How ready were you? How ready were the people you lead? How ready were the people you love?
Everyone (and by ‘everyone’, I mean ‘everyone’) has been thrust into a chaotic, scary and unpredictable state by the actual pandemic, the threat of the pandemic, the economic impact of the pandemic, and the uncertainty and tougher times ahead phasing out of the pandemic. Some say, “Unprecedented”. Some say, “No one could have predicted this”. Neither you nor I are in charge of leading the globe or society but we do each have responsibility for bits of it: yourself, the people you lead, and the people you love.
It would have been perceived as Chicken Little sky-is-falling quackery for you, even two months ago, to have started a team meeting or family dinner with, “So, what are we all doing to prepare for the global zombie apocalypse”? I certainly wasn’t. But, two months ago or two years ago, it would have been prudent and reasonable to prepare for something. Not something unfathomable like what is happening now internationally but something on the individual or local level. Something that occurs that will thrust us into change, uncertainty, risk, etc. Something we didn’t choose but something that just happens. These somethings occurred all the time and will continue to do now, job loss, heart attack, relationship breakdown or breakup. So many people right now are being forced to adapt and there will be varying degrees of success. They would be better prepared now had they proactively practised dealing with change, risk, and uncertainty on their own terms and timetable.
Uncertainty is a metaphorical virus and the future will continue to present us with additional uncertainties, changes and risks. The best we humans have to combat viruses is vaccines and the vaccine mindset is the way to innoculate yourself against future change, risk and uncertainty. Deliberately exposing yourself to small-scale uncertain situations of your choosing develops your ability, if you do it wisely, to cope with future situations that are not small and are not of your choosing. We need to test ourselves so we’re ready when life tests us later. This isn’t about leaping out of planes or climbing mountains. It’s about getting one foot out of your comfort zone, keeping one inside your comfort zone, so it’s scary but not terrifying. You get minor exposure but keep your logical brain working so you can actually learn from the experience. Repeat. You’ll notice that that comfort zone is a little bigger now.
This needs to be a lifelong habit of continual micro-challenge and personal continuous improvement. I appreciate that, right now, we don’t have a time machine and you can’t go back two years and start this habit of deliberate practice of uncertainty inoculation in anticipation of the current crisis. Nope, but you can look ahead and start now. It’s that old saying, the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago; the 2nd best time is right now.
I first delivered my presentation ‘2 Dangerous Things A Year’ in February 2018. Since then and up to COVID19, I’d delivered it dozens of times to thousands of people. The message, and my mission, was to encourage and upskill ordinary people, teams, and families to prepare for the inevitable tests that life would throw at them. It was extremely encouraging to have people contact me to say how’d they done their ‘dangerous’ things and broadened their ability to handle change, risk and uncertainty. That presentation became a book and I want to give away the highlights of that to you in the rest of this article. The book is free until the end of NZ lockdown at www.terrywilliamsbooks.com
Let’s start by addressing the consequences of not starting early in dealing with your change and uncertainty skills. I call this ‘Behavioral Physics’. There’s a law in literal physics: Newton’s 3rd law of motion – an object in motion will continue as it is unless affected by an outside force (like gravity). People are a bit like that rock floating through space. Many of us will simply continue to behave as we always have until we’re slapped in the face by a major life event beyond our control – that job loss, heart attack, relationship breakdown, etc. Let’s represent the consequences of that in visual metaphor:
The smart thing to do once we’re aware of what’s happening is to take charge of change and initiate it on our terms and timetable. That requires a small amount of energy with a small amount of drama, and results in no damage. A ‘nudge’, if you like.
But, most people wait and wait and only act when they’re forced to. A lot of energy is required, much drama is generated, and there is damage if not an irreparable catastrophe.
Nudges don’t work if you wait. The secret ingredients that magnifies the effectiveness of little nudges are time and repetition. We might call this practice. (Believe me, if LinkedIn articles supported animated images, I would have the above graphic include an explosion..)
You’ve probably completed many personality profiling tools or behavioral assessments over your life and career. They’re neat and, if used wisely, can open up your self-awareness and a pathway to better skills, relationships, and results. I have some critiques of how they’re sometimes applied but my key takeaway from the concept is that people are different. One way in which they’re different is how keen they are to throw themselves out of planes. In my presentation, I direct participants to an online survey at amIdangerous dot com. Here, after 30 quick questions, you get a score indicating where you likely lie on the sensation seeking scale and what I refer to as the ‘Change Evolution Path’. I use physical fitness as an analogy. At the lower end, we have ‘change sloths’. At the upper end, we have the ‘change-fit’.
Obviously, it’s over-simplified but it’s a simple way to capture and simply communicate that:
a). people have different natural predispositions when it comes to feelings and actions around risk, change, and uncertainty, and
b). it’s not like height. We can choose to do something about it.
My advice for change sloths is to find or create low-risk, low-consequence opportunities to practice being uncertain and uncomfortable. For change sloths, that bar is pretty low. It might be going to a different supermarket, or initiating a conversation with a stranger while queueing for coffee, or driving a different route to work. It will feel weird, awkward and unnatural but, with practice, it gets easier and better. But, like working out at a gym, people give up because the hard work is definite and right now whereas the beneficial outcomes are not guaranteed and in the future.
So to bridge the gap between change strain and regular change workouts, I developed a model called ‘Danger DNA’ – 8 things you can do to promote the success and habitualisation of your proactive practice of deliberately exposing yourself to the non-routine and unexpected.
Create dissonance – On a single page, create two columns. In the left column, write down how things are for you right now with your current beliefs, actions, and results. In the right column, write down how you need things to be in a year. What we’re trying to create here is a strong sense of dissatisfaction with the status quo and give your brain an itch that only proactive changes will scratch.
Describing vivid specifics takes that right-hand column with your description of your desired future state and brings it to life. Sketch a mindmap or create a vision board with as much emotive and multisensory language and imagery as you can muster.
Identifying supporters is about exactly what you think it is. To get back to our gym metaphor, these people are your spotters. They’re not mere cheerleaders on the sidelines. For you to develop self-reliant change muscles, you need to get to the edge of your ability and tolerance. That will require buddies. Find them and form a 2-way social contract of mutual support, safety, and provocation.
Gather resources is about reading, research, and questions. Find others who are ahead of you on their paths and pick their brains, directly if you can. THis internet thing is remarkably useful for that if you’ve got a good BS-filter.
Place WIIFM reminders is about keeping strong, emotional and visual reminders in front of your eyes and mind to remind you of what’s in it for you – the WHY. And, this doesn’t have to be selfish. Sometimes, the WIIFM is what’s in it for your people. Anyone can act motivated and handle bumps on a good day. You need your WIIFMs on the not-good days.
Quick wins and display progress are about creating momentum. A marathon is, well, um, a marathon. You don’t crack one of those out of the box. Chart your goals and incremental progress, celebrating milestones of note. For some, it’s the first 5k. For some, it’s the lamp post on the closest street corner.
Burn the boats is about not having a plan B. You’ll always have a doubt about your ability to move forward if there’s always a move backwards. If you’re genuinely going to commit to a change, make forwards the only option you have.
I started this loooong article with the COVID19 lockdown – an outside force over which we have no control and little choice, where we are being forced to adapt. And, adapt we must because the alternative is, well, you know the saying. I’ll finish this loooong article with a hopeful tilt to the future. Hey, it’s terrible and I’m not sugarcoating it but we each have to get something out of this. There hopefully won’t be world wars or pandemics again for ages, or at all, but there’ll be those lesser somethings that will happen and will throw you for a loop. If you want your team or your kids to have a skill that’ll set them up for a better life, traditional resilience isn’t enough. Resilience means bouncing back from adversity to how you were before. You and your people need better than that. You need to bounce back better than before and that means learning from the experience, and permanently extending that comfort zone. You need ‘rebellious resilience‘, to deliberately alter your ‘danger DNA’, and choose to move you and your people along the change evolution path. To work out your change muscles, get change-fit, to test yourself now so you’re ready when life tests you again later.
Learn more at www.2dangerousthingsayear.com