5 Fingers of Change: How to Develop a Change Mindset

By Stephen Dupont, vice president, Pocket Hercules

Maybe you feel trapped in your job. Maybe you work at an agency and have been assigned to work with an overbearing client. Maybe you work for a large company, shuffling from one meeting to the next in support of the latest and greatest corporate initiative.

Even though we work in a profession (public relations, marketing, public affairs) that embodies change, and we often play point guard in managing change for our organization or clients, there will likely be a time in your career where you may feel like you can’t effect the change you want for yourself. You may feel like you don’t have any choices: You need the paycheck, you need the health benefits, or you need to build a work history.

You’re not alone in having these feelings of stagnation or frustration. According to a 2013 Gallup poll, seven out of 10 Americans are “checked out,” or actively disengaged from their work.

Then one day, from out of the blue, your company is sold, you’re laid off, or the client moves its business. Or possibly you’re given the order to lay off a handful of people, or you’re gulping for air to keep up with a crisis that is shredding your company to pieces.

Suddenly, change is happening, but it’s out of your control.

Building a career that can weather the ups and downs of our fluid, fast-paced, information-cluttered, tech-driven society takes more than finding the purpose behind your career goals. If you want to become a master of change management, you need a change mindset. In other words, you need to awaken the change within you to effect the change you want to see daily.

But it’s not as easy as it sounds. Alex Lickerman, M.D., author of “The Undefeated Mind,” says developing a change mindset is one of the most difficult things a person can do, because we’re hardwired to avoid pain. For many of us, “our reflex is to resist change. We actively fear change because of what has happened to us in the past. Painful memories create anxiety,” he says.

If you’ve worked long enough, then you’ll recognize some of these phrases:

  • “Let’s just keep doing it like we always have.”
  • “It’s complicated.”
  • “We’ll have to deal with the politics on that.”
  • “We don’t have the budget.”

They’re all excuses not to change something or try something new. And over time, they’ll be the death of your career soul. I received an email last week from a fellow professional. He said, “I am 20 years into my PR career and am feeling maybe a bit of burnout, or maybe a bit of midlife crisis.”

When you feel that you’ve reached that point — when you have no place to go — in the words of psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl, “we are challenged to change ourselves.”

The elements of change — what I call the “five fingers of change”— are reflection, curiosity, choice, action and perseverance. When you embrace these elements and bring those five fingers together, you can pack a powerful punch, liberating your mind and lifting your life out of the burnout you may already be feeling. Let’s take a look at the role each finger plays in achieving change:

Reflection: To achieve the change mindset, we need to take time to reflect. Buy a notebook and take 15 minutes each day to write in it. Make it the first thing you do every day as you sip your coffee. For your first week, start a list of everything you fear and situations at work that cause you pain. For some, that may be mind-numbing meetings. For others, an abusive boss, co-worker or client. Or it could be a conflict in values between what you believe and how the people around you or your organization act. Until you can put a name on your frustrations, worries and fears, you won’t be able to articulate how you want or need to change to yourself, says Lickerman.

Curiosity: Grab hold of this important question: “What if?” What if you didn’t have to worry about money? Would you be doing what you’re doing? What if you didn’t have to worry about being fired? Would you really let that next project go through as planned? Give yourself permission to be a research scientist. Test out different possibilities. Take a day off from the office and go into the field and do some firsthand research on your company and its customers. Go find the most brilliant person in your organization and have coffee with him or her and wring out as much insight as you possibly can in an hour.

To fuel these possibilities, I suggest a tip from tech entrepreneur James Altucher, author of “Choose Yourself.” Grab that notebook, and for the next 15 minutes, just write down ideas. Do it every day for 30 days, and before you know it, you’ll have 100, 200 or maybe more “what if” ideas.

Choice: Time is short. You need to choose to move forward. Let’s face it: Not all of those 200 new ideas are good. Some ideas aren’t practical. Some could get you fired. And some are just too costly, emotionally or financially. You need to find the sweet spot — changes that your customers will value and that reflect the authentic you.

Choice is critical because it oftentimes involves choosing to do something that we think may cause us pain, for example, speaking in front of a group of people or persuading the CEO that an alternative path should be considered. At first you may need to choose to make some changes that are easy, to start building up your change muscles. But inevitably, you must take on the really big challenges, such as addressing the abusive boss or finally writing the book that the voice inside your head has been telling you to do for years. To help put your choices into perspective, you may want to build a small group of trusted mentors to help you sift through the really big options in front of you.

“We can only become strong by tackling a strong enemy,” says Lickerman. “And only in developing strength can we navigate life’s challenges with a sense of confidence and calm. Even if an obstacle prevents you from attaining your goal, in the act of working hard to overcome it, you’ll undoubtedly learn something that will serve you well in the future.”

Action: Many people think they need an elaborate plan before they can begin to make changes. B.J. Fogg, Ph.D., director of the Persuasive Tech Lab at Stanford University, says you’ll be more successful at developing a change mindset if you take baby steps that lead to positive habits. Seriously, he suggests that you start by flossing one tooth today. Do it really, really well, better than you ever have. Then tomorrow, add another tooth. Little changes start to add up to big changes (keep your teeth!). They become habit forming, and before you know it, transforming. The same principle can apply to your health, mental well-being, relationships and work. Want more time? Cut those hour-long meetings down to 30-minute meetings. Instead of an elaborate PowerPoint deck, boil down the communications plan to a four-page memo. Want better relationships with your clients? Send out hand-written thank-you notes.

Perseverance: In an article, this all sounds so easy. It’s anything but. It takes the will of Zeus to keep it up. Management guru Tom Peters notes: “How do you go on an effective diet? How do you stop smoking? How do you stop drinking? In short, you do it, and it’s done. Then you work like hell for the rest of your life to stay on the weight-loss, cigaretteless or booze-free wagon.”

Taking ownership of opportunities and challenges

The question is this: Do you wait for your manager to ask for changes (or fire you), or do you take ownership of the opportunities and challenges you see, and make the changes you think are good for your organization and your career soul? For example, if you really believe that sustainability is a smart business strategy, what are you doing today to help your organization embrace that point of view? What little (radical) changes are you making daily toward that goal?

The ultimate goal of developing a change mindset is that the more you proactively seek out change, the less painful and difficult it becomes. The more you seek to harness change, the greater your opportunity to leverage it to inspire yourself and others around you. And as you come to see the positive benefits of change, you will be able to articulate why change matters, and why your organization or clients need to embrace change to remain viable and competitive. And that’s when the journey really becomes interesting.

Stephen Dupont, APR, is vice president of public relations and branded content for Pocket Hercules (pockethercules.com), a brand marketing firm based in Minneapolis. Contact him at: www.linkedin.com/in/stephendupont or visit his blog, stephendupont.co.

1 comment

  1. Good advice. Another point to note is that we all should have our eyes and ears outside our organizations, not just inside. That’s part of a PR person’s job, for gauging reputation and the competitive environment, but think of doing it for yourself – networking, meeting new contacts, consulting with mentors. That helps balance the daily grind with the outside world, and if you do encounter a sudden change — e.g., you’re laid off, or your company is acquired — you’ve gotten a start on making the connections that can help you. And, perhaps, you’ve learned about the changes and developments in your field that you may not have had time for in your job routine.

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