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The times they are a-changin'

Oct. 1, 2008
While there are no signs that the hippie movement is about to make a comeback, the Bob Dylan anthem of the '60s seems rather appropriate.
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by Doug Young MBA

For more information on this topic, go to and search using the following key words: change, economy, core values, stability, reality, facts, adaptability, personal control, behavior, flexibility, optimism, Doug Young.

While there are no signs that the hippie movement is about to make a comeback, the Bob Dylan anthem of the '60s seems rather appropriate. Does the world look as different to you these days as it does to me? Record gas prices, an uncertain economy, a shrinking globe with shifting centers of political, economic, and competitive power, and a climate of unpredictability are only a few of the characteristics of this new world.

A good indicator of the depth of this transformation is the latest seminar catalogue of the American Management Association. The course the AMA chose to highlight on the cover is about managing chaos in today's constantly changing work environment. But the chaos that I see is not just in business — it's everywhere. I'd even bet that many tired and stressed parents would welcome a similar seminar on how to manage a family in the now commonplace and fast-paced world of dual-career couples.

What fascinates me about previous changing times is that some people managed them better than others ... often much better! That tells me that there are things we can do to meet the "challenges of change" that confront us. Charles Swindoll nailed it when he said, "life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you."

Your foundation does not change

Draw on the strength of your core values and your purpose (DE, June and July 2005). These two elements provide the foundation for your life. They are the anchors of stability that keep you centered on what is most important to you. When the changes around you are radical, you may be tempted to abandon these elements and take an easier path. Fight this temptation to sell out! Your core values and purpose will keep you pointed in the right direction and prevent you from making decisions and exhibiting behaviors that you may come to regret.

Is it fact or fiction?

With your foundation in place, you are now positioned to address Swindoll's 90% reaction factor. One of the barriers to reacting appropriately to changing times is the failure to read this new environment accurately because of our pre-conceived ideas based on emotion and past experience. We must get past these emotional hopes, fears, and biases, and see things as they really are, not as we hope or fear they might be. An objective assessment of what is really happening is crucial.

Otherwise, we'll be impeded from picking up the signals that can lead us to the best possible responses to these changed circumstances. Sugar-coating reality or having unwarranted gloom and doom expectations will both take us down the wrong path.

Jack Webb of "Dragnet" fame constantly said, "Just the facts, ma'am," when interviewing witnesses to a crime. In his TV role as a cop, he was always looking for hard evidence. When reacting to changing times, we must do the same.

Reflect on several situations, personal or professional, that required you to accurately size up what was going on. How would you rate your ability to focus on the facts? Did self-talk help or hinder your ability to see a situation clearly and without bias? Ask others to comment on how they saw the same situations. Were the pictures similar to yours? If not, what can you learn from the others' perspectives?

Guard against a rigid mind-set

Once you have a solid foundation and an accurate picture of reality, test your adaptability by putting yourself in a place of inquiry. Simply questioning your thinking patterns, actions, and behaviors is not enough. To be effective, inquiry must be accompanied by a mind-set of flexibility.

Flexibility is your ability to adjust your emotions, thoughts, and behavior to whatever new conditions impact your life. Being flexible takes courage because if you're like most people, you'll begin to hear a loud nagging voice inside you. This voice represents all your past assumptions, habits, and beliefs about how things work, and it will start a push back campaign against any new ways of thinking and acting.

Have you heard this voice before? If so, you can change your inflexible behavior if you really want to, but it will take practice. Would the following actions help?

  1. One reason for inflexibility is that we lack confidence in our capacity to operate successfully in new situations. Attack this fear by identifying situations that you have previously confronted in your life where you were successfully fluid and flexible.
  2. Enlist the support of a trusted friend to point out specific instances where your rigidity took over. Have a nondefensive dialogue about alternative approaches.
  3. Over the next two weeks, make note of instances in which you judge that you were not sufficiently flexible. In retrospect, identify what you could have done differently.

Hope for the future

How we respond to a changing world is not only impacted by reality testing and flexibility. The quality of our responses is also affected by our attitude about the future. This brings us to the power of optimism. It's important, however, to understand what optimism is not. It does not mean that you believe that everything will always turn out for the best.

You and I know that's a pipe dream! But it does reflect an ability to consistently look for the brighter side in life, and trust our resilience to bounce back from adversity. Optimism is about having hope! According to Martin Seligman, optimism reflects a belief that down times in life are temporary.

With this attitude, you will be energized to find the best possible way through the tough times. However, when you see a downturn as permanent, I doubt that you would respond with the same enthusiasm. I further doubt that your reaction would lead to the same quality outcomes.

Given the issues in today's world, do you cross the line from optimism to pessimism too frequently? If so, a process of self-monitoring could be beneficial:

  • Analyze any setbacks that you encounter over the next few weeks. Measure your effectiveness at shifting your focus away from the problem at hand. Instead, evaluate your ability to center your thinking on possible solutions.
  • When you identify a pessimistic response to a specific challenge, reflect on your self-talk as you confronted this issue. Did you propel yourself down the path of pessimism because of what your internal voice said? How could you have framed your self-talk differently to open the doors to a more positive outcome?
  • When you are optimistic, assess the effects that this positive approach has on those around you. I'm betting you'll like what you see, and this will encourage you to work harder at consistently adopting an optimistic attitude.

Yes, the times are changing. Some of the changes I like, and some I could do without. But Swindoll's 90% factor reminds me that I have absolute control over how I choose to respond. That's personal power, and that feels good. I'm going to get my iPod and listen to Dylan again.

Doug Young, MBA, and his spouse, Marlyn, MCC, have a professional speaking and executive/team coaching business in Parker, Colo. They coauthor this column and share an interest in leading-edge business concepts, achieving personal and professional potential, serving patients, and improving how people work together. Marlyn's insights into people and relationships and her coaching skills complement Doug's motivating and mind-expanding presentations. Contact them by e-mail at [email protected], by phone at 877-DMYOUNG, or visit their Web site at