They say preparation is key… But how can you prepare when everything around you keeps on changing. Nobody was fully prepared for what came down upon us the past few months. Or might we even say years. A pandemic, the ongoing and upcoming wars, Brexit, … also smaller – unplanned - things may have had an impact on your plans. For example: You've just pitched 10 potential investors. They all say they're "interested" but it's been two weeks. You refresh your inbox hourly, and yet still no word... Not what you had in mind right? Or you spilling coffee on your shirt right before arriving at an important meeting, not according to plan. All these events are situations we were not prepared for. Situations that obliged us to change our plans. Circumstances we did, and could, not prepare for.
So, how can we learn to live with the fact that you can plan and prepare everything, but it may still not go as planned? How can we prepare if we do not know what to prepare for? Can we plan to not have a plan? Yes. Actually, you can. You can start training your brain to be more flexible. To be unshakeable. Because when everything around you is unpredictable, the only thing you can learn to predict is how you will react in certain scenario’s. Pleasant or unpleasant changes of plans.
When a situation changes for the better, it is easy for our brain to adapt and go with the flow. When a situation changes in a negative, or more inconvenient, way our brain has more difficulties accepting this. Our brain is wired to scout for the bad stuff. Meaning the human brain has a tendency to focus on the negative. “The brain handles positive and negative information in different hemispheres” of the brain, explains author and Stanford professor Clifford Nass. Negative emotions generally involve more thinking and the information is processed more thoroughly than positive ones, says a nytimes.com article. “Thus, we tend to ruminate more about unpleasant events—and use stronger words to describe them—than happy ones.” Bad emotions, bad memories, bad feedback and bad impressions all have more impact. (skillpath.com, 2017)
Our – work – lives are filled with evidence of how easy it is to fixate on the negative:
- When your boss (who frequently praises your efforts and work) expresses concern over one aspect of your project, you can’t stop thinking about it.
- You've just pitched 10 potential investors. They all say they're "interested" but it's been two weeks. You refresh your inbox hourly, and yet still no word.
The good news is: we can train this part of our brain! Just like going to the gym and training our muscles, we can exercise our brain. To be more flexible, be more positive. This training is possible because of “neuroplasticity”. Meaning our brain has the ability to, according to some experts change and learn or as other experts see it grow, change and heal.
The point is we are able to “re-wire” the part of our brain that deals with negativity. And by doing this, become more resilient. The ground doesn’t get swept of under our feet when things don’t go as planned. We create more balance within ourselves. We become unshakeable. And we learn and accept that planning is essential, but relying on plans is useless, as Dwight D. Eisenhower once said.
How to start rewiring your brain? Through action and experience, you take advantage of your brains ability to modify its activity. Every time you learn or do something new, your brain creates a new connection. Repeating that action reinforces such a connection. (psychcentral, 2021)
Here are some of the ways you could promote neuroplasticity: (psychcentral, 2021)
- Learn a new skill: the relationship between learning and neuroplasticity is twofold. Learning new things enhances brain plasticity, and because of the brain’s ability to adapt to change, you’re able to learn.
- For example: use your non-dominant hand to brush your teeth, learn a new language, listen to different music, cook new foods, …
- Take a new route/ change your routine: every plasticity you engage in has the potential to enhance your brain’s ability to change. For example: find an alternative route for your daily commute, stop at a coffeeshop you’ve never been, visit a different part of town, ...
- Move: exercising may help you slow the cellular aging process and enhance your overall brain health.
- Practice mindfulness: Self-awareness is so powerful when developing any new (and good) behavior. Once you’re more aware of your surroundings and thoughts, and when you’re more awakened to what’s happening in your brain and consciousness, you’ll be more likely to make value-based decisions, which are basically better more meaningful decisions. (secondwindmovement)
The positive outcome of practicing neuroplasticity is that our brain becomes more flexible in/with handling negative/changing situations. When plans change, we learn to adapt instead of freeze. We do not become negative. We start thinking solutions instead of problems.
And that result can come in wishful in your personal and professional environment. It may also make you think about how to create more flexible situations for yourself. As an employee or an organization. Could interim management be one of supporting pillars to a more flexible way of living?