“No industry has seen more upheaval and change than yours,” said Britt Andreatta, speaking yesterday at the annual BenefitsPRO Broker Expo. “And that’s bad for your brain because your brain hates change, and it hates uncertainty.”
Andreatta, CEO of 7th Mind Inc., is an expert on brain science and learning, and the author of “Wired to Grow” and "Wired to Resist."
She likened the experiences of the brokerage industry to holding an umbrella in a storm, only the winds of change have ripped the umbrella from your hands and it’s tumbling end over end, always just out of your reach.
An educator, Andreatta became fascinated about the brain’s resistance to change firsthand when LinkedIn acquired the company where she worked.
“My entire landscape shifted,” said Andreatta. “The rest of my team was laid off. I was told to report to Sunnyvale, California, 500 miles away.”
Under normal conditions, she loved the idea of being acquired by LinkedIn, but this was not a normal time for Andreatta. She had undertaken a major remodeling project at her house, and her mother was battling Parkinson’s.
In short, her bandwidth for change was already maxed out. When she wandered around the campus at LinkedIn, everything was new. Even simple tasks like operating a faucet in the bathroom caused her to stress out.
The change journey
With technology often as the driver of change, organizations and their employees are often in a state of flux. When a company is acquired, or you get a new boss, or a new software platform is introduced, your natural instinct, an instinct hardwired in your brain, fires up defense mechanisms.
“Humans actually have an emotional reaction to change,” said Andreatta. “Your initial response might be: ‘No! I don’t want this to happen!’ In this early stage, the natural emotions are shock, fear and denial.”
As you begin to process the change, your feelings may shift to stress, anger and anxiety. A series of questions begin to swirl around in your head. “Basically, you are breaking down the situation and asking yourself, ‘What will this change do to me? How is this bad for me? What will I lose?’”
After continuing to process the change, you eventually reach a tipping point that Andreatta described as “resignation.” If the change is taking place at work, you may actually resign from the company, or, you may get onboard and resign yourself to the new normal.
According to a recent study, 47 percent of senior executives believe change fatigue is prevalent in their organizations.
“What I tell leaders in companies is change is normal,” said Andreatta. “You can’t make change go away. What you can do is help people get through it.”
The biological cocktail
“The brain is wired to do three things: survive, belong and become,” Andreatta said. “We have this awesome biological cocktail that sends out emotional distress signals.”
This cocktail can manifest itself as a voice chirping in your head as depicted in the Pixar movie Inside Out. When stress ramps up, the voice becomes louder, according to Andreatta. The wall of noise shouts out: “I don’t know what to do! I can’t screw up! I’m freaking out! I’m lost!”
What leaders can do is offer support, provide guidance, and have patience with employees, giving them the time to adapt to the changes.
Tips for success
Although the brain doesn’t like change, it does adapt. Think of the first time you drove to work versus five years into your job, when you’re on autopilot and wind your way to the office as if you have an internal GPS. Andreatta offered five ideas on how to help yourself to adapt to change:
Work with the brain. Eventually, biology will win. We have to understand how the brain works and what the emotional responses are to change.
Increase emotional intelligence. Change impacts emotions. It’s vital that you develop your emotional intelligence. This can give you the skills to navigate change better.
Problem solving, not goals. When it comes to change, goals can mean success or failure. Instead of goals, look at change as a series of problem-solving phases. This will help your brain begin seeking how to adapt to the change rather than avoiding it.
Celebrate milestones and successes. When you do adapt to change, be sure and enjoy your accomplishment.
Embrace mindfulness. Meditation has the ability to change your brain. Harvard University has conducted studies on meditation’s impact on the brain. Even a single 10-minute meditation session can alter the brain, lessening anxiety and creating a mellow state.