For many of us, the prospect of change, especially big change, is stressful. I’m talking about changing jobs, moving, a change in a significant relationship, loss of relationship, loss of job, etc. Heard this before? Good. Now, what does gratitude have to do with change? See below.
As a Leadership Coach and facilitator, I work a lot with people and leaders from around the world who are faced with change. I have clients who are moving their families across continents, leading big teams through merger and acquisition activities, and facing job loss (and some identity loss) for the first time.
Depending on how we view change (put another way, our mindset towards change), our thoughts, behaviours and physiology can run quite a gamut. The gamut that we’re running determines how resilient we feel, and our stamina to endure change. If we see the change as stressful, our brain can respond by putting hefty doses of cortisol and adrenaline into our bodies, which suppresses our immune system, limits our ability to remain focused and can damage our capacity to learn. In short, not healthy or helpful beyond a short-term “fight or flight” response. If we’re seeing it as an opportunity with rewards, we get beneficial doses of dopamine and norepinephrine, which can help create more focus, and stimulate drive and initiative. All this from a mindset!
But I digress. The point of this article is about a step before you get to thinking about your mindset towards change. And it comes from a leader I met recently who is considering some big changes in her life; for her and her family. As we discussed her goals, fears, aspirations and desires to get back to her most creative, engaged and powerful self, all sorts of ideas filled the space (Note: in Towers Watson’s 20212 Global Engagement Survey, only 35% of the workforce is highly engaged, with 38% experiencing high levels of stress). To see her way out was like trying to find a path through an untouched Amazon jungle once it was all out there. And then she reminded me of a profound truth. She pointed to the fact that no matter the road ahead, if she started with gratitude, she was sure to have a better journey.
It was such a settling moment in our conversation. And here’s why.
When we start with gratitude and the parts of our life and work that we are thankful for before taking that first step into the jungle of change, we set our minds, brains and bodies on a course of resiliency, flow and stamina. Studies have shown that even 20 seconds of focused gratitude on a particular event, person, outcome, etc. creates stimuli that increases optimism, helps with mood and sleep regulation and has us pay more attention to our ‘wins.’ These activities and perspectives help to decrease our blood pressure and soothe our nervous system (e.g. reduce anxiety). In short, it creates positive conditions for the bushwhacking that lies ahead in the jungle of change. Check out this image about the heart’s rhythm as it differs between frustration and appreciation (source: The HeartMath Institute). Which heart rhythm would you rather experience when heading into any situation, especially change?
Before you take on any change or a hefty discussion, write down 3-4 people, circumstances, etc. that you are grateful for in your life and spend one minute putting your attention on your sense of gratitude for these things. By example, we met with our financial advisor yesterday to have a difficult discussion about portfolio performance and a new direction we want to take. I focused on being thankful (in advance) for how receptive and open he’s been in the past, for the fact that we’re fortunate enough to live in a part of the world that even has financial advisors, and for the fact that we had come across the recent information that had us initiate this discussion. The meeting went really well – better than we had expected and the experience of the meeting was very positive.
If you really want to go for it and build your jungle trailblazing skills, start and end your day with this leader practice. Your mind, brain and body will thank you. And you just might enjoy your journey through the jungle as a result.