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14 Sep 2017

92. CHANGE YOUR MIND

Whether out of choice or forced upon us, change is never easy. But with the right mindset, you can embrace change and ensure it leads to opportunity.

Words: Jeremy Snape, Sporting Edge

When asked to change something that we’re comfortable with or that we have become accomplished at, our initial feelings are often those of resentment, resistance, panic and even anger. We question why we should change and if indeed we can.

Why? Because, in the main, we all desire a degree of routine and take comfort from knowing what’s going to happen next. As a coach or manager, you will have developed routines for everything from preparing for games and team meetings to pre-match meals and transport. You will have routines for training, because your players are not keen on change either and want to know what to expect from one day to the next. You will have personal routines particular to the club that you work for or the town in which you are based.

ON REFLECTION

It would be easy to think that our ability to deal with change will simply improve with age and experience, but that might not be the case. While gaining experience of coping with setbacks, adversity and criticism can certainly help, as we get older we may actually crave routine and resist change more.

In contrast, in our formative years we coped with change on a regular basis without even thinking about it. Remember how often you changed school, junior team or club, learned new skills, went on loan or changed address or coach, and how little these things bothered you. Now reflect on the many changes in football over the past 10 years and ask whether they have helped or hindered you as a manager or coach. If you were told that you no longer had access to player analysis, online scouting systems, whiteboard technology, improved screening methods for your support staff to determine injury, expert advice on nutrition and rest, or advances in neuroscience, how would you react?

Without embracing continuous change – in ourselves, in how, where and with whom we operate – we cannot improve our performance and that of our teams or fulfil our true potential. Change is often a force for good, yet we continue to resist it.

THROUGH THE CYCLE

We tend to react to change in a cycle of phases. First there is denial, as we fight and resist the change. We may find it threatening or irritating and question how it will improve things, especially if they are going ok.

Eventually we accept that the change is happening and that we need to adapt accordingly by finding new options, new techniques or a new method.

Then, after finding some benefit from testing these new skills, we consciously commit to the change, adapt our mindsets and embrace the opportunities it may bring. Finally, after perfecting the execution of these new skills, we feel back in control and realise that the change was to our benefit. We may even question why we showed such reluctance to change.

The change model isn’t a washing machine that spins you around and around; with every cycle you climb to a new level of competence and resilience. The Harvard Business Review called this era of rapid and constant change the ‘new normal’. Just when you think you’ve mastered a new art or process, another innovation or idea arrives and you have to change again. It can be exhausting just thinking about it.

If this is our new environment, driven by technology, then we need to look at things differently. Given that everyone is experiencing these high levels of change, there may be a competitive edge to be found in pacing through the treacle of denial and moving around the model to exploring and testing options.

MIND OVER MATTERS

As with most new perceived problems or challenges presented to us, our response to change is determined by our mindsets. Only now are we beginning to recognise the power of the mindset. It determines all of our thoughts and behaviours and whether we choose to learn and change.

Through decades of research on achievement and success, world renowned Stanford University psychologist Professor Carol Dweck has discovered some of the psychological secrets to coping with change and uncertainty. Dweck’s work illustrates how success or failure is not down to talent or ability alone, but whether we approach our goals with a growth or fixed mindset. Dweck has identified the traits of those who believe that their success has come from incremental improvements, learning on a daily basis (growth mindset) and those who think their success is due to a binary talent, which you either have or you haven’t (fixed mindset). She has identified the traits associated with these two very different mindsets, which are key to our learning and willingness to change.

We may resist change because we approach it with the wrong mindset and so become very fixed in our views. The key to Dweck’s work is that those with a growth mindset base their success on perseverance, accepting criticism, being inspired by others and a hunger for learning. Those with a fixed mindset, meanwhile, base their beliefs on thinking or being told they are talented, thereby not persisting when faced with major challenges or setbacks. In other words, they are not willing to learn or change. 

In football and in business, the mindsets of those at the top are key to their success. When asked if they are still learning, the answer is always yes. They have to learn every day in order to survive in the job. The very fact that you are reading this shows that you are receptive to change. To embrace and accept change, you have to alter your mindset and open it up to continuous learning. Once you have done that the possibilities are endless.