When people adapt to change, they need to apply their mental, physical, and emotional energy to adjust to new circumstances. Based on our own observations and review of research, we’ve identified a set of five “change muscles” that help people use their energy more effectively during change. Let’s take a closer look:
Resilient people are positive. They can see possibilities in even the most discouraging of situations, and opportunities amidst potential dangers. They also see themselves as having the capability to deal with challenging situations. As a result, they are better able to engage their energy in change rather than retreating, worrying, or engaging in defensive, unproductive activities.
Resilient people are focused. They know what’s important to them, and have a clear sense of priorities. In the midst of ambiguity, there are often many conflicting demands for attention. Resilient people recognize that they can’t do everything. They are able to say “no” to the less important things so they can focus their energy on the few most critical issues.
Resilient people are flexible. In the midst of ambiguity, they can generate a wide range of options. They do this in two ways. First, they are able to come up with creative ideas and consider multiple possibilities, rather than sticking with familiar perspectives. Second, they are open to asking for help, so they can draw on practical and emotional support from others and to incorporate a broad range of perspectives in their thinking. These attributes ensure that when there are obstacles to overcome and problems to solve, resilient people bring more to the table.
Resilient people are organized. In the midst of ambiguity, there are places where structure and predictability are important. Building plans, estimating effort, creating systems and structures that enable people to work effectively together, and displaying the discipline to apply these approaches consistently. All of these enable resilient people to use their energy most efficiently in the midst of turbulence.
Resilient people are proactive. They move into action even when the pieces aren’t all in place. They try out new approaches, take risks, and carry out experiments. They recognize that waiting for certainty is counterproductive, and so they move outside their comfort zone. This willingness to explore potential approaches yields insights and learning that increase the likelihood of successful navigation of the new environment.
Balance among these characteristics is important. Each of them plays a role in adapting to change. Each situation calls for its own mix of these “change muscles.” It’s possible to overuse or underuse any of them, so the best strategy is to build strength across the board, so you can call on whichever element is most necessary to addressing the challenges you face in the moment.
Think about your own response to change. Where do you find yourself applying each of these characteristics? Are there some that you find more difficult to engage? Are there “change muscles” you would like to develop? How do you team up with others to leverage your combined strengths?