In this episode, Bridgette and Irvine explore why most of us resist change and how learning to embrace it can transform our leadership and life
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Well, hello everyone. My name is Irvine Nugent, and welcome to the Resilient Leadership Podcast where everything we talk about is aimed at helping you lead with a greater sense of calm, clarity, and conviction, even in anxious times. And today, as always, I am joined by my friend, co-host and collaborator, Bridgette Theurer. Bridgette, how you doing today?
Thank you for asking. Irvine. Uh, let’s see. I am doing well and you know, I’ll tell you why, because before we got on to record this episode, I had been having a very busy day back to back calls and stuff. Well, I never do exactly back to back, but it felt like that to me. And it’s a beautiful day here. It’s, uh, 70 degrees and sunny. And so I went, I thought, oh God, I only have 10 minutes. So, you know what? I went and sat outside on the back patio and the sun and the birds and just being outside. And what it reminded me of is it only takes five or 10 minutes to change your mood, to change how you feel mm-hmm. About the day. And so that was a great reminder. So I’m, I’m feeling good and I got a little bit of vitamin D and my head isn’t a great place.
Oh, I love that. I love that reminder as well. It just often we think it’s gonna take too, too much. It’s gonna take so much time and it really isn’t. Yes. It’s just,
I don’t have time to step outside. I’m too busy. <laugh> <laugh>.
Well, I love it. Well, in today’s episode we’re going to talk about a topic, which if you haven’t gone through in the last year, then I don’t know, you, you, you must be living somewhere that is not real. And that is, we’re living in a world of change. And if there’s one thing that is constant and is speeding up, it is the reality of change. You know, just think, take a minute and think about what were you doing like 10 years ago, like 2013, and think about everything that’s happened since 2013, and just imagine all the changes, the big changes, and the little changes that you went through. And some of you probably welcomed some of those changes and some of you went kicking and screaming. Um, having to go through those changes. You know, I think about myself, 10 years have got me resigning from my work, starting a new business.
I got married and I had to change the way I deliver all of my courses and everything. I had to go go virtual. So, you know, some of those were, those were huge, huge changes. And, you know, we’ll, we’ll get into this later. You know, my marriage, I, I was great. I loved it. I mean, it was a wonderful, wonderful occasion. I happily anticipated it was a joy in my life. And it also is the source of a lot of anxiety and changing and adapting. And no matter how you think you’ve prepared for this event in your life, boy, you, you, you, you begin to realize, oh, there’s lots of things I didn’t know about my husband, and now I do. And I’ve had to adapt and change. You know, even something as simple as I thought before I got married that I knew how to load a dishwasher <laugh>. And now I realize that I was totally wrong about that. That there is a certain order that I was not aware about. Oh. And, and every time, and every time I pack that, now I have to realize, ooh, uh, it’s a little compromise in the change as well. So, so it is, it, it, this this is just, we live in a world of constant changes. So bridges, does that resonate
With you? Oh, it does. Oh, well, first of all, our husbands have that in common because my husband has such order to his dishwashing loading that I don’t, he’s asked me not to load it anymore, which is, I might me,
I didn’t get away with that, unfortunately. I still have to load <laugh>. I
Know. I feel really bad for you. Anyways. Okay. So, oh my gosh, this question that you posed, what has happened in terms of change since 2013? That’s been 10 years. Yeah. And I started to think about it and it’s incredible. So, so back in 2013, my family began, well, it shrank be, and we became empty nesters cuz our last of three children left for college. And our home became incredibly quiet. And my husband and I were like, whoa, you know, this is so new and different. And we were a little sad about it, but at any rate, so that was a change. And then my family expanded again because my daughter and my son got married, right. Two marriages. And of course that brought in new family members whom I love. And then in the last 10 years, three grandchildren have been born, which is just been amazing. And I wrote, and I co-wrote two books with two wonderful colleagues. And I could go on and on and on. I mean, there are so many changes. I guess Irvine, what struck me about the question is if you had Calci said, has a lot happened for you since 2013? My first response would’ve been, eh, you know, but Oh my gosh, so much change. Yeah,
Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. And, and, and, and I think it’s important even to sit down and think about that because I think we are unaware of how much constant change is going on in our lives. And it is there in the background whether we’re consciously aware of how much change we’ve gone through mm-hmm. <affirmative>, and, you know, it has a real impact, is an impact on our lives. It an impact on organizations. And, um, you know, I was recently at a conference in the beginning of March, and I was totally enthralled by a speaker I’d never heard before. She originally is from Kazakhstan, but now, um, based in New York. And her name is Dr. Nadia Seva. And she talks about change in organizational change. But she, she threw up a few statistics, which just blew my mind, and I thought I just repeat them here because I think they’re worth repeating of the kind of world that we’re living in. And she asked us, you know, how many recessions have happened since 1998? Or sorry, since 1988 in the world. You even think about it, well, maybe 10 or 15 or whatever. And when you look at that, it’s actually 469 recessions.
What? Wait, since when it’s
400, since 1988, if you take the standard definition of a recession and you talk about countries going through recessions, you know, that’s 469 recession. It’s crazy. And how we have to adapt to that. And then she said that 50% of s and p 500 companies will be gone by 2027. That crazy 50% gone, and then only 44% of today’s leaders have held that position for at least five years. Isn’t that crazy? Right. So when you think about that, that constant change mm-hmm. <affirmative> that we all have to go through. Yeah. And then one final thing, uh, uh, statistic I was looking at from the Center of Creative Leadership said that 70% of change initiatives fail because of resistant company culture. We are resistant to change mm-hmm. <affirmative>, and we still are, it’s part of our human d n a and yet we are faced with change in, in a way that we’ve never really done before.
Yeah. I find this actually fascinating because yes, we are resistant to change and also we crave change. Yeah. And it is a paradox or a polarity, however you wanna label it, because there’s two facets to, um, ourselves about that. But yeah. So this resistance to change. So, you know, Irvine, we, as we’ve shared, we obviously you and I have been through tra tremendous change in the last decade. Yeah. Uh, and I would imagine many of our listeners have as well. And there’s the personal and the professional and all of that. So maybe a good place to start is talking about how all of this change impacts the brain.
Yeah. Well, just think for a minute. In the days when you had an office, uh, maybe you don’t anymore, but maybe, uh, you still do. Just imagine your boss comes in, looks at your desk and says, excuse me, could you rearrange your desk items? And really doesn’t give an explanation? Or perhaps you’re on Zoom and your boss looks and said, uh, could you rearrange what’s happening behind the screen there and doesn’t give an explanation? What’s our first reaction? Well, I think our first reaction will probably be to resist
Or to demand an answer of why, you know? Indeed. So when you think about it, our natural default in our brain is to react the ass to change. It’s a little bit negative. And the reason I think lies in human evolution, and it’s not really surprising when you think about, you know, how we survived really depended upon social belonging. It reminded be part of the group just as much as as food or shelter. And so therefore our social standing, uh, both as an individual in a group actually led to a higher mortality rate. So it was, was really part of, of survival. And so when our social environment changes, when we go through changes, it, it really challenges our stability. And the brain reacts to that. And so therefore, if it is resistant, if is there a challenge or there’s a threat or something that your brain perceives a threat, it is going to resist change as much as possible.
And you know, as much as we think of workplaces being logical and transaction based, et cetera, there’s a lot of human beings in there, <laugh>. And we are faced with dealing with change, uh, really in a daily basis. And so therefore the brain, you know, has to deal with that. And at times, if it perceives it as a threat, it will resist. Now, one of the other things that’s important as well that I know when it comes to the, the neuroscience of this is that our brain actually loves habits and routines. And I think this plays a part as well. Bridgette. Uh, what do you think about that?
Well, first of all, I wouldn’t say that, you know, it’s good news that our brain loves habits and routines. I don’t typically think of myself as very good at habit forming, but actually my brain is, and there’s a part of our brain, the basal ganglia that’s really plays a core role in establishing long-term habits. And the way this works is that our brain has a preference for tasks and activities that are familiar and repetitive, and that we don’t have to pay attention really while we’re doing them. I mean, think of all the tasks, right? In a day like that, like brushing our teeth, driving to work, getting dressed, looking at social media. I mean, we have so many habits that we do automatically. And the value of this is that it frees up the prefrontal cortex for, um, weightier things. Right? So what’s going on here is that there’s an efficiency that our brain and our nervous system, particularly our autonomic system nervous system, is seeking.
And when it comes to changing those routines, those habits, there’s a bit of an inertia to that mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Right? And there’s two kinds of inertia. There’s cognitive inertia where we really don’t wanna have to change that, which has become so familiar and so easy for us to do. And then there’s physical inertia. Like it’s to me, very interesting that if you’re sitting and you get up to move, apparently your body will calculate the most efficient way to do that with expending the least energy <laugh>. Uh, and so I guess one could call us lazy, but I think it’s just our brain’s doing what the brain is meant to do, which is to be incredibly efficient about every expenditure that we make. Does that resonate with you, Irvine?
Oh, absolutely. Because I, you know, and I think it’s, it’s what I think about as well is, is having to change a routine, um, that we have. We’ve kind of based our lives. And I think a bit, I started, you know, at the beginning of the episode about marriage and about dishwashing, you know, kind of, I had to get into a new routine now about how to do that, which is, is, you know, funny, but, and I think that shows up as well. And I think also building a routine as well can really be helpful. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, um, I remember, you know, I, I was working when I was doing my doctorate, and the only time I could find to do that was in the morning mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So I forced myself to get up at four 30 in the morning, and I would have like three hours of solid work, uh, before I had to do something else. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And that’s how I got through that. Well, let me tell you, after four years of that, it has absolutely laid a, a print in my mind. And now I find I will naturally wake up and it’s the most productive part of the morning for me because it’s become a new habit for me. Yeah. And I, I was kicking and screaming. It was a, it was a massive change in my life. And now I love it.
You know, it’s interesting because breaking habits is so hard, but that’s a great thing, right? That habits stick. Now, of course, it’s not a great thing if it’s a bad habit, but, you know, neurons that, what is it? Neurons that fire together wire together, right? Yep.
So the brain wants to have familiar repetitive routines and habits because it works for us, right? Yeah. Now, the downside of that is of course, it’s part of the, it’s a puzzle piece around why we resist change, right? Yeah. It helps us understand darnt, it, I don’t really want to have to fight against my inertia, right? Yeah. Okay. But there’s another side to this, and I think that has to do more with emotionally and psychologically what is going on inside of us as human beings when we do have to change. And, and maybe you could speak to that urban.
Yeah. You know, there’s been a lot of research around, well, it’s happening psychologically, emotionally with us. I think a a a way of, of looking at this is that when we are faced with change in our lives, we, we tend to go through, uh, four phases, which I think are ha helpful. And as I go through them, think of a, a change you’ve gone through and can you resonate with these phases? So the first phases, our initial response, and really our initial response depend on how we view the change. You know, for some of us, change is great. We view it positively, it’s something we want to do. And our morale may initially go up, you know, I, me, we’ve mentioned getting married or for me, it was quitting a job that I was burning out in that started my own company. So initially it was a great change.
I was excited about it, and my morale went up. And now if we reviewed the change, uh, negatively, perhaps it’s getting laid off, perhaps, uh, as happened to me, one of my local coffee shops that I, I was the habit of visiting closed. And so that change was hard to accept and my morale went down. So that initial reaction is important. Then the second phase is we tend to go through an inner conflict. And this is irrespective if the change is good or bad. It causes this inner conflict. As we receive new data, new data comes in, and we have to adapt to new ways of thinking of being mm-hmm. <affirmative> that is difficult. And so therefore, um, something that the, the new job that I got, well, all of a sudden now there were challenges in this. Perhaps the boss was not the person I thought they were.
Perhaps the team that I thought I was getting into is not functioning quite as well as I thought they were functioning. And so therefore, that is going to evoke emotions within us, and we are going to face, uh, anger perhaps blame, sadness, anxiety. And there’s also a big drop in morale because the grass maybe is not as rosy. Or if we thought the change is going to be bad, then it is quite as bad as we thought it was. And then there’s phase three is exploration. So we begin to see a little bit of an openness to explore this new reality that we face. And there’s almost an acceptance that things are not gonna go back to the way they were. And I think what we’re beginning to see is kind of a little forward. We’re looking forward here, whereas before we’re looking backwards mm-hmm. <affirmative>, and there’s a willingness to put some energy into making this change work. And then the final phase is recovery, which in we are able to embrace or fully accept the change, and there’s an acceptance mm-hmm. <affirmative> of a new reality and new habits forming around that reality. Hmm. And so therefore, in the midst of that, there is resistance, especially in phase two and phase three. Yeah. What we’re going to explain is that resistance mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And so Bridgette, what, what do you think might be the main driver of that resistance?
Well, you know what I’m thinking of, I’m thinking of what William Bridges, who was the person who came up with a model of change, well, actually a model of transitions that I found mm-hmm. Very wise. And what he said is, every change begins with endings. Mm-hmm. And endings or losses.
<affirmative>. So I think what’s really going on with change is, is that we experience change in some form or fashion as a loss. Yeah. And when we lose things that we care about, there’s some, some grief, some sadness there. And even positive change can have elements of that. Right. So, so, you know, what are the kinds of losses that we experience in change? I mean, there can be lots of different kinds of losses. Like one is like, you go through a change and what you lose is a, a feeling of competence. Like you, yeah. Like, okay, I’m thinking of my, my son and daughter-in-law and they have a baby, a new baby. You know, I don’t think they know what they’re doing. <laugh> did, did did I know what I was doing? No. Yeah. Yeah. And so for a while you feel incredibly incompetent, you know, and you kind of grieve the day when you ha you kind of felt like, I know what I’m doing here.
You know, sometimes we feel like we are losing status with a change. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had clients over the years be surprised by the resistance they get to a change around office space and who is gonna get an office and who isn’t and what size or the offices, because that’s a whole status thing, right? Yeah. I mean, what else? Sometimes it’s an identity change. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, it’s a loss around who you used to be and now who you must become. And I remember when I first became a grandmother, again, the most wonderful thing in my, my life really in so many ways is, is these three grandchildren. But let me tell you, there was an identity change there, <laugh>. So I think that’s behind some of the resistance. What do you think?
Oh, absolutely. I think it really is. And to, to be able to name the loss as well, I think can be really important. I mean, you know, in marriage as well, you know, we’ve talked a little bit about that and about some of the changes we had to make, but you know, kind of the loss there is independence. You know, I cannot just do the dishwasher the way I did <laugh>. Like really, it’s not the deal, what the heck? But it is that loss of having the freedom without someone having to think about someone else and how to think about how they think, feel, and do. And there, there comes a point. And if you, if you’re in a new marriage and you haven’t got there yet, I’ve gotten news, it’s going to happen pretty soon, <laugh> that that, uh, that really, you know, that loss of, of independence comes there. Yeah. And, uh, and maybe it’s loss of connection. You know, sometimes people move on from work, we get a new boss, et cetera, and we think, we think what we’re, what’s the problem is the new boss. But really what’s underlying it is the loss of the connection we had with someone who’s left.
Hmm. That’s a
Nice one. Yeah. And at times we kind of misdiagnosed that and we think it’s, it’s just the new and really it’s, it’s, it’s the loss. So, so organizations go through this as well, you know, kind of, especially when a, when a, a change is announced or whatever, you know, we can go through all types of, of denial, even at the beginning, well, this won’t affect me, or, um, they’re gonna have to change, not me. Or, they’ve said this before. And really it’s, it’s long enough of wanting to be where the things really were. Yeah. Uh, things, how things used to be. Yeah.
Um, and I think that, you know, there’s a power there in that, that I at times goes unnoticed and is so important.
Yeah. Yeah. I like that word that you just use a longing, you know, for what was Yeah. And, um, a little bit of a a a a sorrow or a bitter sweetness, you know, around that. Yeah.
Yeah. So the reality is change is coming and so bridging any thoughts around how we might best deal with this reality, which so often we have to deal with.
Yeah. Boy, that’s such a good question. So I think a good place to start is acknowledging the longing and the loss, even in the positive change. So you mentioned marriage, it was such a, I remember when you got engaged and I just remember the total joy that you, em embodied. And so it was a wonderful change in your life. But every good change also has losses. And I think that’s a good place to start, is just to acknowledge that as human beings, even the change we crave, even the changes we commit to have some loss to them and to not be surprised by that. Right. Yeah. I think the other thing is, is really naming those emotions. Cuz there can be some complexity to the emotions. They can be pretty intense. It’s not just maybe sadness, there may be some anger, there may be some resentment, there may be some anxiety, there may be some fear.
And some of us are not really comfortable with sitting with, uh, such emotions. Right. But yet what we resist persists as they say. So I think that can be helpful. And then just, you know, in a time of change, I think we gotta go back then to routines. What are the routines that aren’t gonna change and that we can take some comfort in. I mean, simple routines like our morning walk or our morning stretches, uh, you know, whatever the case may be. And you know, pretty much everything I’ve talked about is sort of, I mean, well the first two certainly are sort of interior work, right. What we’re doing on the inside. And then the third one is, what can we actually do in terms of action? And I think identifying and resting in our routines to give us a sense of stability can be helpful.
What would you add?
Well, you know, one thing that strikes me is that, uh, there’s that old saying that misery loves company <laugh>. So as you’re going through change as well, just be aware of the people you have around you because there is a temptation to hang out with people who feel the same way. And especially like, oh, change is awful. And, and it’s just this, the conversation becomes an awfulizing conversation, as I say, just like, you know, this is not to minimize that the change is difficult. But I also think it’s great to have in our lives people that challenge us, people that are able to say to us, okay, but is there anything good going to happen? And I think that’s a really good challenges for it to have. So it can we, can we seek out some positivity or someone that’s willing to challenge the pervasive thought that everything is bad about this?
Or at least remind us, you know, what, you’ve gone through horrible things in your life or changes that you were kicking and screaming and now you kind of like that. And it’s great to be challenged in that way. Hmm. And then, yeah, and then I think one other thing is be kind to yourself. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So some changes are very, uh, stressful. They’re not over quickly, they take a longer time and are we taking care of ourselves? You know, maybe it’s getting a massage, maybe it’s just taking a warm bath, soaking in a jacuzzi. Maybe it’s taking time to listen to some music, but just doing something that’s soothing and that gives us comfort, I think is really important as we go through changes in our lives.
Hmm. That’s lovely. Yeah. I really appreciate that. So Irvine, I am excited to hear about the practice that you’re gonna leave with folks. I have a sense of it, but I’m really wanting to hear you describe this.
I think you alluded to it itself, Bridgette, when we talked about all different types of emotions come up in change. And I think at times we can be surprised even at the intensity of those emotions. And I think I, I, I said in an earlier episode that for me it’s important not to call emotions negative or positive. They’re purveyors of information. They give us information and where we’re at. And I think this is really important when it comes to change. Now, Otter Sharmer who, um, I love his writing. He was a lecture at m I t and he created this, this organization called the Pre Scene Institute. You know, he once said that holding space is a single most important leadership capacity going forward. I love that holding space. Hmm. And so the challenge I think for each of us today is can we hold space for some of these emotions that we’re going through?
Hmm. And that will be more difficult for some people than others because I think there can be an underlying fear that if I hold space for some of this anger that I’m feeling or this loss that I’m feeling, it’ll take over and it will, you know, it’ll be pervasive in my life. And, and I think what we have to do is we have to return to our friend, which we’ve mentioned so many times before, which is our breath. And just to find some time and begin with our breath and begin to ask ourselves, you know, what emotion am I feeling? What, when I think about this change, what is it that comes up? And maybe it is the anger of that and just say, okay, it is okay to be angry and then just wait for that and don’t accept that anger is gonna be the only thing.
I think you said earlier, there can be multiple emotions and just keep, you know, have a little space for that and maybe, you know, becomes too intense and that’s fine. And then just shut it down and maybe the next day just stay with it. And almost what we’re trying to do is increase our capacity to sit with that emotion. Mm-hmm. And to know that that emotion is a message and that it is not going to take over. It’s, it’s, you know, we are identifying, we’re naming the emotion and we’re possibly, you know, inquisitive and why is it there? And to take that, um, that time to do that becomes very, very important. Cuz it’s the old saying, whenever we’re able to name an emotion, we’re able to tame it. Hmm. And so the, the ability is to name what’s happening and to say that it’s okay and, and to ask what’s the message of this emotion, uh, means that we’re able to tame that mm-hmm. <affirmative> and to deal with some of that intensity mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And I think that becomes really important. So just take some time and some breath and just call to mind, you know, a change that you’re going through that you have strong feelings about and just take some time just to acknowledge that and to explore and to dig a little bit deeper about where is it coming from and what’s its message.
Hmm. That’s such a lovely practice. And, you know, Irvine, I, what’s occurring to me is that as we develop our capacity to hold the space for our own emotions, we can do that more for other people. So going back to the quote that you fighted Yes. Right. If that’s a leadership skill, we have to start with self first. Yeah. And then we can hold the space for other people to have a range of emotions and it doesn’t throw us off center. Yeah. You know?
Yeah, absolutely. Yes.
I love that so much.
Something really important. Yeah.
Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Yeah. I was just thinking about the other day and for a family member, I really had to practice holding this space for some really difficult emotions. And I’m just grateful for my coach training, which has helped me to learn how to, to do that, you know? Okay. So ma’am, what a great conversation. Thank you, Irvine. Living in a world of change and just, you know, really acknowledging that the personal and professional change, the scope of it. Sometimes we, as you said, we just don’t realize that we don’t appreciate it and then we don’t have enough compassion for ourselves and we should really, because the nature of change that we have to navigate is astonishing. So kudos to our listeners for all that they have been managing and dealing with. Kudos to you, Irvine, for your journey around managing change. I’ll give myself a pat on the back, <laugh>, and let’s tell folks what is on for next time.
Yeah. We’re going to kind of, uh, take a little theme that we’ve been talking about today and kind of came up at the end about holding space for others. And we’re gonna talk a little bit about tolerating or discomfort of others. Yeah. You know, in life we are faced, unfortunately of having to work with and or perhaps in our family of, of people that we find that it’s, it’s not all rosy. That, that at times there’s some discomfort in that. And so how do we do that? Mm-hmm. <affirmative> very well. Yeah. Come with Equin.
Yeah. It’s gonna be a great conversation. I look forward to it. Thank you for joining us to everybody, Irvine, I’ll see you next time.
Sounds good, Bridgette. Have a great week everyone.