Leaders must have the capacity to lead during times of great challenge, to continuously learn and to navigate change. They also need to lead others to do the same. Mandating resilience is not possible, and selling people on the power of keeping up isn’t sustainable. Leaders must first understand what is required for employees to adapt to ever-changing situations. Then, they must develop the ability to train and coach their team members on the behaviors required to survive and thrive in the face of stress, pressure and continual change.

Embracing change begins with the ability to successfully recognize and navigate emotions, remain present and use common sense to take the best next step.

People learn to adapt to change and uncertainty more effectively when they formulate new thought patterns, behaviors and habits that give them access to resilience and agility. This article is a guide for training a workforce to embrace and thrive in uncertainty and change. It will give you and your leaders the basics needed to develop an agile state of mind throughout a team.

Curiosity Is Key

Living in the 21st century requires all of us to not only know what is happening but also to understand how technological, environmental and sociological shifts impact us and the people around us. Fixed ways of thinking form rigidity in the brain, resulting in an (often unconscious) unwillingness to open our mind to new ways of thinking and looking at the world.

This inflexibility inhibits our ability to understand complexities and to make decisions, and these limitations are amplified during times of crisis. Gone unchecked, these patterns make it difficult to learn and grow, shape strategic behavior, and innovate. Alternatively, adopting a mindset of curiosity unlocks continuous learning, growth and improved relationships in both personal and professional settings.

Change Is a Trigger

We all have neural pathways that enable us to automatically remember how to perform activities, such as riding a bike or speaking our native language. The brain matter of this type of patterned thinking is thick forms habitual belief patterns that shape habitual behavior. Stress triggers these patterns, commonly resulting in “less than best” behavior.

Change is one of the strongest triggers for humans. Research tells us that common negative responses to change include outright belligerence, covert manipulation, stonewalling and pleads of ignorance — all manifested as a result of our fear and uncertainty around change.

Even with great communication and inspiring reasons for a change, people respond through their habitual and automatic patterns without awareness that they are doing so. Most, if not all, of our core neural pathways formed when we were children and young adults. Thought patterns develop from repetitive responses to external stimuli, meaning many of us walk around in an adult body processing thoughts formed from a child’s reactions to stimuli.

Retraining the Brain

Once we know that these pathways exist and are informing our habits and behavior, we are free to create new ways of being. We are the masters of our own domain. We can choose to shape new thoughts, new beliefs and new actions that are aligned with our purpose. We can retrain our brain to navigate change and respond to stress and pressure more effectively.

Training your brain to adopt new patterns of thinking takes discipline, effort, consistency and energy. Understanding how the brain works is a great place to start.

Destin Sandlin, of SmarterEveryDay.com, created an insightful video on neural pathways. He used his backward bicycle to demonstrate how we can retrain our brain on new behaviors and skill sets. In the video, Destin explains that it took him eight months to learn to ride his backward bicycle, and later, it took a concentrated effort for him to return to his old behavior — in this case, riding a normal bicycle.

This type of learning is exactly what you’re looking for when training your workforce to effectively manage stress and pressure while effectively navigating upheaval and change. We recommend starting with these steps:

1. Empower People With Neuroscience Basics

Explain thought and its impact on our ability to thrive in times of change. Create an “aha!” moment so that every learner has an insight about how their thoughts, feelings and beliefs shape their behavior and impact their effectiveness in the midst of change.

2. Explaining the Brain: Make It Interactive and Inquisitive

Explaining a complex subject like neuroscience is best done through interactive and experiential learning. Well-designed and well-led training engages learners through multiple senses and offers an inquisitive debrief that gives the participants an opportunity to consider their behavior and responses based on tangible examples.

One of the simplest debrief activities is to use three basic questions: “What worked?”, “What didn’t?” and “What’s next?” These questions create an opportunity for everyone involved to share their experience — how it affected him or her as an individual and as a member of the team. Allowing plenty of time for answers to each question and deepening the understanding of the training is paramount to creating the new neural pathways around change.

3. Turn Insight Into Action

The debrief reveals the habitual patterns that cause conflict and constraints in the workplace. When the reality of the adverse and unwanted impact resonates, participants can envision a new response and devise an action plan to adopt new habits and behaviors.

Keep in mind that you cannot force change and adaptation. Learners must find their own reasons for responding in a new way, and building these habits takes time, practice and continual reinforcement. The payoff? A team primed to flourish and move forward with velocity.

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