of habit” is a true representation of how our brains work. Our basal ganglia in the primitive brain are responsible for “wiring” our habits. This cluster of nerve cell bodies is involved in functions such as automatic or routine behaviors that we are familiar with or that make us feel good. So, when we need to do something new (or even harder — to do something old in a new way), it takes conscious effort.
I think we all wish we could take on the posture suggested by the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu: “Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.” But the truth is Lemony Snicket has provided a more pointed description of our experience of change: all change is like a parent changing diapers on a baby: “awkwardly, and often with a great deal of mess.” Change is not easy. It takes conscious effort and we are hard-wired to resist it.
It’s ok to struggle with change if you actively struggle. That implies that you are working diligently toward making it happen. If you do nothing, or worse, if you struggle in opposition to the change, you’re weighing everyone else down and getting yourself further and further behind. Our resistance to change can go well beyond the natural reaction to learning something new and to descend into a destructive zone. Do you see some of your behaviors in the following?
- I silently disagree with the proposed change, but I don’t voice my concerns.
- I spend more time thinking about why the change is a bad idea than a good one.
- I question why the change is necessary, even after the rationale has been explained.
- I share my concerns and dislike of the change with my peers.
- I am less productive as I spend time talking about the change.
- I procrastinate and only comply with the change when someone follows up.
- I share information to try to discredit the change or the person leading it.
- I ignore requests to change my behavior and continue as normal.
- I use my influence to try to get decisions reversed after they have been made.
- I encourage others to ignore the change directives.
Change reaches a place where it is time to “fish or cut bait.” If change is impacting a place, a community, an organization, a group, etc. that you love, then it is time to consider the possibilities and begin to imagine the positive and success. You can ask “Where will I need to invest in my skills to be ready?” “What do you think will be most difficult for me and how can I overcome it?” Even before you really believe that the change is a good idea, start behaving as if you do. “What’s one thing I could do today in line with the change?” “How would I do this task differently?” “How should I reprioritize my activities based on the change?” It is in this way that you begin to collect small wins and let your behavior inform your attitude. “Your attitude determines your altitude!”
Some will be thinking, what is the pastor trying to tell us? Change is all around us large and small. The Diocese has a new vision that will bring change. My Franciscan province plans to “merge” with five other U.S.-based provinces. At the moment, (and for perhaps longer) we have only two priests assigned. Lots of changes. But then change is the gateway to innovation, creativity, and an incentive for improvement.