Being adaptive is hard work, but it can also be fun!
Adapting means letting go of old ways, which is challenging. You might readily come up with a list of reasons why something won’t work, even before giving it a try.
The key to building adaptability muscles is to find joy in the journey, making it both enjoyable and meaningful.
So, how can we build the adaptability muscles, and make it fun along the way?
Here are 5 tips that have worked not only for me, but for many people I have coached and mentored.
#1 Be curious
Curiosity is the fuel behind being adaptive. I know a colleague whose curiosity overcame her fears and apprehensions. When an organizational change introduced a daunting new software, she dove in headfirst. Before I knew it, she was our go-to-guru for it. What I learned, observing her, was that it was her curiosity that was fueling her ability to persevere, learn and adapt to the new situation. She was like a tech detective solving the latest case.
“How does this mechanism work?”
“Why aren’t the results lining up?”
“Wow, I didn’t know that!”
She wasn’t scared of dead-ends. She didn’t give up when her first few attempts gave no understandable output.
Instead of seeing challenges as hurdles, she treated them like intriguing puzzles, waiting to be solved.
#2 Break your goals into smaller, concrete tasks that can be put in place immediately
Even if you vow to be “more adaptive” this goal is too vast and vague. Think about 1 or 2 small, concrete behaviors that you would like to change. Identify something that can be put in place from today or tomorrow because immediacy is key to get the momentum going.
“I will spend 30 mins a day, reading up on [trend / topic of your choice], during lunch break starting today”.
“I will introduce myself and speak to the person sitting next to me at the industry conference tomorrow”.
“I am going to be more assertive and contribute at least 1 comment during the next management meeting”.
“I will ask for feedback from my manager after my presentation at the team meeting this morning”.
These small experiences create momentum that is put in motion, allows for a quick feedback loop to know what works well, and allows you to start celebrating small successes. Charles Duhigg in “The power of habit” notes that “a huge body of research has shown that small wins have enormous power, an influence disproportionate to the accomplishments of the victories themselves.”
Each win, even a minor one, creates momentum, helps rewrite your identity and is a cause for celebration.
#3 Make it safe to learn (AKA be kind to yourself)
Psychological safety is important, and sometimes we are our own worst enemy. The little voice in our head is the first to ridicule ourselves when things don’t go perfectly as planned. You need to be intentionally kind to yourself, recognizing that unexpected challenges may arise. Remember, in this learning journey, the path is just as important as the result.
You asked for feedback from your manager, but became defensive, verging on being aggressive when s/he pointed out a developmental area? You know you should have reacted better. It’s okay, just let them know you regretted your reaction and ask them for more feedback next time!
Your voice quivered when you tried to speak up at your management meeting? Find another opportunity to speak up next meeting.
You tried to make a new contact and introduced yourself to the person sitting to your right at the conference – but s/he was a real bore with no real interesting outcome. Try speaking to the person on your left.
The objective of these experiments is to learn what works or doesn’t work. And to set in motion a dynamic of action – you should be proud of yourself regardless of the outcome of the experiment!
#4 Create diverse connections
We naturally gravitate towards people similar to us, those in the same industry or with shared hobbies and lifestyles. We’ve been wired to find and belong to our kindred tribe – so it is normal that these commonalities provide an abundant flow of topics to discuss and a higher level of comfort.
However, stepping out of your comfort zone to connect with those who might differ in industry, culture, beliefs, lifestyle, age or interests can expand your thinking and build the adaptability muscle.
So, at the next community gathering – go out and seek one person you’ve never met before, and introduce yourself, and see what you can learn.
#5 Measure progress
As Lord Kelvin once said, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it”.
Measurement heightens our self-awareness. At the most basic level - it helps visualize what we may have already suspected, but the act of making it visible is already valuable. This provides the baseline and mirror to compare our future self. At a more sophisticated level, measurements can heighten our self-awareness by showing something we didn’t know about ourselves. It can also provide a clear orientation of what is missing.
Finally, smart measurements showcase our minor and major wins during the learning journey. These milestones offer opportunities for celebration and self-recognition, nudging us forward in our learning journey.
Following these 5 tips, you can turn what can be perceived as a slightly scary and arduous task into an exciting experience packed with learning and celebrations.