Staying Focused Amid Change

March 27, 2020


At a time when it seems that people have a multitude of opinions on everything, it appears they can agree on one thing: as human beings, we're uncomfortable with change. We tend to bristle at small changes—a change in a TV lineup, a menu change at a favorite restaurant and probably just about any change that disrupts our familiar, well-worn routine at work.

So what happens when a big change is on the horizon—a change such as bringing a new manager to the team, revamping business hours or working from home during an extended health crisis? How can you stay focused on the job when change casts such a big shadow on your every thought?

It may help to begin by understanding why people generally resist change. You're bound to recognize some of your own “change responses” among the reasons. Doing so should help clear the mental fog so you can take meaningful, proactive steps to regain your focus—and your mental equilibrium.

Identify What the Big Change Means to You

It's almost a cliché to say that people resist change because they are “creatures of habit.” But management experts say there is some truth in this cliché. It helps explains why they sometimes fight change instinctively, without even taking the time to fully assess it. It’s faster and easier to criticize change or dismiss it, simply because change inherently means something will no longer be the same.

A reluctance to forgo the status quo is just one reason people resist change. You may recognize your own reaction in five other reasons:

  • They assume that change will be accompanied by added responsibility, work or a new set of problems. These assumptions, in turn, feed their stress and anxiety.
  • They worry about meeting new expectations, especially if they must master new skills. Stepping outside their comfort zone is hard enough; their real fear is that they could look inadequate or incompetent.
  • They fear the change could bring about a loss of control or a loss of status.
  • They lack faith or trust in the people advancing the change. A poor track record doesn't help; a bad experience in the past could provoke naysayers to adopt a “Here we go again!” mindset.
  • They equate change with loss—the feeling that because something will no longer be the same, it should be mourned.

The Impact: Change and Focus are Linked

Essentially there are two problems to slay: the negative reaction to change, and how it can muddy focus. The good (if not great) news is, if you can come to terms with the former, your focus should improve commensurately—much like how removing a coating of dirt from your windshield makes it easier to focus on the road ahead. The two are intrinsically linked.

Address them together by:

Acknowledging Your Emotions

You don't have to like them. And you don't have to be proud of them. Keep them to yourself, but “pop the lid” on your feelings. Ignoring them or trying to stymie them is a defense mechanism that you have to unleash before you stand a chance of regaining and sharpening your focus.

Staying Positive

No one ever said it's easy to “think happy thoughts,” especially when they're hard to come by. So force yourself: As soon as a negative thought to the big change enters your mind, substitute it immediately with a positive thought, even if it's “off the reservation” somewhat, such as how grateful you are for your coworkers. Soon, you shouldn't have to force yourself; positivity should come naturally.

Brainstorming Opportunities

If happy thoughts are in short supply, zero in on an opportunity (or opportunities) the big change could trigger. It could be the chance to learn new skills, make yourself more marketable or learn from someone else's management style. An opportunity surely awaits somewhere.

Starting Small

Pick a challenge, any challenge, and build upon it. Few things can motivate like success; fewer things can improve focus than successes you build upon like a confident, seasoned pro.

Staying Actively Involved

Some people withdraw when confronted with change, but taking a step back is actually one of the worst things you can do for your focus. In fact, you risk losing it altogether. Get involved in the change process by asking questions, offering assistance and otherwise becoming an active, hands-on participant.

Recharging When Needed

Change can be tiring; big change can be exhausting. But it's natural, and it's temporary, especially if you're smart enough to take a walk, make a coffee run or set out on some other short-term escape. You should return with your focus fully restored.

Surprise Yourself

It’s important to note that this process works in reverse, too. In other words, sharpening your powers of concentration can help shape a new attitude about change. And, who knows? You could end up being an influencer in your workplace—that can-do person who not only finds focus in change but empowerment, too.

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