Change is fun, isn’t it? For most of us, the answer tends to be a rather firm, “No.”
To that point, I just spent the last six months completely changing the face of the business I’ve spent the last 4 ½ years building. I can tell you; at times it’s been anything but fun!
You see, I too, face the uncertainty of change – and the resistance and fear that it can produce.
And yet we know that change is inevitable. In fact, as many of you reading this are Project Managers, your career is built on a foundation of change.
So why do we resist?
“The key to success is often the ability to adapt.”
By its nature uncertainty challenges us – it pushes us from our comfort zone, and invites us to experience something new and unique. It doesn’t sound all that bad. That is, until our brains get involved.
The thing is, as human beings we are wired to seek certainty. Not sure about that? How often do you drive a different route to work? Or how often do you deviate from your morning routine? See what I’m getting at now?
The thing about our wonderful brains is that they are like prediction machines. The only problem is that the connections they make are not always linear, connected, or relevant to what we’re experiencing.
And that doesn’t stop us from doing it!
Have you ever rented a movie you’ve already seen? Get a life!
In truth, you did that because you’re certain you’ll like it! And, you hope that you’ve forgotten enough about it to get just a little uncertainty and surprise. We’re so predictable and funny, when you get right down to it.
“Life is change, growth is optional. Choose wisely.”
In “Your Brain at Work,” author David Rock points out our brain’s propensity for making predictions. He notes how the brain literally craves certainty, using its huge data capacity for recognizing patterns in the world in order to predict outcomes. He says that when the need for certainty is met, there can even be a sensation of reward.
But, the more routine the event, the less noticeable the reward.
Now, apply this to your projects – vast, complex, long-term projects with absolutely uncertain outcomes. How does it make you feel just to think about that? Do you notice any response in your body?
How often have you fallen prey to the uncertainty that comes with leading your project teams? When faced with a situation that you cannot see a solution to, how often do you write the story before it even happens? More importantly, does that story tend to be positive or negative?
I’ve seen it (and yes, done it) so many times, and nowadays it just makes me chuckle at our need to control the outcome of events – sometimes as if our lives depended on it. That’s because the brain literally sees uncertainty as a threat to your life.
“Growth means change and change involves risk, stepping from the known to the unknown.”
As Rock puts it, “When you can’t predict the outcome of a situation, an alert goes to the brain to pay more attention. An overall away response occurs. A 2005 study found that just a little ambiguity in its own lights up the amygdale.”
The amygdale is part of the limbic system, which controls the release of neurotransmitters that stimulate emotional responses, and severely inhibit the brain’s ability to think logically – typically leading to mistakes. Isn’t that just great?
So am I saying that any time you experience uncertainty you’re doomed to being reduced to a quivering, emotional mess? Not at all.
The trick is to stop the emotional response before it begins. One of the best ways to do that is to simply know that you’re going to encounter uncertainty, and be okay with it. Ask yourself what’s more important, knowing how every little detail is going to turn out, or having the emotional fitness to lead your project team to success?
“People underestimate their capacity for change. There is never a right time to do a difficult thing. A leader’s job is to help people to have vision of their potential.”
Practice living with a little uncertainty every day. Drive a different route to work. (Some of you are already shaking!) Eat something different for breakfast. Begin to change up your routine.
Like anything else, the ability to welcome more uncertainty into your life takes practice. In the end, like so many other things in our lives, it comes down to choice. You can choose to value certainty over uncertainty, fear over calm, mistakes over clear thinking, and ultimately failure over success. I don’t know about you, but to me the choice is very clear.
And who knows? You might just be surprised by the outcome!
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Kevin Ciccotti, Human Factor Formula
Helping companies create sustainable, effective teams that are committed to the success of their projects, the organization, and the individuals with whom they work