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How to become changehardy, part 2.

What are the characteristics of people who successfully flow with change and thrive on it? The answers can be found in this second of a three-part series on changes in life and the lab.

PEOPLE WHO are changehardy accept change as a natural way of life. They look at changes--even the negative ones--not as exceptions but as rules for a healthy and happy life.

* Flexibility. A major characteristic of changehardy people is flexibility. Flexibility is what allows them to reframe changes and view them from various vantage points. Flexibility is also the key to extracting positive elements from change, elements that can enhance life or work.

A vivid example of reframing a negative change occurred during the fire storm that destroyed entire neighborhoods in Berkeley and Oakland, California, in 1991. During an interview shortly after the fire, an author said that when she was first able to make her way through the fire lines and crowds and saw that her house had burned to the ground, she stood in the street crying. Two men came along on bicycles and asked her what was wrong. She said her house was destroyed and with it her latest book that was nearly complete. One man tapped her on the head and said, "Don't worry. You're alive and it's all up here." The other asked if she would like to take a ride on his bicycle handlebars. Though 50, she accepted and jumped on for what she described as a magical ride. She arrived at the bottom of the hill laughing and counting her blessings. One lesson she learned from this change was to live in the present and let go of the past.

Later, she said, people called to offer her various things--clothes, furniture, etc., but she didn't want things. Instead she asked that people help her rewrite her book, sharing their experiences of reaching inner peace. The other lesson the author learned from the experience was that writing did not have to be a solitary occupation and would no longer be for her.

The changehardy believe that the changes that happen to them do not happen in a random fashion and that each change serves some purpose or teaches some lesson. In retrospect, they always say something like, "If that new supervisor had not been so hard on me, I might not be where I am today." Or perhaps, "I learned more during those laboratory cutbacks than at any other point in my professional career."

* Laugh in the face of change. If you wish to join the changehardy, a good place to start is by developing a sense of humor. The ability to laugh at oneself and at life is a priceless characteristic. No matter what changes are occurring in your life, laughter will help you move through them and profit from their lessons.

Mark Twain once said, "Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand." Abraham Lincoln used humor to survive the trauma and change of the Civil War. At one point it is said he read to his cabinet from a book on humor. When he finished, he asked, "Gentlemen, why don't you laugh? If I did not laugh, I should die, and you need this medicine as much as I do."

Norman Cousins believed that a large part of his recovery from a usually fatal illness came from his own prescription to watch comedy shows and laugh deeply several times a day. Laughter releases endorphins in the brain and helps us navigate the changes and losses that are a normal part of living.

Only about 25% of all people, however, have a natural sense of humor. The other 75% of us have to develop and nurture it just like any other trait. How can we do this?

Thought stopping. One technique for developing humor is, first of all, to be conscious of any time that you begin to become upset or angry because of a relatively trivial occurrence. Then, use the process of thought stopping to turn off the anger or negative thought. Say to yourself, "Stop!" or "Cancel!" Then devise a humorous interpretation of what was upsetting to you. If a physician is screaming at you over the phone about a turnaround time beyond your control and you feel yourself overheating, stop your thoughts of doing him bodily harm and instead picture him in a diaper having a temper tantrum. Or if you're stopped in traffic and start to feel irritated, imagine being caught instead in the middle of an elephant stampede.

One-liners. Another technique to help a budding sense of humor is to develop humorous one-liners that you can say to yourself or others. For example, when faced with simultaneous changes in the lab, instead of getting angry or impatient, you could say, "Who ordered this opportunity?" Or, as a 6-year-old boy said when he was packing up his things to go home from school at noon, only to be informed by the teacher that now that he was in the first grade he had to stay all day, "Who the heck signed me up for this?"

Exaggeration is another way of putting more humor into your life. When you're feeling overwhelmed and someone asks you to do yet something else, pull an imaginary pad of paper out of your pocket and pretend to write, "Task number 1,003. No problem."

Fantasy may also be useful for developing your sense of humor. It is especially appropriate in situations in which you believe you know how someone else should behave. The word "should" signals you that you are on what I like to call "a negative fantasy island." This means you are not dealing with the reality of the situation and have the gall to think that you can control someone else's behavior. Get off the negative fantasy island by reminding yourself that people don't like to be should upon. That in itself may bring a smile to your face. If not, jump to a positive fantasy island by saying to yourself something like, "When I'm in charge of the world, such behavior will not be allowed."

Sometimes something as simple as nicknaming a person with whom you have problems can be helpful. If you see the difficult person coming down the hall toward you, say to yourself, "Here comes Bullwinkle!"

More formalized training. You can also develop your sense of humor by attending workshops on the topic. Spend more time with friends or relatives who have a great sense of humor and learn from them. Study what makes you laugh. Is it a particular subject, or is it the context or the timing? Analyze how others generate humor, and you will become humorous too.

* A changeless core. As ironic as it may sound, coping successfully with change requires that you develop a changeless core, a changeless sense of who you are and what you value. When you are living in tune with your values, you have the energy to flow with changes. Stop and think about what your core values are. What do you stand for? What keeps you going when others might quit? What is most important in your life? The answers to these questions change little throughout adulthood. It is this inner changeless core that gives us stability in the midst of change and that gives us our sense of meaning and purpose.

People who are changehardy have a deep sense of commitment that pervades their personal and professional lives. They almost always have a compelling dream of what can be, instead of blindly accepting the status quo. A song from the Broadway musical South Pacific called "Happy Talk" said it best: "If you don't have a dream, how you gonna have a dream come true?"

* Passion. Those who are changehardy feel passionate about some aspects of work or life. What aspects of the laboratory excite you? Why is it worth devoting many years of your life to this profession? Three different laboratory managers might provide three different answers. One might simply say, "It's as good a job as any other." The second might say, "I do it to support my family." The third might say, "I do it because I enjoy being a part of unraveling the mystery of disease and aiding in the healing process." The first manager is just putting in his or her time, much like a prisoner. The second is gaining the minimal satisfaction that accompanies supporting a family. But the third is committed to something larger than him- or herself, is energized by what he or she does, and is likely to be the most changehardy of the three.

* Commitment. Commitment cannot be found in a job or in relationships with other people. Commitment is in your mind and in how you perceive your work and relationships. What is your level of commitment? What is your dream for what your laboratory could be, for what medical technology could be? When you have a vision or a dream, you have a chance of developing your own preferred future and, consequently, directing change.

Commitment and creativity do not result from external rewards, but rather from connecting our work to an inner sense of purpose. Early in our careers we are motivated by learning new skills and developing a higher level of competence. By the midpoint of our careers, a switch has often occurred from an emphasis on competence and skills to an emphasis on connecting work to an inner sense of purpose. The shift that many in the health care field make is the shift from being motivated by the acquisition of technical skills to being connected with the long tradition of healing.

Individuals who are committed feel that they are a part of something larger than themselves. The more of themselves that they invest, the more energized and excited they become about living. No one can commit on command, however. There has to be a reason for someone to commit. Whether you call it a purpose, a mission, or a vision, you will become more changehardy and stress-resistant when you are living your dream.

* A sense of control. In addition to having a deep sense of commitment, people who are changehardy believe that they control what is important in their lives. Possessing a sense of control does not mean that you control everything and everyone around you. That is an impossibility. Furthermore, striving for total control puts one at a high risk of illness and failure.

Instead, what changehardy people control is how they react to the negative things that happen in life. This sense of inner control is essential to being changehardy. Often it comes from having a strong faith or sense of spirituality from which to draw strength in difficult times. Inner control can be enhanced by a sense of continuity that flows from a belief in values and other enduring elements of your life experience.

Cognitive control stems from the belief that we can affect the negative impact of a situation--both physiologically and psychologically by how we view the problem or change. Those high in hardiness use transformational coping to deal with problems. This involves changing your mind-set by thinking about the change optimistically, acting toward it decisively, and using exercise, relaxation, meditation, or prayer to alter the mental and physical effect of a negative change.

The most extreme examples of being changehardy come from survivors of the Holocaust. Their beliefs and perceptions of the situation were their key to survival, not their physical strength. Those who had a strong reason to survive--a commitment, if you like--adapted and did survive in astonishing numbers in spite of poor health. They focused on the positive aspects of each day. Sometimes it was something as simple as a beautiful sunset that provided joy and distraction. Were they able to exercise control of this horrendous situation? Yes. They controlled their thoughts, they gave themselves moments of enjoyment, and they controlled their own responses to daily incidents.

Other similar examples of people responding to imposed changes reiterate that the one thing that those in power cannot take charge of is mental attitude. One of the hostages held in the U.S. Embassy in Iran for more than a year decided that he would treat his guards as guests in his house whenever they entered the room in which he was being held prisoner. This provided him with a sense of autonomy and control in a situation where he was dependent upon his captors for survival.

* Thinking optimistically. The strategy that many people have difficulty using is thinking optimistically. They may have been brought up in a family with a negative field orientation, where negative things were the focus of all conversation. If you attended graduate school, much of your education may have rewarded you for finding flaws in research. This could have developed into the habit of searching for the negative and/or thinking pessimistically.

Here are some ideas for developing into an optimist:

* Optimists look for at least partial solutions when confronted with change.

* Optimists allow for regular renewal. What do you do to renew your body, mind, and spirit? Commit yourself to some form of renewal as often as once a week when you are moving through complex changes in your life.

* Optimists consciously develop their powers of appreciation. They take time to smell the roses. What experience of appreciation did you have yesterday?

* Optimists mentally visualize a difficult situation before approaching it. This is like getting a confidence injection. They play out in their minds exactly what they want to have happen. They imagine the best outcome and develop a scenario to make it happen.

* In addition to having great adaptability and flexibility, optimists believe that it is possible to be cheerful even when they can't be happy. This becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. If you want to be more optimistic, surround yourself with love. Some people do this by having a dog. Others do it by asking for the love they need from a spouse, friends, or relatives. Why not choose to surround yourself with loving people and animals? Why not give more love yourself? It is a truism that what we give is what we get in return.

Optimists believe that they have control over their future in the ways that count to them. They are quite able to accept, however, that which cannot be changed. They invest their energy where there is a positive payoff.

Optimism is all in your head. You can choose at this moment to face the changes in your life as an optimist and become changehardy. Develop the mental characteristics described and you'll find that after a while optimism becomes your natural mental state.

To help yourself and others be optimistic in the lab, you might want to try having success sessions. In a success session, each person shares one thing that he or she did or said during the day or week that he or she feels good about. During a success session, no negativism is allowed. The frequency of success sessions is determined by the degree of negativism in the lab. If it is a positive place to work, once a month at a staff meeting might be sufficient. If, on the other hand, there is a very negative atmosphere, success sessions might be needed once a day. You can change the culture of the lab from negative to positive within 6 months by having daily success sessions.

* Life is a challenge. Another characteristic of changehardy people is that they view the changes in their lives as challenges to be met. They are typically energized and excited by new ideas and projects. When there isn't enough challenge in the lab, they will take an evening class or involve themselves in something else for the mental stimulation. What the non-changehardy see as problems, the changehardy view as opportunities for growth. A laboratorian who attended one of my workshops said that the worst thing that could happen to her was mental stagnation.

The essence of the changehardy, stress-resistant life is to live, not just exist. Programming challenge into your life is the key. One way to do this is to accept every challenge that comes into your life for 1 full year. This may involve serving on committees you've never even considered before, teaching others something at which you are expert, volunteering for a cause about which you care, or striving to make your lab a place that fulfills its potential. Or it could involve the challenge of developing a trait that you've always wished you had, perhaps patience.

* Connections. Another characteristic of those who are changehardy is connections. They do not live an isolated life. They truly connect with friends, family, and coworkers. They are a part of many different support systems into which they can plug in the midst of change. They are not afraid to share their worries and concerns with others. During changes, their support, information, and obligation networks provide the understanding, strength, and support that they need. These connections to others help them through the negative, angry, resistant stage of change.

Who are you connected with in a truly meaningful way? Some say the acid test of connection is, "Who can you call at 3 a.m. to share a concern? Who will be glad that you called?"

To truly connect with others and be changehardy, we need to communicate feelings. Feelings are the glue that connects us, while thoughts, especially judgments, are the wedges that drive us apart. Think of yourself during the past week. Were you communicating judgments, thoughts, or feelings in the lab and at home? What responses did you receive? Did it help to build teamwork and relationships or did it separate or even isolate you? If you communicated feelings, what was the positive to negative ratio? What feelings will you commit yourself to expressing tomorrow to enhance your connections, both in the lab and at home? You are in charge of what you express and in maintaining your connections and sense of teamwork.

* The changehardy profile. In summary, you can choose to become changehardy and stress-resistant by developing the characteristic profile of the changehardy person. You can develop and use your sense of humor in the midst of change. You can choose to develop a network of connections and to view changes optimistically. You can invest your energy in areas where you have some control and stop trying to control the uncontrollable. Find something in your work that you care about passionately that is tied into your purpose for living. Accept the challenges that come your way with the excitement and knowledge that they bring you the opportunity to develop to your full potential.

Most important, develop the flexibility that will allow you to reframe each change that comes your way so that you are able to see some positive benefit or lesson to be learned. Keep in mind that things do not happen at random; when one door closes, another door usually opens. You can flow with changes, live in tune with your values, and become changehardy and stress-resistant. If nothing else, commit yourself to this goal.

The author is a professional speaker and president of Communication Management Associates, a management training and consulting firm in Orinda, Calif.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Change
Author:Harmon, Shirley
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Date:Aug 1, 1993
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