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Making the Most of Change

To deal with change, perhaps the most valuable quality you can develop is flexibility. Form the habit of remaining open-minded and adaptable to new information and circumstances. When things go wrong, as they sometimes will, instead of becoming upset or frustrated, practice looking into the change or reversal for the opportunity or benefit it might contain.

Superior men and women are invariably those who remain calm and keep their wits about them in the midst of unexpected turbulence. They take a deep breath, relax and then assess the situation objectively. They remain calm and unemotional by asking questions and seeking information when things don't work out as they expected. They deal with change by getting the facts before reacting. For example, if someone doesn't fulfill a commitment, or if a sale fails to go through, they keep their minds clear and steady by asking questions such as, “What exactly happened in this situation? Why? How? How serious is it? And, now that it has happened, what can we do about it?”

The critical issue in dealing with change is the subject of control. Most stress and unhappiness comes as a result of feeling out of control in a particular area of your life. If you think about the times or places where you feel the very best about yourself, you will notice that you have a high degree of control in those situations. One of the reasons why you’re happy to get home after a trip is that, once you walk through your front door, you feel completely in control of your environment. You know where everything is. You don't have to answer to anyone. You can relax completely. You are back in control.

With a clear idea of where you're going and what you want to accomplish, you develop resilience, which is the ability to bounce back rather than to break. You become the type of person who is resistant to the negative emotions that affect people who have no goals or direction.

Four steps to dealing effectively with change

Acceptance. Accept the change as a reality. Acceptance is the opposite of rejection or resistance. Acceptance keeps your mind calm and positive. The minute you accept that a change has occurred, and that you shouldn’t cry over spilt milk, you become more capable of dealing with the change and turning it to your advantage. One of the best ways to deal with the worry that is often generated by unexpected changes is to sit down and answer, on paper, the question: “What exactly am I worrying about?” In medicine, it is said that accurate diagnosis is half the cure. When you sit down and define a worry situation clearly on paper, it suddenly becomes less stressful to you, and it will often resolve itself. In any case, when it is clearly defined, you have diagnosed it, and you can now do something about it.

Define the consequences. Ask yourself, “What is the worst possible thing that can happen in this worrisome situation?” When you clearly define the worst possible outcome and write it down next to the definition of the problem, you will find that, whatever it is, you can handle it. Decide to accept the worst possible outcome, should it occur. Mentally resolve that, even if the worst possible consequences ensue from this situation, it will not be the end of the world for you. You will accept it and carry on. In fact, it could probably be a lot worse. The very act of accepting the worst possible outcome completes the cycle of eliminating the stress and anxiety associated with the situation.

Make adjustments. You are now ready for the third step in dealing with change—adjusting your behaviors and actions to the new situation. Ask yourself, “What are all the things I can do to make sure that the worst possible outcome does not occur?” Sometimes we call this “damage control.” In business schools, this is an important part of decision making, and it is called the “mini-max regret solution.” What can you do to minimize the maximum damage that can occur from an unexpected change or setback? As you begin thinking of all the things you can do, you are adjusting your mind to the new information and preparing to take steps to deal with the change effectively.

Make improvements. The final part of this four-step method for dealing with change is to improve on the existing situation. There is an old saying, “Crisis is change trying to take place.” Often, a change signals that your plans are incomplete or that you might be heading in the wrong direction. If you resist change, you’ll snap like an inflexible pine tree in the wind. Instead, be flexible; bend in the wind like a willow tree. You’ll often find that change is a healthy, positive step toward achieving your goals.

W. Clement Stone, the founder of Combined Insurance Company of America, is famous for his attitude of being an “inverse paranoid." He is convinced that everything that happens is part of a conspiracy to help him to be more successful. Whenever something unexpected occurs, he immediately says, “That's good!”  Then he looks into the situation to find out exactly what is
good about it.

One mark of a superior person is what is called “tolerance for ambiguity.”  This simply means that someone who has the capacity to act effectively in a rapidly changing situation. The higher up you go the greater your income and responsibilities, the higher your status and position, the faster the rate of change will be around you. At every stage, it will be your ability to function with the calmness, clarity and quiet assurance that will mark you as the kind of person who is going places in life.

In the final analysis, your ability to perform effectively in a world of ongoing change is the true measure of how well developed a person you really are. The keys are to accept change, to adjust to it, improve based upon change and then to move on to the next situation. As you continue to do this, you will have such a wonderful feeling of self-control and self-determination that your whole life will be bright and positive—and so will your results.

About the Author(s)

Brian Tracy is the Chairman and CEO of Brian Tracy International, a company specializing in the training and development of individuals and organizations. One of the top business speakers and authorities in the world today, he has consulted for more than 1,000 companies and addressed more than 5,000,000 people in 5,000 talks and seminars throughout the United States and more than 60 countries worldwide. He has written 65 books and produced more than 500 audio and video learning programs on management, motivation, and personal success.