4 November 2014

Can we overcome fear of change through mindfulness?

The examples of leaders struggling with change are countless. Many leaders choose to continue to work too hard with all the consequences this has for their personal life and for the teams they lead.

The reason things so often go wrong when we, as leaders, instigate change is because we do not really fully understand the challenge we are facing. We often approach them as a familiar technical problem and try to solve them with a “quick fix” that worked on previous occasions or some other standard technique, without really having a clear idea of what is really the matter. If we put our faith in the familiar technical solution, it apparently doesn’t work.

In many cases, we are confronted with challenges that cannot be addressed with standard solutions. The challenges are too diverse, too new and they are often in unknown territory. That is why we call them “adaptive” challenges. You can only address this type of challenge if you are prepared to undergo a mental development yourself, to change your own mindset. Change is not only about the problem itself, but also about the person facing the problem.

And it is here that our most entrenched mechanisms come into operation: the autopilot, our habitual ways of acting. The autopilot is deeply connected with our reaction to effort, discomfort, new information or awkward situations. That mechanism has the aim of maximizing our security in order to keep our fear under control. The power of this is that it deeply affects our feelings and experiences, it mobilizes our fear for change. It makes us want to keep hold of the safe, the existing and preferably suppress the unsafe, the new. And exactly when we enter the unknown field of adaptive change, that mechanism operates even stronger. For there, the fear of change, which means we, too, will have to change, is even greater.  The autopilot gets a strong impulse because of this.

And it is exactly here that mindfulness practice can help leaders most: by creating mental resilience and enabling a fearless presence of mind. Facing the situation as it is, is the first step towards really changing it!