Optimize Your Life

Episode #30: Adaptability

Show Notes:

Hello and welcome back to another episode with me, Dr. Sharon Grossman. And today what I really want to talk to you about is adaptability. Now I talked about this early on when covid started because a lot of people were experiencing high levels of anxiety due to the unpredictable nature of the epidemic. When we are in a state where we are constantly used to things being the same and then by the nature of things they change, we can get into a lot of anxiety and worry about the future because we don’t know what it will hold for us and that can feel scary. But what I want to talk to you about is this concept of adaptability and how important that is for your mental health.

While resilience is about maintaining your integrity during a big change, adaptability allows you to adjust to the situation or at least have a different perspective.

So what I want to do is share with you a little story that exemplifies this concept. It’s a story from my life and the story that I share in my book, The 7E Solution to Burnout and when I finish reading this, then we’ll talk more about how you can really take this on for yourself. 

“When I was growing up, my family did not have the same financial means of many of my friends. While kids in my class focused on certain clothes or shoes that were fashionable, as an eight-year-old, I had to contend with more significant issues. I was a recent immigrant who arrived in the United States without any English language skills. I was put in a classroom with American students and primarily expected to fit in. But fit in, I did not.

For the majority of my first year, I could not even understand what people around me were saying. Eventually, I was able to formulate sentences in English, but I still felt so inadequate and shy that I tried to blend in rather than stand out. I desperately wanted to feel normal. Even if mimicking behaviors of others made no sense, it was my attempt at being like everyone else.

So in the years following my arrival to the States, when my classmates were fashion-conscious and keeping up with the Joneses became their favorite pastime, I had to rationalize to myself that having knockoffs was a good alternative. I convinced myself that being different is part of what makes me unique.

I will be the first to admit that being an outsider was not easy at the time. It led to feelings of loneliness and inadequacy, but it also provided me with something else that contributed to my character.

Because at a young age I had to jump through hoops, face difficult challenges, and think about who I was in comparison to those around me, I became resilient. I could not take many things for granted. I had to redefine normal. I had to make up my own rules. I had to rediscover myself.

After attending the same elementary school for five years, I attended a summer camp with entirely different kids. This summer I had a serious wakeup call because the kids at the camp greeted me with sincere interest. I felt weirdly popular for the first time in my life. That was when I realized there was nothing wrong with me and I could embrace my uniqueness. It was simply a change in the environment that allowed me to have this new positive perspective.

I notice my resilience in my attitude toward challenges now as an adult. My childhood experiences, which forced me to think for myself and learn to survive by adapting to my environment, helped build up my resilience muscle. My attitude of hope when faced with failure or disappointment, belief in my abilities even when faced with new tasks, coupled with an optimistic framework, allow me to persevere and, ultimately, reach great heights.

Now let’s talk about adaptability as it relates to optimism.

Optimism is not about being an idealist. Optimism is about taking a long hard look at the reality and not making more of it than is there. It is about trusting your ability to adapt while focusing your mind on the more positive aspects of a difficult situation.

There are many benefits to being optimistic. For one, optimists vary their coping methods. You can view circumstances from various angles, and the perspective on which you focus will largely determine how you are affected. Optimists tend to focus on the more positive aspects and avoid dwelling on problems. Being optimistic allows you to find meaning in negative events, stretch yourself, and therefore adjust better to adversity. This does not mean that you are oblivious or in denial. Researchers have found that optimists are more knowledgeable about their health conditions and mindful of how to live a healthy lifestyle. Pessimists tend to experience more depression, anxiety, and stress than their counterparts. It seems that the optimist’s fluidity of thought and adaptability in behavior lead to greater satisfaction, self-esteem, and psychological well-being. The good news is that optimism, like many of the skills mentioned in this book, can be developed.”

Why is it difficult for some people to adapt to change?

During COVID, we had to adapt. We converted rooms in our homes into home offices so we can work remotely. Instead of meeting in board rooms, we met on Zoom. We started homeschooling our children, something many of us probably never thought we’d have to do. Instead of exercising in a gym, we had to settle for going for walks around the neighborhood while wearing a mask. Some people bought a Peleton or practiced yoga from home. Instead of focusing on experiences outside the home, we started baking bread at home, doing more arts and crafts, playing chess…you get the point. 

So we know it’s possible for us to adapt. The question is why is it still difficult? 

And the reason for that lies within our primitive brain. 

You see our primitive brain is programmed to be efficient. It tries to run the program that currently exist. That’s why it always look for patterns and things that it can predict. And that’s it’s way of knowing that, “Hey, if it worked in the past and we were able to stay safe, we will likely be safe again moving forward.” That’s why we are usually anxious when we don’t know what’s coming, when things are unfamiliar or uncertain. But what I want you to take away from this is that so much has happened during this epidemic that was really for our benefit. So many of my clients, my friends, my family members, including myself, have experienced amazing opportunity during this time of uncertainty because it reshuffled the deck. It allowed us to recreate our reality, to really take a look at what is working, what isn’t working, what do we want and what can we create? It really opened up this window where we started to question the quintessential essence of our life and what do we really want to get out of this? 

So what I want you to do is think about this as an example moving forward. Anytime there is a period where you are worried because you don’t know what the outcome is going to be, where things get shuffled around where you don’t know how things will turn out, rather than automatically let your primitive brain take you to that place of anxiety, I want you to think about how much good comes from not knowing and being surprised or having things be unfamiliar or unpredictable and then you either going with the flow or using that opportunity to take control and create something new. 

I think we are all better for that so think about how this can really apply to you and how you can become empowered in the face of uncertainty through adaptability. In the meantime, take really good care of your mental health and physical health and I’ll talk to you next week. 


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