two butterflies on a leaf

You gotta love uncertainty

In Insight and Experience by LivingNowLeave a Comment

Charles Darwin, the father of the theory of evolution, born 200 years ago this year, said: It’s not the strongest of the species who survive, not the most intelligent, but those who are the most adaptive to change.

(I can hear the readers now: “Change! Um-aaaah! He said the C-Word.”)

Uncertainty and change are hard on all of us. I’m a pharmacist turned copywriter turned stand-up comic turned wine writer turned author and speaker and I still find change incredibly challenging. If you ever see anyone stand up and brag “I love change. Change scares me not! I am The Change Master.” Point at them, giggle and say “Liar liar, your nervous, skid-marked pants are on fire.“

We human beings have evolved to love certainty and fear uncertainty. When something is familiar we feel relaxed and confident. When we’re trying something different, we get a surge of adrenaline that gives us sweaty palms and a tight feeling deep in our gut. Some people call it ‘fear’ or ‘nerves’ or ‘butterflies’; some call it ‘knots in the stomach’; sadly some of us call it ‘that thing that stops me learning a language/starting a business/phoning that girl’.

It’s such a shame we’re all taught it’s something bad, because it doesn’t have to be. We only feel it at all because our physiology hasn’t caught up with civilised society. Emotionally and intellectually we’re not primitive any more, but we still have this Neanderthal part of our brain, called the amygdala, that sets off alarm bells if we move too far away from the cave. These days, however, we almost never face life or death. We still get the same big hit of adrenaline – but we’re just out of our comfort zone – so fight or flight just isn’t appropriate. In a new business meeting it’s not considered good form to run away from your client screaming, or to lean over the table and punch them in the head.

So, even though it feels scary, in times like these it is far more productive to expend your energy trying new things.

Change is good, different is good. If there’s a new role going at work, try it.
If there’s a great house in a different suburb, at least look at it. If your partner wants to dress you up like Elmer Fudd, have a go. (And, NO, I am not in costume in my attached photo.)

To help you along, here are my three rock solid, cast iron, facts about change. If you can wrap your head around them, you will be halfway there to thinking of the current period of worldwide instability as a launching pad instead of a crash site…

1. Life IS change

Please understand I’m not saying “Life is FULL of change” or “Change is such a big part of life”.

No. Life IS change. The Buddhists call it “impermanence”. Change is the true nature of existence. Sure, read the books and “change your life today”. As long as you know that it’ll change again tomorrow, and the next day and the day after…

Life is change. Change is life. Uncertainly is life. Your cheese is always being moved. Your iceberg is always melting. And the times they’re always a-changing.

2. When you refuse to change you don’t hold onto the past – you lose the future

Bill Murray – started out doing movies like Caddyshack, took some risks, Lost in Translation got him an Oscar nomination

Chevvy Chase – started out doing movies like Caddyshack, and he’s still doing movies like Caddyshack.

It’s even more true in business – let’s compare radio network TripleM Australia with Apple computers.

Both launched in the 80s as great challenger brands taking on the big boys, shaking up their industry. Doug Mulray and Steve Jobs were smart and sassy.

25 years later? Apple is still innovating and leading their industry. TripleM is still playing a “non-stop block of 80’s rock.” Change was a tide turning on TripleM and the irony is truly gorgeous that our most Australian station didn’t remember “When you’re in a rip you don’t swim against it. You swim with it and across it.”

Apple is from California, they know about rips too. Apple saw computers and entertainment merging and swum with the tide. They invented the iPod, and the iTunes Store now sells gazillions of tracks a day. But why couldn’t Triple M have invented the iTunes store? It makes more sense for a ground-breaking radio station to give the people greater access to music. That’s the business opportunity of change. Triple M missed it because they kept waiting for a convenient time to evolve. But…

3. There is never a convenient time to change

You will always have problems. The trick is to make sure your problems are worth having.

Without fail, life throws all sorts of things at us that give us great big doses of adrenaline whether we seek it or not. So we may as well CHOOSE some evolution that pushes us towards our goals. So sure, right now the world economic markets are sick as a dog, but let’s face it, we live in the West. How bad is your life gonna get really? If you have money in the bank, in your wallet and in a little saucer by the bed you’re in the top 4% of the world’s population.

Make up your own mind about life. Will Shakespeare: “Nothing is good or bad; thinking makes it so.” It’s what goes on between your ears that matters. You can look at anything, even massive economic upheaval, in a positive way, or a negative way, or anywhere in between – it’s totally up to you.

How to make change work for you

The first thing we have to do is reframe this surge of adrenaline we all get from being out of our comfort zone.

Many years ago, a friend, John O’Connor, and I came up with a new word for that big adrenaline burst we all get when we’re trying something different. We decided to call it ‘newfeeling’. In the same way that you feel hot when you walk into a hot room, when you walk outside your comfort zone you get newfeeling. It’s not good or bad, just different.

I know it seems like a small thing to do. Sometimes when I say it out loud it even seems like an incredibly American thing to do. (Please insert a Yank accent) “Don’t call it fear. Call it newfeeling”. To be honest, that’s probably why it took me ten years to tell people about the idea.

But the Philosopher Wittgenstein said: “The limits of one’s language are the limits of one’s world.” The number of ways you can talk about something determines the number of ways you can think about something.

So change the word, change the meaning, change the feeling, and I can picture some of the furrowed brows reading this magazine, thinking “Cute word. But what good is it to me in real life?”

Follow your butterflies

When you allow yourself to feel the adrenaline without attaching words like ‘fear’ or ‘scared’ or ‘nerves’ to it, you don’t beat yourself up so much. You even start to welcome it as a sign you’re stretching yourself and growing your business.

Before your first day at a new job, you don’t have knots on your stomach. You have newfeeling. Of course you do – it’s a new job.

Before calling someone about a date, you’re not scared or nervous, you’ve got newfeeling.

When you’re just about to walk into a party where you know no one, you can turn to your partner and say, “I think my undies are full of newfeeling.”

The best thing is, you can use this word as a guide. Newfeeling is like a compass inside us that unerringly points to things we could be doing to more fully express who we are meant to be. Each of us has a totally different combination of gifts and skills that makes our unique destiny possible – and the best way to find it is look around, consider your options, then do the thing that gives you the biggest knots in your stomach.

Notice what scares you most: then do it.

Grab life with both sweaty palms

So what have you been putting off? Is it starting your own business? Is it getting a job doing something you love that pays a little less? Is it finally doing that degree/writing that book/running that half-marathon/calling that special person and telling them you will agree to dress up as Elmer Fudd?

It seems un-Australian to talk about your fear at all, let alone ‘reframing your fear and call it newfeeling’, but it works. It’s worked for me for 10 years. It worked so well for my son on his first day of school, he could explain it to his friends and it worked for them.

Don’t “feel the fear and do it anyway”, get the newfeeling and do it gladly
Life is a short, precious gift. Don’t let that underdeveloped Neanderthal part of your brain convince you to spend life inside your cave.

If life has a flavour it is not ham and pineapple.
If life has a motto it is not “same again thanks”.
If life has a soundtrack it is not a “non-stop block of 80’s rock”.
In the 200th year since his birth, let’s do Darwin proud and chase down some evolution.

Marty Wilson is a speaker, author of the What I Wish I Knew at Eighteen series, and Founder of National Newfeeling Day: “Face Your Fears”, with all profits going to the Dymocks Literacy Foundation.

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