Change is everywhere these days, both positive and negative. The United States is opening back up, vaccination rates continue to increase, and in Los Angeles, students are returning to in-person school for the first time in over a year. In the entertainment industry, we have heard that a major conference (NAB) is being planned as an in-person event in the month of October. At the same time, COVID-19 cases appear to be rising again and unemployment in the USA is still at 5.8%. This is a miraculous return from peak unemployment (14.8%), but is 50% higher than where we were at in January 2019:
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics June 9, 2021
Life seems determined to throw us curveballs, and change itself — sometimes even positive change — can be challenging to adjust to.
I was recently listening to a podcast by Dr. Lair Ribeiro, and he brought up something that is important to keep in mind: failure is often caused by our past successes. This may seem counterintuitive, and it is. Like Pavlov’s Dog, human beings are wired to repeat actions that we associate with past success, but when the rules change, these associations of behavior with winning can hurt us rather than help us. According to Dr. Ribeiro, repeating something 21 to 25 times establishes an activity in our brains as a habit. Further, while our brains are good at learning new things, they are bad at unlearning.
The only constant is change
Working in an industry where we are constantly learning new things is both exciting — and potentially exhausting. In the tech space, the challenge is two-fold: to learn about what’s new and decide what should be discontinued. My wife has often stated it’s a challenge to describe what I do to her friends because it is constantly changing.
And while the pace of change today seems like it is coming faster than ever before, it was actually the Ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus that gave us this quote:
Given the world in flux around us, I am reflecting not just on what I need to learn but also what I need to unlearn. So that, dear reader, is my prompt for you.
- Are there activities you are engaged in that no longer set you up for success?
- Are you interacting with people using old modes that no longer work?
- Do the environments you are living/working in support you in what you want to accomplish?
Once we unlearn things that no longer work for us, we free up time and space for the things that do. In times of significant change, changing ourselves is perhaps the greatest challenge of all.