For the past 18 months, I’ve listened to my patients talk about their struggles with adapting. First to locking down, then to changing how they work, forming new friendships in new ways, or starting over in a new city.
One of the most useful things the pandemic has taught us is the importance of being flexible. So why, now that it’s time to adapt again – to contemplate ‘living with the virus’, to getting back to being social, to moving forward – do so many of people want to dig in their heels?
I’ll be honest: I’m not the guy who readily embraces change, either. (My wife gets annoyed with me for ordering the same boring thing – grilled fish with basmati rice and vegetables – every time we go to our favourite Mediterranean restaurant.) Although adapting can be challenging, not having strategies to deal with the stress of change (from new office protocols to a significant life change) can lead to major depression, adjustment disorder and even PTSD over time. Becoming better at adapting helps you move through your chaotic days with more ease, more energy and less stress.
Some business consultants use a short quiz to measure your adaptability quotient – your ability to adjust, change course or learn to perform better by performing differently. It’s not an official diagnostic tool, and I like the idea of thinking about how adaptable you tend to be, especially since most of us can improve. But that doesn’t mean I think we should fall for the notion that adaptability equals being flexible about everything, all the time. You need to be stable in certain areas so that you can be flexible in others and not end up breaking. Use this tool kit to help find the right balance.
1. Establish a Stable Base
When change is everywhere, it can feel as if there’s nothing secure in your life to hold on to. This can cause you to start resisting change altogether, which also may close you off to opportunities that might make life better.
The way to manage security and change at the same time is to keep a few aspects of your life – like your morning coffee routine – consistent. Habits and routines buffer the effects of emotional stress. Choose more than one area of consistency so that if you need to adapt in one, you have something else to fall back on.
2. Unlearn Some Things
When tech investor Natalie Fratto is deciding which start-ups to support, she looks for signs of adaptability. One clue: adaptable entrepreneurs are willing to unlearn what they think they know.
To figure out what needs to be unlearned, look at uncomfortable situations in which you’re being challenged to do things differently and are tempted to shut down the idea immediately.
Before COVID, some of my patients asked about online visits, and it always felt awkward saying I didn’t offer them. Even though the question kept coming up, I thought everyone preferred meeting with a psychiatrist in person.
Since I’m not always quick to adapt, I had to challenge what I thought I knew about what my patients wanted. When you use resistance as an opportunity to unlearn, you can then relearn at a pace that works for you. It makes adapting easier, because no one is forcing it on you.
3. Focus on Your Core
Understanding what’s most important to you – knowing your core values – keeps you from losing yourself in the process of change. Ask yourself questions like: why did I decide to take this job in the first place? What originally attracted me to my partner? Why did I choose to live here? Change can quickly lead you in the wrong direction if you let it pull you away from these values.
Being intentionally adaptable means reinventing yourself on your own terms. While I’m not sure what changes lie ahead in my office, the next time I’m at the Mediterranean restaurant, I still know what I’m having for dinner.
What’s Your Adaptability Quotient?
Use this mini quiz to assess your skills as a change agent. Answer honestly!
1: never / 2: seldom / 3: regularly / 4: frequently / 5: always
- I am able to shift gears with minimal complaints.
- I challenge myself to question what I presume
- I am frequently on the lookout for new ideas to consider and test.
- My habit is to reach out for help and acknowledge the assistance.
- My failures present opportunities.
Add up your responses:
5-8 You likely struggle with change and would benefit from mentoring and other forms of guidance.
9-12 You’re somewhat adaptable but have room to improve.
13-19 You’re open-minded yet could stand to sharpen your adaptability skills.
20-25 You’re change-agent material and should be mentoring others.