Without even bothering to
ask for our consent, globalization and technological innovation are rapidly
delivering us to a new world. In today's demanding work environment, there are
few personal skills more valuable than being able to let go of the strain of
adapting and being able to flow better with the accelerating and unremitting
changes which are driving our workplaces and defining our time.
On the eve of the twenty-first
century, it's important to understand and develop resilience to the unusual
scale of today's changes. Over the next ten years we will likely undergo more
change than has occurred in all of human history from the beginning of time
Through a process called
homeostasis every bodymind has an in-built tendency to resist change no matter
whether it's good or bad. It's an amazingly complex system that wants to stay
within narrow limits and return to that state whenever it is forced out of it.
Our bodyminds evolved over many millennia knowing, that in order to survive,
stability was needed. Hence it developed this automatic reaction to change that
served our hunter and gatherer ancestors well. It just didn't account for the
"out of control" changes imposed on us by our new technological reality.
This homeostasis, or equilibrium,
is a natural mechanism that wants to keep things as they are. We experience
this automatic resistance to change in ourselves and we see it in our organizations.
The resistance is generally proportionate to the size and speed of the change,
making the unusual scale of today's changes especially demanding on every body.
There is a growing recognition
of the need for twenty-first century workers (us!) to overcome our natural resistance
to change and become more flexible and open towards it. Rosabeth Moss Kanter,
the former editor of The Harvard Business Review, described "flexible" as the
most important essential skill for organizational survival in the new economy,
along with becoming more "focused, fast and friendly". But telling people to
become more flexible (and focused, friendly, etc.) and not showing them how
is like telling them to go fly.
To devise a strategy to
enhance flexibility you must first understand that resistance to change expresses
itself in the bodymind as an arousal state commonly called stress. Over time
the wear and tear of too much stress plays a significant role in making us sick
and impairing our performance. As well, years of accumulated stress tend to
keep us mentally and physically rigid and inflexible, negative, tired, and mentally
resistant to change.
That's why one of the most
important skills for our time is what Harvard Medical School has labeled the
"relaxation response". The relaxation response is a measurable state of profound
rest which, when regularly called upon, permits the bodymind to effectively
unwind from the chronic strain that incessant adaptation has imposed. Within
minutes, it achieves a state of rest that would normally be achieved after four
or five hours of sleep. All of the complex and interrelated systems of the body
respond by letting go of excess stress and it affords an aging, tired and straining
body mind a much needed chance to properly rest, recuperate, and repair.
It's a total response of
the bodymind. The heartbeat becomes slower as does one's breathing rate. Blood
pressure and blood sugar levels drop. Brain waves slow down. Even skin resistance
changes. The entire bodymind system becomes quiet and has an opportunity to
rebalance and replenish itself. Measurable self-healing occurs. Every system
in the bodymind has an opportunity to regenerate and renew itself. It goes beyond
the advertising hype and produces an actual experience worthy of the expression,
"the pause that refreshes".
Decades of medical research
has proven that everyone can be more in control of themselves by learning simple
ways to properly unwind. By releasing stress on a regular basis we have a natural
safety valve that keeps it from building to harmful levels. Almost everybody
who uses the relaxation response discovers that they are much better able to
withstand the strains of modern life. They can absorb so much more without negative
side effects. They are able to flow more easily into the new structures as they
emerge, adapt to new ideas, and creatively respond to new challenges.
Those hoping to steer their
organizations through the white water that is clearly ahead would be wise to
provide their workers with the "how to" of bodymind self-regulation, the relaxation
response. My bet is that the greatest success in the new economy will come to
those organizations and individuals who have learned best how to effectively
let go and flow better with change.