Crisis or opportunity? Often they’re the same thing…

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Jeff Cole

When change happens, you can think it's the best thing you ever heard or that it's the end of the world., writes Jeff Cole. It just depends on how you perceive it. So here's how to embrace change, even when it seems frightening.

Sometimes how we react to change as an adult reflects life experiences going all the way back to our childhood. Handling situations for the first time on the playground often sets a precedent and a path upon which other experiences build, and that frames up how we view the world in general and change specifically.

Remember your first gym class (do they even still teach gym today..)? It’s a sunny spring day and the class heads out to the baseball diamond for your first attempt at softball. Small kids with oversized gloves are manning their positions in the infield.

Inside these kid’s minds are basically one of two soundtracks playing in a loop: either "I hope the ball comes to me!" or "I don’t want that ball coming anywhere near me!"

Two opposite reactions to the exact same situation!

Were you one of those kids who never wanted the ball?

Were you a "give me the ball" or a "keep it away from me" kid? It’s been written that in Chinese, the symbols for crisis or opportunity are the same symbol.

For instance, at your organization, a change could be announced. You think it’s the best thing you ever heard and the person in the office next to you thinks it’s the end of the world. It all has to do with our perception – the filter through which we view the world. And guess what? We control that filter!

Here are a couple tips to help us embrace change when it seems frightening…

Focus on the positive: What’s the best that could happen?

Sometimes one chapter in our lives ends abruptly and we’re onto another chapter before we know it. What is the best that might happen? Depending on your focus, you may tend to primarily dwell on the downside. Sometimes something like a layoff, which may have many obvious negative things associated with it, ultimately ends up being the best change the person ever encountered in the long run!

Don’t focus solely on the downside as it delays your eventual bounce back from a change. Write out in bullet points the downside of the change. For every downside bullet you write, force yourself to write three-five positive things that can come from the change.

You may have to think long-term not just short-term. Don’t just think them – actually write them – preferably in long-hand. The more senses you activate in this exercise the more effective it is. In your mind, when the potential positive outcomes overwhelm the negative outcomes, your entire perspective tends to change.

Deer in headlights? Don't worry, you'll recover

If a change catches you by surprise, you may enter a mild state of "shock". This is because your expectations have just been shattered. Understand that this effect will go away. That may take anywhere from a few seconds to longer periods, dependent upon the change.

While the fog of that is rolling around your head, try to cut through it with a few questions: "What actions can I take right now to leverage this change to my advantage in the short term? The long term?" "What actions do I need to immediately take in the area of containment to limit any downside risk?" Sometimes focusing on very specific (albeit sometimes mundane) activities helps you cut through that fog and not freeze.

In some changes, there will be a window of opportunity that will be time sensitive. Being in a "change daze" may not be to your advantage if you need to make informed decisions and take actions quickly.

Stay healthy

After the economic crash of 2008, many workers left many companies. Although the people went away, the work didn’t. Today’s worker is probably doing the jobs of 2-3 people from years past. That can run people’s internal batteries down to low levels over time. When a change hits you by surprise, there may be a short term jolt of adrenalin, but that will eventually wear off and you might experience a "crash" like after a caffeine or sugar "high".

When you are trying to keep a positive perspective and stay nimble and on your toes to take advantage of any time-sensitive opportunities, it’s hard to accomplish if you are asleep on the couch and barely able to move. Change is coming to all of us at one point or another – it’s simply a matter of time until one drops on you. If you stay reasonably healthy – active with proper nutrition and rest, it can help a great deal with the mental side of handling change.

Our role models? According to author and psychologist Dr. Denis Waitley, some Olympic athletes and astronauts spent almost as much time on their mental training as their physical training. The two go hand-in-glove in a synergistic reciprocal relationship.

In short, we can spend our lives dodging change as it comes our way or blaze our own path to the future, churning through whatever change obstacles we may encounter. The choice is entirely ours.