When You’re Finished Changing, You’re Finished
Four simple ways to cultivate adaptability and stay in the game.
The current pandemic is a glaring reminder of the importance of adaptability in life, business, and a myriad of other domains. Jeff Boss, author and former US Navy SEAL, writes, “Adaptability refers to how easily you and your business can adjust to change.”
If that dine-in restaurant down the street doesn’t adapt right now and begin delivering meals, it may not survive. And the same applies to you, me, and tons of other businesses.
“[I]t is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; it is not the strongest that survives; but the species that survives is the one that is able best to adapt and adjust to the changing environment in which it finds itself.”
-Leon C. Megginson
Adaptability is about the ability to embrace change with openness and creativity. It’s the most important skill in life and business because it’s the one that has the ability to keep us in the game when it feels as though the game is ending.
“When you’re finished changing, you’re finished.”
Change is always in the wind. The only question is whether we’ll put up our sails and head for unknown land, or hide inside the hull and hope for the best. If you don’t like the odds of hiding out in the hull, here are four ways to cultivate the essential skill of adaptability.
Expect the Unexpected
You won’t be able to foresee every global pandemic or make a strategic plan for every possible negative scenario. But simply expecting the unexpected can give you a head start and set you up to react quickly to change when it does occur.
Become suspicious of the status quo, or at least tell yourself that it won’t be there forever. Begin looking at the world as it is — a place of great and constant change. Our perspective is limited by our smallness. In comparison to the timeline of history, we only live a short time and it’s easy to feel as though our experience of life is the way things are. Remind yourself that the next black swan event could be tomorrow.
“The only constant in life is change.” -Heraclitus
If we’ve inherited our 150-year-old family business, it’s easy to assume that it’ll continue to be business as usual during our stint as owner. But the last 150 years are not a promise that year 151 will be anything close to ‘usual’.
When it comes to adaptability, you want to expect the unexpected. You want to enjoy the present while remaining aware that change is always in the air.
Practice expecting the unexpected: What if you lost power right now? How would your business continue during a lockdown and a power outage? What would you change if the lockdown wasn’t lifted for two years?
Let Go of Perfectionism
Adaptability is about staying alive. If you’re caught up in following an ideal outcome you've created, you’ll never be able to adapt to change. The way through change is never perfect, and neither is the destination. If we lived in a perfect world, we wouldn’t need to adapt.
Perfectionism may be the biggest roadblock to cultivating adaptability. When the winds change, they may push you miles off your course and weeks off your timeline. But you must accept the unexpected and let go of your previous plan. If not, you will either freeze with inaction or continue to fight forward with your previous plan — possibly ending in the capsizing of your ship.
Practice letting go of perfectionism: Sitting at home for weeks and weeks isn’t ideal. Neither is having to cancel all those plans you were looking forward to. And getting sick is definitely not ideal either. But if you stop chasing perfect, it’ll be easier for you to embrace the new situation that change has brought and you’ll be better able to consider how you might make the most of it.
Look for Silver Linings
It can be difficult to always be positive, but beyond preparing for possible negative events, a pessimistic attitude won’t help you become adaptable. When bad things happen, adaptable people see them as opportunities because they see all changes as opportunities. To them, a world without change is a world without possibility. To have all the positive stuff of life, we open ourselves up to the potential of negative stuff. Birth is beautiful, but in our world, it also means that death will have its day.
In Forbes, Jeff Boss writes that adaptable people “find openings in situations where others only see closure.” To cultivate adaptability, look for the silver lining in things. This is a distinctly optimistic way of looking at the world: everything that happens brings with it a positive opportunity. It can open up new possibilities and send us down uncharted waters toward undiscovered beauty and wonder.
Practice looking for the silver lining: What would be the silver lining of the lockdown lasting for two years? What’s the silver lining of having to connect with your friends via Zoom and not at your usual café? Whenever bad things happen to you — especially small ones — practice looking for the silver lining.
Adopt an Infinite Mindset
I recently published an article about the importance of having an infinite mindset. An infinite mindset views every change, no matter how shocking, as a necessary event in a game that keeps going — as just another necessary step towards the future.
In his YouTube video entitled, “There Is No Going Back to Normal”, author and speaker, Simon Sinek, comments on how an infinite mindset can help us think about this pandemic:
“Imagine if we lived for a thousand years. This would be like the 6th or 7th pandemic that we’d faced in our lives. We know that it’s going to hurt, but we know that it’s going to be over. We know that there’s going to be pain and we know how to prepare for it. So what an infinite mindset provides is it helps you see what we’re going through now not as the end, but rather just as part of the journey. It’s hard, and it’s difficult, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. We’re in darkness, but we know this comes to an end.”
Practice adopting an infinite mindset: Spend time looking at something in your life the way Simon Sinek describes looking at the pandemic through the eyes of a 1000-year-old person. What kind of perspective do you gain from looking at the world with an infinite mindset?
Life and business are like the big open ocean. There’s always change happening. Often it’s small, but sometimes it comes like a sudden, 80-foot high wave. If you want to sail for a long time on this ocean, you can’t hide in the hull. Instead, you need to embrace the winds of change and get comfortable raising the sails.
Here’s how to cultivate this adaptability:
- Expect the unexpected: Embrace the fact that change is the only constant. Enjoy and embrace today, but understand that anything (and I mean anything) can happen tomorrow.
- Let go of perfectionism: Give up trying to make life (or your business, or whatever) perfect. You can’t adapt if you’re stuck on your ideal. Embrace survival, growth, and forward motion as worthy goals, and drop perfection.
- Look for silver linings: Get excited about the possibilities that change can bring. Take an optimistic view of life where you assume that all shifts will bring positive opportunities. And get addicted to looking for them.
- Adopt an infinite mindset: Zoom out and recognize that what looks big at first is just another stone in an infinite path of steps. Look beyond the overwhelm and notice that things are dark because we’re in a tunnel, not because the lights went out.
Life and business are difficult because they are an adventure. Cultivating this essential skill will help you thrive when the adventure brings you problems and pandemics.