“Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or the present are certain to miss the future.” (John F. Kennedy)
When the going gets tough, the tough get going. Change is inevitable, and the more we resist it, the tougher life becomes. The world changes dramatically each day, so adaptability is a necessary life skill and a critical leadership imperative. In his book Emotional First Aid: Healing Rejection, Guilt, Failure, and Other Everyday Hurts, Dr. Guy Winch describes how even the youngest among us illustrate adaptability:
Three toddlers are given a difficult task to do. Each handles the challenge in his or her own unique way: one cries and gives up immediately, one tries the same strategy over and over, and one tries different methods until he finds one that eventually works. Clearly, the third toddler has a higher level of adaptability. His resilience gives him both the strength to persevere and the wisdom to overcome. But this raises one question: is adaptability something you’re born with, or can you learn it? Even young children show that grit is not necessarily an inborn trait.
Flexibility or Versatility?
In their book, "The Platinum Rule," Tony Alessandra and Michael O’Connor describe adaptability in two components: flexibility and versatility.
Flexibility deals with attitude: can you roll with the punches? Will you stop forcing a round peg in a square hole and try something new? Versatility deals with ability: are you capable of change? Do you have a propensity to adapt? While versatility may be an inborn trait, each of us can pursue flexibility.
Neuroscience demonstrates that our brains are moldable – meaning the paths, or neural networks of our minds, can be re-formed through our choices.
In neuroplasticity, the pathways of our minds (which determine our thoughts, choices, and actions) can be formed or reformed. This moldable quality remains even into our elderly years, so when we determine to change our attitudes, we can actually reform our brains.
Adaptable people do more than just cope, they embrace change daily. Adaptable people ask the hardest questions, hone strategies for dealing with the unknown, and make intentional shifts to address challenges. This requires honesty and authenticity. Ask your team to point out blind spots or glaring inaccuracies in your business. Address and enact change regularly, and your old neural pathways will lose their potency.
Choices become behavior and behaviors become habits.
Some habits are great, but others create deep ruts that are hard to escape. To grow adaptability, force yourself to experiment with new choices: join activities, meet new people, and listen to podcasts you completely disagree with. Write a list of five hard things and then go do them. Have teammates teach you a new skill or allow younger people to lead meetings you would normally facilitate. Immerse yourself in new environments so you are more comfortable with change as a lifestyle. You’ll be surprised what you learn about yourself and others!
Some of the greatest things in life were born from imagination.
Satisfying curiosity releases dopamine in your brain, so give yourself permission to dream, wonder, and wander. Dr. Todd Kashdan says “curious explorers” are people who see life an enjoyable quest to discover, learn, and grow. Curious explorers are people who:
- Notice small details in the daily grind
- Remain open to people without judging or reacting too quickly
- Let novelty unfold while resisting the temptation to control the flow
- Read books, build models, take classes, or start a hobby “just for fun”
Ready, set, grow! By shifting mindsets and behaviors, you can increase flexibility in a way that reforms both your habits and your brain.