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Preparing to be unprepared: how to handle unforeseeable change

From the moment we’re born until the moment we die, we’re in a constant state of growth, evolution, and change. But so often we forget the big changes we’ve gone through, and the challenges we’ve conquered as a result. And that makes us afraid of further change.

We worry that we won’t be able to cope with an unexpected challenge, won’t be able to overcome a sudden hurdle in our way, when the truth is we’ve already made it past 100% of the hurdles we’ve faced. But when you’re in the moment, it’s really hard to remember this. 

We forget our own victories, and that forgetting does not help us.

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But without even talking to you I can say with complete confidence that you are a strong human, who has overcome thousands of challenges over the course of your life. In the world of improv, we’re intimately aware of how even small changes can affect a scene, and how the way we react to them sets the stage for the rest of our story (and our life). So, we’ve put together three simple strategies for remembering how good you really are at dealing with change, so you can be confident when change comes your way.


Strategy Number One: Remembering Changes From The Past

Now, as a human, you’ve been dealing with all kinds of changes, for your entire life. You used to be a baby, but you changed over time into a child, a teenager, an adult, and you’re still changing right now. In fact, over the past seven years, just about every cell in your body has been changed. 

Remembering the changes we’ve been through, and how we dealt with them, can help us be more comfortable with the changes we see coming in our future. So instead of freezing, we remember lessons we’ve learned, and figure out how to apply them to our current situations. 

These changes can be big life-altering changes, but they don’t have to be. Maybe you’ve changed careers in your life, or quit an after-school job because you wanted to spend more time with your friends or even changed your morning beverage choice. Maybe you left your childhood home and went to college, or to the military, or to summer camp. All of those changes can be scary, and all of those changes can be used to remind yourself of how strong and resourceful you are. 

In improv we deal with unexpected changes all the time, and we have to react to them in a way that allows us to “stay on our feet in the scene” so we can continue solving the challenge at hand. (Which is a lot more fun than freezing in our tracks or falling into a slobbering heap on the floor). So, we are constantly reminding our brains that ‘we’ve done this before…we’ve survived these moments of uncomfortable change…’  And we actually ‘practice’ responding to change over and over and over, so it comes naturally when we need it. There’s a quick exercise you can do right now that will achieve the same goal.

Take some time to record some of the big (and even small) changes in your life, and write down how you felt in the moment. Then, write down some of the good things that happened because of those changes. Doing this part of the exercise will help you see that even if the change doesn’t feel positive in the moment, it can cause lots of positive ripples. 


Strategy Two: Document Change As It Happens

Journaling is more than a way to remember what happened last Tuesday. It’s also an extremely effective way to train the mind. 

Seeing the positive effects of change is a powerful tool for all of us, and the clearest way to do that is to track changes as they’re happening. 

Even if you don’t see the big change happening yet, it’s safe to assume that one’s in the works. Getting into the habit of seeing the smaller changes and how you handle them now can be a huge help later when bigger change shows up. By getting your thoughts down on paper, you’re able to look at them, and actually SEE the struggles you’ve come through. You’re able to witness the progress you’ve already made toward your goal. And you can be creative with this. It can be a list, an audio file, drawings or anything that simply notes what you’ve accomplished.

When your brain encounters something it doesn’t recognize, or doesn’t expect, it triggers a response in your body called fight, flight, or freeze. That’s when you either lash out (fight), run away (flight) or go totally deer-in-headlights (freeze). Sometimes it’s just a moment, like when a cute bartender says you look like someone from senior year. You might get offended, you might grab your drink and leave, or you might suddenly forget where—or even if— you went to school. 

See, our brains are amazing computers. They use a series of questions and the results from previous experiments to guide our futures. So having evidence of your ability to adapt to change actually helps to reinforce the neurology of your ability to do something. And your brain is fairly binary – every time it encounters an unexpected situation it’s simply going to ask, ‘have I done this or no? Am I safe, or no?’ So train your brain to recognize change as something familiar and you’re likely to keep your wits about you. Essentially, whether you think you can, or you think you can’t… you’re probably right. 

Strategy Three: Create Opportunities For Practice

So, in order to have an endless supply of those tiny little changes that help us along, you can take the time to make little changes every now and then. Just to mix things up a bit. Because as we’ve noted previously, it doesn’t matter if it’s a big change or a little change, it’s the ability to track and learn from the little challenges.  

Knowing that it’s not important to be a big change, and that small changes count, too, you’re free to make the changes you enact to be as small as possible. Even just small things like the way you drive home from work—or the way you walk from your remote office—can make an impact. Some other ideas are…

  • Wear your hair a different way
  • Try a new food
  • Talk with a funny accent

This week, we’d like you to try an exercise that will help you see how well you’ve done at conquering your challenges in the past. Remember that exercise we talked about in the remembering change section of this post? Time yourself for a minute, and write down a big change or challenge from the past. Then make a list of all the good things that came out of it. This will show you all the different silver linings to those big change storm clouds. Then, think of all the possible good things that could come out of the changes in your life right now. 

When you’re done, we’d love to see them in the Be Brave Community. You can post your silver linings, your small changes, even the challenges you’re dealing with in your life right now. We can cheer each other on as we conquer our lives!

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