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Dr. Ivan Joseph: How to Ride Through Change with Confidence

Dr. Ivan Joseph: How to Ride Through Change with Confidence

This year I have had a rush of keynote requests from organizations looking for support with leading through change. This makes sense as I think we can all agree that, across the globe, we’re living in uncertain times.

In some ways, we are still recovering from the pandemic. Folks are still trying to navigate hybrid work and what that means for cohesion, productivity, and high-performance culture. Depending on who you ask, we’re either headed into a recession or still in the midst of one. And, each day seems to bring another headline about major layoffs in the corporate world.  

For many of us, this uncertainty — when we don’t know where we’re headed or whether we’re equipped for what’s ahead — instills a little fear, doubt, grief, anger, and a myriad of other emotions within us. And there comes a time when there is so much change happening all at once that we actually begin to develop physiological responses to it.

The Physiological Effects of Change

In the workplace, there’s dozens of examples to illustrate the impact of change on our mind and body. For example, you may find yourself reading a meeting agenda and feel your blood pressure soar as it becomes clear that new initiatives are stacking up with no new resources to carry them out. Or, you may wake up feeling resentful and sluggish as you’re packing your lunch to go back into the office because you were promised three work-from-home days per week when you started this job. Or, budget crunches might have led to hiring freezes or the consolidation of departments, leaving you with a tension headache as you navigate the wake of change left behind for you to deal with.

In a protective move, your brain releases a dose of adrenaline that literally floods your system making it difficult to concentrate and recall.

A lot of people experience an intense emotional and physiological response when they’re being asked to do something new or something they haven’t done for a long time. For some folks, this may manifest as anger, for others it might be fear or grief. Your body processes a variety of emotions similarly.

In a protective move, your brain releases a dose of adrenaline that literally floods your system making it difficult to concentrate and recall. This is where you feel panicked and just want to scream or leave or give up. This is called flooding, and it happens to the best of us, so stop feeling badly about it.

We do have the power though to overcome it. Your first step is to notice and acknowledge that you are not able to keep working in that moment. Your body is triggered by racing negative thoughts. You can stop this with a physical gesture, like clapping, then push pause and follow these simple steps listed below to release and restore yourself from the chemical wave of emotion. These steps will help you move past the flood and continue being a productive member of your high performing team.

Tips for Regaining Composure during an Emotional Flood

Working from Home

If you are at the home office when the flood hits, step away from where the provocation found you. Go outside, if you can, and take a few deep breaths of fresh air. Get out of your head and into your body by stretching or doing a few calisthenics. Eat a healthy snack like citrus or nuts.

As you feel the flood receding, take your laptop to a new spot, and start back to work by doing a rigorous rational task first — something that calls for your rational brain to take charge like expense reports. Before you know it, your brain and body will be restored and ready to go back and try again.

Working in the Office

If you’re at your workstation in the office, pick up your water bottle and head out of the office and away from your workstation to refill it. Take the stairs or a long route if you can. Use the washroom on your way. Along the way, concentrate on taking deep breaths and try to notice your physical surroundings — count how many desks are in the room, notice if you can smell coffee in the air, etc.

Bring yourself back to the present, hydrate, and recite affirmations before returning to your station. If you can, start with a different task than the one you were engaged in when the flood hit. Or take a few minutes to do a quick round of sudoku to bring your mental energy back to your rational brain centre before you crack on.

In a Meeting

If you are in a meeting or in a situation where you can’t take a break, close your eyes for a few seconds and take a cleansing breath. Consider your posture. Straighten up in your chair, roll your shoulders back, put your feet flat on the floor. Keep a couple of strong flavoured mints or lozenges in your pocket and put one in your mouth. Let the flavour and sensation bring you away from your thoughts. Look around the room and count something like ceiling tiles or how many people are wearing something brown. As the wave moves past and you feel your body calming, silently repeat your affirmations. Start attending to the meeting again by taking notes verbatim until you can fully engage again.

If your flood is so intense that you can’t recover in 15 to 20 minutes of focused, strategic responses, consider taking a half-day off to really dial into your wellness plan. Call your doctor, coach, or therapist. Go for a ride or take your dog on a nature hike. Do something restorative so that you can return better tomorrow.

Building Change Resilience

There are three things guaranteed in life — death, taxes, and change. Change is going to happen around us and to us over and over again. Our goal as high performers is to develop the necessary skills to manage our physiological responses to change so that it doesn’t impact our performance.

By acknowledging in-the-moment that what’s happening in our mind and body as real and as temporary, you can take action to restore yourself. Each time you are able to do this and then accomplish something that seemed challenging at first, your brain will actually reward you with a release of serotonin in the form of positive emotions like satisfaction and pride. You can draw on that boost to face the next step on your way to mastering change.

Lastly, remember, learning how to manage your physiological responses to change is a skill, and like any skills, it takes time to master. Be patient with yourself and keep practicing until these new skills become automatic. Then, watch yourself soar. 

An award-winning coach, prominent educator, and accomplished leader, Dr. Ivan Joseph has first-hand experience leading cultural transformation and building cohesive teams. His research has focused on understanding how self-confidence drives performance and now, as an internationally renowned keynote speaker, he shares this knowledge to help leaders cultivate inclusive, high-performing workplace cultures.

Dynamic and engaging, Ivan always leaves audiences with a memorable experience that adds value long after the presentation ends. Contact us to learn more and to book Ivan for your next event.

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